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Putting the OpenDocument Foundation to Bed (without its supper)

OpenDocument and OOXML

Wednesday I attended the W3C Technical Plenary Day festivities, which included a brief press conference with Tim Berners-Lee, interesting insights into the W3C's work in progress and future plans, and much more (you can view the agenda here).  And it also gave me a chance to sit with Chris Lilley, a W3C employee whose responsibilities include Interaction Domain Leader, Co-Chair W3C SVG Working Group, W3C Graphics Activity Lead and Co-Chair, W3C Hypertext CG.  What that combination of titles means is that he is the "go to" guy at W3C to learn what W3C's CDF standard is all about. 

CDF is one of the very many useful projects that W3C has been laboring on, but not one that you would have been likely to have heard much about.  Until recently, that is, when Gary Edwards, Sam Hiser and Marbux, the management (and perhaps sole remaining members) of the OpenDocument Foundation decided that CDF was the answer to all of the problems that ODF was designed to address.  This announcement gave rise to a flurry of press attention that Sam Hiser has collected here.  As others (such as Rob Weir) have already documented, these articles gave the Foundation's position far more attention than it deserved. 

The most astonishing piece was written by ZDNet's Mary Jo Foley.  Early on in her article she stated that, "the ODF camp might unravel before Microsoft’s rival Office Open XML (OOXML) comes up for final international standardization vote early next year."  All because Gary, Sam and Marbux have decided that ODF does not meet their needs.  Astonishing indeed, given that there is no available evidence to support such a prediction.

So what is this CDF, and should it be considered to be an alternative to ODF?  Here's what Chris Lilley had to say, reconstructed from my notes (in other words, this is not a direct quote):

So we were in a meeting when these articles about the Foundation and CDF started to appear, and we were really puzzled.  CDF isn't anything like ODF at all – it's an "interoperability agreement," mainly focused on two other specifications - XHTML and SVG.  You'd need to use another W3C specification, called Web Interactive Compound Document (WICD, pronounced "wicked"), for exporting, and even then you could only view, and not edit the output. 

The one thing I'd really want your readers to know is that CDF (even together with WICD) was not created to be, and isn't suitable for use, as an office format. 

Here are some other takeaways from my conversation with Chris:

  • Although they would be welcome to become members, Neither Gary, Sam nor Marbux are members of W3C or the CDF working group
  • The W3C has never been contacted by anyone from the Foundation about CDF.  After the articles began appearing, the W3C sent an inquiry to the Foundation, and received only a general reply in response
  • The CDF working group was not chartered to achieve conversion between formats
  • Although he hasn't spent a lot of time trying to unravel what Gary has written on the subject, he can't make any sense out of why the Foundation thinks that CDF makes sense as a substitute for ODF

So how do we make any sense out of what the Foundation is saying?

Here's a start:  The Foundation has been very clear that it thinks that the OASIS technical committee has taken the wrong direction in its development approach with ODF.  Disagreeing with an architectural approach is, of course,  an opinion that any member of any TC is entitled to hold.  Unfortunately, the Foundation wasn't willing to take non-acceptance of its preferred approach lying down. 

The simple fact is that the Foundation got out voted.  No more, no less, no back story – end of story.  Instead of accepting the fact that that's how an open process can work, however, the Foundation decided to attack the process (It's not open!), OASIS (It's controlled by Sun!), and even ODF itself (It's doomed to fail!).  Meanwhile, those that had worked with them in the past fell away, and the only voices that are supporting them, the Foundation or their approach now are, predictably, the proponents of OOXML.

Here's where things stand today:

  • The Foundation's former members are not supporting Gary, Sam and Marbux
  • No one has spoken up to support their view of CDF as an alternative
  • They are not working with the W3C at this time, and no one at W3C is working with CDF in the manner they are proposing
  • CDF is not an appropriate substitute for ODF
  • The CDF working group is not chartered to provide what Gary, Sam and Marbux want to try and accomplish, even assuming that what they want is technically possible

All of which takes us back to the question, What were Gary, Sam and Marbux thinking? 

The answer, I think, can be found by applying the wise advice of a 14th century Franciscan friar named William of Ockham.  The precept he offered is commonly referred to as "Occam's Razor," and a common paraphrase goes like this: 

All things being equal, the simplest explanation tends to be the right one

Here, the simplest explanation would appear to be simply that when the Foundation's founders decided to turn out the lights, they decided to poke a sharp stick in the eye of those that had rejected their approach. 

If that sounds like too harsh a judgment, we can fall back to the next most charitable one, which is that the founders are so convinced of their own insight that the rest of the world must be wrong – all of those community members in all of those countries around the world that rallied to the ODF cause - must be deluded and not capable of the same clear vision that the founders of the Foundation possess.

Whatever the explanation, the Foundation's founders clearly do not understand what standards are all about.  Standard setting is necessarily a consensus process – no one has to implement a standard, so everyone's needs must be met to a sufficient degree for them to support the final product.  Sometimes that means that the best technical approach is taken, and sometimes it's the next best. 

As with politics, it often takes a great deal of support from many constituencies to successfully launch a standard.  In order to succeed against an entrenched product like Office, it takes an unusual amount of support from a very broad coalition of stakeholders.  Absent that support, failure is assured.

Time will tell whether Gary, Sam and Marbux are right that ODF can't succeed.  Unfortunately, the way in which they chose to disengage has done nothing to advance their cause.  But it has undermined, insignificantly, the good work of the thousands of people that continue to work, in a far more politically realistic fashion, to ensure the success of ODF – not to mention those that sent in donations to a foundation formed:

To support the community of volunteers in promoting, improving and providing user assistance for ODF and software designed to operate on data in this format.

What a shame.


For further blog entries on ODF and OOXML, click here

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* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Chris supplied the following information for those that want to learn more about what CDF is really about:

I mentioned four CDF specifications; here are their names and links

Compound Document by Reference Framework 1.0 (CDRF)


(this is the one that abstracts out generic material that could apply to any compound document)

WICD Core 1.0


(this is the main document, and allows interoperable combination of XHTML and SVG by reference, ie by linking)

WICD Mobile 1.0


(this adds a few mobile-specific items, such a s how to navigate around with a directional pad ona  phone, but no mouse or other pointing device)

WICD Full 1.0


(this is a compatible superset of mobile, for example it uses CSS 2.1 rather than CSS Miobile Profile)

You also asked which organizations are involved in the CDF Working Group. Currently they are:


DAISY Consortium


Helsinki University of Technology




Infraware, Inc

Opera Software

Research in Motion (RIM)

SK telecom

Sun Microsystems


There are some expressions of industry support at


Putting the OpenDocument Foundation to Bed (without its supper) | 21 comments | Create New Account
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Putting the OpenDocument Foundation to Bed (without its supper)
Authored by: Anonymous on Friday, November 09 2007 @ 08:40 AM CST
Actually, I think it's pretty easy to see why they think CDF is the answer.

Their requirement for ODF was for it to retain the "dark matter" - the proprietary RTF encodings known only to MS which make the round-trip of documents possible. It's pretty simple: you write out a basic ODF document which reflects the main structure of the document, and all the bits of RTF you don't know you stuff into proprietary tags and attributes on this data. The problem with that, obviously, is that any ODF-only app isn't going to make sense of the proprietary stuff, and can't use it: it's not interop, it's MS Office-only round-trip.

If you only output the basic bits of ODF, then actually HTML is very similar: the rough structure is the same. CDF is then your framework for referring to another XML format alongside the HTML which represents the RTF encodings that their software can't make sense of. We've already seen their ACME software, which is simply RTF encoded as XML.

Again, not interop - it's more round-trip. Office doesn't care what format you load/save in, so long as you can convert it to RTF that it understands. That's all the Foundation are doing.
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Putting the OpenDocument Foundation to Bed (without its supper)
Authored by: Anonymous on Friday, November 09 2007 @ 10:28 AM CST
My impression is that:

This "foundation" (i.e: gary "the binary key guy"  edwards, hiser  ) was very enthusiastic about selling his Da Vinci plugin to  Massachussets ( by the way a closed source and propietary project ).

When this project failed, they begun  to "throw chairs" against ODF , to the format and its supporters

At this moment, they are making a big favour to MS, contributing to MS FUD machine.

Well, too much writing for me, this people are getting more words than they deserve.

Anyway, thank you Andy ,for this post.

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  • Up and at em' - Authored by: Anonymous on Sunday, November 11 2007 @ 01:19 PM CST
ZDNet is about as balanced as Fox News.
Authored by: Anonymous on Friday, November 09 2007 @ 10:38 AM CST
Mary Jo Foley has left us unsurprised as usual, with the knowledge that M$ spends millions on advertising with ZDnet publications.
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Putting the OpenDocument Foundation to Bed (without its supper)
Authored by: Anonymous on Saturday, November 10 2007 @ 03:58 AM CST
ODF is a done deal; ISO26300 is there ; and the implementations both no-charge IBM Lotus Symphony and for-a-fee  IBM Lotus Notes are growing in quality and diversity all the time. Other vendors, too; Sun, Google, Novell, RedHat, everyone behind 'KOffice'.

It's only small-and-medium businesses who are 'locked in' to the One Microsoft Way.

Schools are locked in, too, but they pay so little to Microsoft as to make that market segment an unprofitable 'business', so it doesn't count for anything in the quest for profit. You might view it as Microsoft suppressing competition by 'dumping'.

Large businesses, governments, and globally-integrated corporations all have adequate resources to invest to dig themselves out of any Microsoft-related 'hole'; certainly IBM will take their dollars and dig them out, if required. And for these market segments, it tends to be a question of 'control of your own destiny'.

Can you be certain that your business documents, the text of agreements you commit to, your vital records, your public records, will be accessible to you and to those you choose to share them with for as long as you need them to ? When it could be 'Decades' ? 'Centuries' ? 'Millennia' ?

For that, it's either 'ISO26300', or 'pencil and paper'. Shifting standards don't meet requirements.
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Responding to Gary Edwards (see "up and at 'em" above)
Authored by: Andy Updegrove on Saturday, November 10 2007 @ 04:18 AM CST

First, thanks for coming by and offering your thoughts - dialogues are always best.

I'm not sure whether you segued from talking to "anony" to me part way through, but since you were talking about "a guy and a blog" I'm thinking maybe you were.  If so, here is a response.

As I indicated in my piece, I personally have no problem with anyone pursuing any worthwhile technical strategy.  My problem is with the tactics.  You, Sam and Marbux have been rather inconsistent in your statements.  Often, they are carefully crafted, and do no damage to the ODF campaign.  Other times, though, one or the other of you goes into the attack mode, and talks about (for example) how ODF is doomed to fail.  Whether or not that eventually proves to be the case, I think we can both agree that it is more likely to increase rather than decrease the likelihood of failure.

The other problem is that whether or not ODF is the best solution (I'll leave that open for the sake of this comment), it is the one that continues to gather global support.  The Foundation's alternative, and past record, has been of diminishing support.  That's not meant to be a criticism, but only an observation that your tactics have been less successful than the ODF campaign, and - hey - no wonder, with all the resources the ODF campaign has.  But the fact remains that as a result, the ODF campaign is way, way, way ahead, and therefore more likely to achieve success in the effort that we're all committed to, despite differences in details.

If the Foundation is to succeed with its alternative, it has a long way to go.  If it can be successful, I wish you every success.  But until you get momentum and support behind you, please leave ODF alone.

As to what a guy and a blog can do, I think that there are quite a few people in all camps - government, major vendors, customers, community, who would agree that my blogging, news coverage, and getting the accurate facts to the media have had a positive  impact in getting ODF more credibility and more wins.

So in answer to your question, yes, I do have a plan - and that's to continue doing what I'm doing (which is also what I was doing for quite a while before Louis Gutierrez was even in office).  So far, that plan seems to be having more success, so that sounds like the best decision to me.  I do wish you the best of luck with CDF as well.

  -  Andy
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Putting the OpenDocument Foundation to Bed (without its supper)
Authored by: Anonymous on Thursday, November 15 2007 @ 07:06 AM CST

I will admit to being very, very confused by all of this ODF vs ODFF posturing. I will try to put my current thoughts in short form, but it will be a muddled mess. I warned you!

From what I gather, the OpenDocument Foundation (ODFF) is attempting to create more of an interop format for working against a background MS server stack (Exchange/Sharepoint). They worry that MS is further cementing their business lock-in by moving more and more companies into dependency on not only the client -side software but also the MS business stack that has finally evolved into a serious competitive set. At that level, and in their view, the "atomic unit" is the whole document. The encoded content is not of immediate concern.

ODF is concerned with the actual document content, which ODFF is prepared to ignore. The "atomic unit" is the bits and parts in the document. They want to break the proprietary encodings that MS has that lock people into MSOffice. The stack is not of any immediate concern.

So, unless I misunderstand either camp, ODF is first attacking the client end of the stack, and ODFF is attacking the backbone server end of the stack. The former wants to break the MSOffice monopoly by allowing people to escape those proprietary encodings, and the latter wants to prevent the dependency on server software like Exchange and Sharepoint by allowing MS documents to travel to other destinations than MS "server" products.

Is this correct? I have yet to see anyone summarize the differences in any non-partisan way. The usual diatribe by people closer to the action is to go into the history of ODF or ODFF, talk about old slights and lost fights, and somehow try to pull at emotional heartstrings so as to gain mindshare. This is childish on both sides.

Furthermore, the world "orthogonal" comes to mind. I often see people too busy arguing their POV, and not listening to others, when there is no real argument to keep making. It's apple-and-oranges. ODF vs ODFF seems like they are caught in this trap. Everyone wants to win an argument that has no possible win because the participants are not arguing about the same thing.

Why can't the parties get along? I can see a cooperative that attacks the entire stack. Am I the only one?
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