12/08/2006

Standards, Schmandards! - OpenXml vs Open Document Format

Microsoft's Office OpenXML has been approved as an Ecma standard and will now also be submitted for consideration as an ISO international standard. Ecma International announced the approval of the new standard on Dec. 6 following a meeting of its general assembly. Ecma will also begin the fast track process for adoption of the Office OpenXML formats as an ISO international standard in January 2007.

The technical committee, which includes representatives from Apple, Barclays Capital, BP, The British Library, Essilor,Microsoft, NextPage, Novell, Statoil, Toshiba and the U.S. Library of Congress, also boasts the membership of Intel, which recently joined.

Naturally, criticism of the new OpenXML standard was quick, particularly from those who support the competing OpenDocument Format, which has already been approved as an ISO standard. For example:

Bob Sutor, the vice president of Open Source and Standards at IBM, said in a blog posting that IBM "voted no today in ECMA on approval for Microsoft's OpenXML spec. I think we have made it clear in the last few months why we think the OpenDocument Format ISO standard is vastly superior to the OpenXML spec," he said.

In actual fact, IBM's "no" vote was THE ONLY "no" vote.

But Ecma clearly disagrees with their view, saying in a statement that an increasing number of organizations around the world are interested in achieving document processing interoperability and creating digital archives using open formats.

"The Office OpenXML (OpenXML) formats provide an international open standard for word-processing documents, presentations and spreadsheets that can be freely implemented across multiple applications and platforms, both today and in the future," it said.

Vendors, including Corel, Microsoft and Novel, have already announced implementations of the OpenXML standard in their applications, such as WordPerfect, Open Office and Microsoft Office 2007.

Wikipedia has a nice comparison of the two, er, "standards", along with two sets of "Adavantages of XXX" lists here.

What do I think? I think it's almost over, and Microsoft won. One thing I have learned in my short happy career as a programmer and software architect is that just because something is open-source and doesn't have the name Microsoft in it anywhere, doesn't always mean its the best thing for the broadest population of users. If you are Microsoft, they are gonna bash you even when you try to do the right thing and support standards that will work for the "greatest good". In particular, I find Mr. Sutor's pronouncements somewhat two-faced. Microsoft voted "yes" for ODF at ISO, and offered no resistance. But Sutor / IBM freely admit that it will take 3 revisions just to get ODF to be OpenXml compatible. But, don't take my advice - read the wikipedia comparisons and come to your own conclusions.

Oh, well . ,. the nice thing about standards is that you get to pick the one you like the best...