ISO standard 'office' formats overpromise compatability?

By Rick Jelliffe
November 22, 2008 | Comments: 2

A friend in the industry who works with ODF gave me a heads up about a new Gartner report, available on Microsoft's site which he describes as "delusional".

Of the three pages, I pretty much agree with their first and third pages. Of course, the title is bogus—standards don't promise anything, let alone overpromise, but that is small beans.

The general thrust is, standards are good, ODF and OOXML are a different in extent, people's requirements are different, product features are different. So choose products and standards to fit users for each situation, people may want a unified standard forcing them to use one or the other of the existing ones may flounder. In any case, choosing either ODF or OOXML may tend to promote the suites from which the standards originated. That is all fine and good. And the mention that macros and scripting is a gaping gap in both standards is well made.

Towards the middle it gets a little, err, nutty to me. It claims, for example, that Many government organizations have a general policy that encourages, if not requires, them to use ISO standards. Suitability to task and migration cost, or monetary benefit, is often not considered in the decision. Often not considered? This guff will be rather surprising to anyone who has been working in markup, I am sure!

And the claim At the end of the day, people use products not formats to get the job done goes too far. In my business we spend all our day working on formats, and our customers use systems not products, where the system is made to reflect the capabilities of the format and the format made to reflect the user's requirements. A lot of Web systems are built that way. So I think the report doesn't really mention smart documents or communications with back-end systems (though it does mention Google Docs at least!).

I think the problem that a lot of us in the standards community have is that in our heads it is 2009 or even 2010 already. An ODF person will be judging ODF by ODF 1.2 naturally. So articles on standards in the sense of what you get when you install a product jars against our understanding of the potential of a standard, and what we have seen in our prototypes and custom integrations.

But if our heads are in 2009, I think the article is perhaps a little in 2007 in parts. While they won't be perfect for all sorts of reasons, the ODF and OOXML import/export is increasingly becoming acceptable over 2008/2009. In our office here we use ODF and OOXML all the time, and it is not causing any pain. It is a point I have made before: at the end of the day, no major vendor can afford to ignore any important format. There are so many voices of panic, as if moving to any XML-in-ZIP format would not be accompanied by transition pain.

The other wrinkle I would perhaps put is the possibility that the existence of two standards will stimulate both parties to compete based on responsiveness to user requests. ODF had a headstart here: its early committees were dominated by many respected and unaligned general experts in the industry, however after the early heavy lifting was done, the experts pulled out leaving vendors with the baton. OOXML at Ecma was dominated by MS of course with a group of particular user organizations, but it has had a lot of non-affiliated attention in the ISO process of course.


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2 Comments

"It is a point I have made before: at the end of the day, no major vendor can afford to ignore any important format"

Would that it were always true. Google suspended their Lively virtual worlds program and told their users they should use screenshots and videos if they want to preserve their work.

WTF??

No content industry on the web embraces the idea that using a platform means the content dies with the platform except the virtual worlds industry, or that if a platform is used. Businesses and governments considering investing in 3D platforms for business applications might want to understand the history of results of that kind of decision BEFORE they buy.

"Towards the middle it gets a little, err, nutty to me. It claims, for example, that Many government organizations have a general policy that encourages, if not requires, them to use ISO standards. Suitability to task and migration cost, or monetary benefit, is often not considered in the decision. Often not considered? This guff will be rather surprising to anyone who has been working in markup, I am sure!"

Hm. You must work with more informed Government folks than I've met. The decision makers who even know about document formats are generally making a knee-jerk reaction based on something they've been forwarded from NOOOXML.

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