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Achieving Openness: A Closer Look at ODF and OOXML
Pages: 1, 2, 3

Final Conclusion & Recommendation

Pressure from customers, including many governments, has pushed technology companies toward openness and ODF. Microsoft has responded with its new format, OOXML. However, a close examination of the origins, technical specifications and follow-up implementations of both formats reveals significant differences. Where ODF meets the four objective criteria of open standards handsomely, OOXML does not satisfy any of the four as extensively.

ODF showcases how an inclusive, consensus-driven, transparent development process can produce a standard that is available to everyone. OOXML's weaknesses begin at the fundamental level: its goals conflict. While the format proposes itself as a solution to backward compatibility, its approach, design, and execution block full implementation by entities other than Microsoft. The great promise of XML, interoperability, cannot be achieved with OOXML. Ultimately, the format's conflicting objectives make it a poor candidate for a global standard.

In light of such fundamental limitations, basic questions need to be resolved before OOXML is considered for use on any basis and certainly as a potential standard. The questions resonate: How can OOXML with its lack of an open life-cycle, lack of complete documentation in the specification, lack of multiple software implementations, and lack of interoperability across diverse platforms meet the legal as well as practical needs in the organization for long-term document archiving and for accommodating the flow of information correctly through business processes across different types of systems?

ICT executives and policy-makers will be looking carefully at their own objectives in deciding which document format is appropriate for their users and for the long-term viability of their systems and information culture. It is no longer necessary to accept the one solution offered. And it is important to get this particular decision right, given the practical and strategic importance of the document format today.

Footnotes

ii  "ISO to Fast Track...", Scott Fulton, Beta News, Mar. 17, 2007
(http://www.betanews.com/article/ISO_to_FastTrack_Office_Open_XML_Process/1173731196)

iv There are numerous overlapping definitions of open software standards. Proposals exist from the Open Source Initiative (http://perens.com/OpenStandards/Definition.html), the European Union's Interoperability Framework (http://europa.eu.int/idabc/en/document/3761), the Danish government's definition of open standards (http://www.oio.dk/files/040622_Definition_of_open_standards.pdf), the "Krechmer Requirements" (http://www.google.com/url?sa=t&ct=res&cd=1&url=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.csrstds.com%2Fopenstds.pdf&ei=itBcRtjJNoP4wQKDvpyvBQ&usg=AFrqEzfBPDJ6VDzjbviLByt9zwcUkReMVw&sig2=BoL6-Cxk20VCdg56OQDiXQ) among others.

vii  "...pushing through an overcomplex proposal in a very short time frame." (http://press.ffii.org/Press_releases/FFII_opposes_Fasttrack_adoption_of_Microsoft_OOXML_format_as_ISO_standar)

viii  "How to hire Guillaume Portes" by Rob Weir (http://www.robweir.com/blog/2006/01/how-to-hire-guillaume-portes.html)

ix  The OOXML specification includes the following note relating to each of the named legacy deprecated feature tags: "Guidance: To faithfully replicate this behavior, applications must imitate the behavior of that application, which involves many possible behaviors and cannot be faithfully placed into narrative for this Office Open XML Standard. If applications wish to match this behavior, they must utilize and duplicate the output of those applications. It is recommended that applications not intentionally replicate this behavior as it was deprecated due to issues with its output, and is maintained only for compatibility with existing documents from that application. end guidance" This is an apologia for the lack of documentation in the OOXML for the named items.

x  The author's "Analyzing the OOXML License" (http://fussnotes.typepad.com/plexnex/2007/01/analyzing_the_m.html)

xi  Sun Microsystems' covenant-not-to-sue (http://www.oasis-open.org/committees/office/ipr.php)

xiii  Marbux, General Counsel to the OpenDocument Foundation, Inc., 501(c)3, comments on Jeremy Allison's article, "Crushed by the Wheels of Industry" (http://talkback.zdnet.com/5208-11048-0.html?forumID=1&threadID=33784&messageID=621428&start=-1)

xiv For a detailed accounting, reference the number of entries on OOXML at http://www.groklaw.net/staticpages/index.php?page=20051216153153504

xv Despite lingering technical and approach problems with the Microsoft / Clever Age ODF Add-in project for Word on Sourceforge, the list there of MS Word application features not supported by the ODF specification is accurate (http://odf-converter.sourceforge.net/features.html#unsupportedODT). The list indicates ways a document's formatting can be predicted to break when translating from Microsoft (.doc, for example) to ODF (.odt) formats. In addition to non-alignment of the different formats, honest differences of application design create interoperability dysfunction which manifests as file content or layout breakages that disturb productivity in work groups where mixed desktops exist.

xvi Poor document roundtrip performance also plagues collaboration between users of different vintages of Microsoft Office.

xvii Groklaw's "EOOXML Objections," Jan. 2007 (http://www.grokdoc.net/index.php/EOOXML_objections)

xviii Microsoft Developer Network's explanation of the DevMode data structure (http://msdn2.microsoft.com/en-us/library/ms535771.aspx).

xix  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Globally_Unique_Identifier

xx This page reference to the OOXML specification may be obsolete, since ECMA has posted revisions numerous times since the specification first went "final."

xxi This page reference to the OOXML specification may be obsolete, since ECMA has posted revisions numerous times since the specification first went "final."

xxii Engineering such dependencies with intent is an integral part of software vendors' traditional business models and a source of vendors' ability to influence software purchase decisions. Open source software and open standards–such as ODF–are making it easier for customers to determine what software they need, when they need it, how much they pay and whether license management takes up their time or not.

xxiii The information on system requirements for using Microsoft Office (its commercial implementation of the OOXML standard) clearly indicates that "Microsoft Office SharePoint Server 2007 is required for certain advanced functionality" (see http://office.microsoft.com/en-us/suites/HA101668651033.aspx#5). The OOXML specification lacks the required documentation on what specific elements of OOXML are not independently implementable.

xxiv Clip-art should not be defined in the file format since clip-art licensing is not uniform or standard on every platform and this creates another operating system and application dependency (http://www.grokdoc.net/index.php/EOOXML_Objections_Clearinghouse#Inappropriate_user-interface_specifications:_Clip_Art) and (http://lnxwalt.wordpress.com/2007/04/06/to-the-members-of-the-california-state-assembly/).

xxv This page reference to the OOXML specification may be obsolete, since ECMA has posted revisions numerous times since the specification first went "final."

xxvi This page reference to the OOXML specification may be obsolete, since ECMA has posted revisions numerous times since the specification first went "final."

xxvii This page reference to the OOXML specification may be obsolete, since ECMA has posted revisions numerous times since the specification first went "final."

xxx This page reference to the OOXML specification may be obsolete, since ECMA has posted revisions numerous times since the specification first went "final."

xxxi Legacy application bug carry-forwards would not occur in a format that is developed by open consensus of multiple parties (http://www.grokdoc.net/index.php/EOOXML_Objections_Clearinghouse#The_Gregorian_Calendar).

xxxii This page reference to the OOXML specification may be obsolete, since ECMA has posted revisions numerous times since the specification first went "final."

xxxiii As part of the expressed goals of W3C XML, it is important to respect standard naming conventions for readability and honor the principle of consistency in a specification. OOXML does not (http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-xml/#sec-origin-goals) and (http://www.grokdoc.net/index.php/EOOXML_Objections_Clearinghouse#Poor_names_and_inconsistent_naming_conventions_for_elements_and_attributes) and (http://www.openmalaysiablog.com/2007/01/ooxml_has_poor_.html).

Sam Hiser is Vice President & Director Business Affairs at the OpenDocument Foundation, Inc. He was advisor to the Commonwealth of Massachusetts Information Technology Division on its pilot of OpenDocument-ready software this year. Hiser also blogs at www.PlexNex.com.


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