The Standards Blog

OOXML v. ODF: What a Week!

OpenDocument and OOXML

It's been an unusually active week in the contest between already ISO-adopted ODF and OOXML, as the latter moves through the first step of the ISO the adoption process.  More specifically, Ecma submitted OOXML to the ISO/IEC Joint Technical Committee 1 (JTC1) on January 5, starting the clock on the traditional one-month "contradictions" period that begins the "fast track" process in the JTC1.  However, OOXML is no traditional specification, weighing in at over 6,000 pages.  During this phase, eligible JTC1 members can note ways in which the proposed standard overlaps other standards, fails to incorporate available ISO standards, or otherwise does not meet ISO rules (a second, five month period will begin on February 5, during which technical and other objections may be raised).  

With OOXML formally launched within the JTC1, both sides have pulled out all the stops to influence the national bodies eligible to participate, as well as the public at large.  Here's a chronology of the principle events of just the last seven days, and how they fit into the overall scheme of things:

January 17:  The first public statements on the number of contradictions begin to be made, including my blog entry, The Contradictory Nature of OOXML Pamela Jones reveals an ambitious project at Groklaw the same day that uses two Wikis to allow the community to find and post contradictions and another for guidance on writing objections.  Mainstream press articles follow.   

January 22:  Rick Jelliffe, an O'Reilly blogger, posts an entry titled An interesting offer: get paid to contribute to Wikipedia.  The offer in question was made by Microsoft, which feels that the Wikipedia entries on ODF and OOXML are inaccurate, biased, and (according to Microsoft spokesperson Catherine Brooker, "heavily written by people at IBM).  A firestorm of protest follows. 

January 22:  IBM announces the upcoming public beta of its "Hannover" release of Lotus Notes and Domino platform.  The beta will commence in February, and the full launch is scheduled for this summer.  As stated in the press release Notes 8 will bring the ability to convert documents into and out of ODF and Office formats to tens of millions of desktops around the world:

In Notes 8, customers will be able to use productivity editors that support the Open Document Format (ODF) at no additional cost, giving them access to crucial office tools without the cost of a separate license. With IBM Productivity Editors users can create, edit, and save a variety of documents in ODF format, including word processing, spreadsheet and presentation documents. The productivity editors also allow a user to import and export supported file formats used by Microsoft Office and Open Office file formats, edit those files and save them in either the original format or as ODF documents. 

January 23, 2007:  Pamela Jones announces completion of the Groklaw contradictions project in a post titled Deadline Looms to Express Concerns about Ecma 376 Office Open XML  The blog entry includes the final list of contradictions and explanatory text – over 13,000 words in all, as well as a link to a page that includes contact information for all JTC-1 Principal members, by country, as well as sample letters to use in bringing contradictions to their attention.

January 23:  Both Microsoft and release toolkits to help developers build applications that comply with OOXML and ODF, respectively.  The project invites developer participation.

January 24:  Ever since ODF-compliant products were challenged as being less than equal to the Office environment as regards accommodations for people with disabilities, there's been an "assistive technologies" race between Microsoft and ODF proponents.  Thus, it's no surprise that Microsoft unveils "an array of innovative products and services for people with disabilities" at the Assistive Technology Industry Association annual conference.  The press release notes that: 

Historically, customers often had to wait six, 12 or even 18 months for assistive software and devices that supported a newly released operating system…. “In the past it’s been challenging for the AT community to ship updated versions of our products in a timely fashion following the release of a new version of Windows® or Office,” said Doug Geoffray of GW Micro Inc., which develops the screen reader Window-Eyes to assist people who are blind. “But because Microsoft has done such a good job collaborating with us during the development process of Windows Vista and the 2007 Office release, there is a lot of confidence and excitement in the AT industry about the launch of these new products.”

January 2%:  OpenForum Europe, an association with a small membership of primarily large IT vendors, and the ODF Alliance, an organization with a very large, diverse and global membership, issue a joint press release alarming titled IT Standards Hijack Threatens European Competitiveness.  Excerpts:

To stop Europe being rail-roaded into an inadequate standard, the ODF Alliance urges national supporters who have issues to raise contradictions of ECMA's standard with existing standards to encourage their national ISO representatives to raise formal contradictions as quickly as possible, certainly before 5th February 2007....

ACTION: Write to your local standards organisation setting out your concerns, recommending that an issue of this importance should be reasonable given time for proper consideration and due diligence. A 30 day Fast Track Procedure is not appropriate for a 6000 page document. Contact list on the ODF Alliance European Website.

So there you have it – just some of what occurred during just one week of what will be (at minimum) a six-month process.   

What can you say, but "stay tuned?"

For further blog entries on ODF, click here

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I think he wanted to know whether there is a way to see the official process of the ISO and its national constituents such as ANSI. Are their filings available for public view, or is this done in smoke-filled rooms?

You're right; sorry for the confusion.  I asked someone this myself a week ago, and the answer seems to be "yes, you'll be able to see them, but probably not until after the contradictions period closes."  I'll look into this, and when they do become available, I'll post a link to them. 

What will happen is that those in charge of running the process will put together a package with the "resolution" for each one, and send the lot to the voting members of the committee along with the rest of the voting package.  It's at that point that I expect them to appear on a public site.

  -  Andy


The Groklaw initiative bothers me.

ODF 1.0 was a spec with quite a lot of poor descisions made in it as well and it did not even have to bother with legacy aspects. However I guess when a product is ment to take on Micrsoft knowone wants to see it's faults. The fact that they created an interoperable Office format that did not have defined interoperabel formula's especially show that the ISO was rushes towards being first and not per se being very good. However I did not see Groklaw rush out a ruler to measure ODF when it was put on the ISO fasttrack proces a year ago.

Now suddenly OOXML has com along and it get's the full treatment. Weird.  I do not think a blog that is specializing in legal matters should try and judge an Office format as now it seems like a pure OSS vs Microsoft Office format war.

This is a bad thing as OSS should not be the judge of what the rest of the world may or may not choose to use as their Office format.

Also I find that the issues brought up about the OOXML format are in genral minor issues or even no issues at all but they are presented like OOXML is the worst thing to be ever created. However I compared both specs and actually both specs aren't that much different in quality. Each has it good and it bad points.

I remember here that Andy has brought up as a big disadvantage that OOXML supported certain OLE embedding because it might about formats not disclosed by Microsoft in the spec but actually ODF does also support OLE embedding and as far as I can tell even of all formats. In fact it seems you can embed just as much junk in ODF as you can dump in OOXML files.

Also I remember Rob Weir bringing up thatcertain depreciated features in OOXML mainly for rendering old converted Office files are not fully described. However ODF supports implementation dependant config-item which can be used for exactly the same thing. In fact OpenOffice files often contain config-item which are conpletly undefined in the ODF spec and not interoperable by design. However in ODF the config-iitem's are not limited to depreciated features but you can almost create any self-invented feature in your application and create a config-item for it. That is in the end even worse as at least the OOXML items are recognizable as they are defined in the spec and an application can warn which depreciated feature cannot be supported but with ODF's config-items an application cannot in any way interprete the config-item as they are implementation specific. In the worst case different implementation can even create config-item with the same name doing different things in both applications.  

So even though certian OOXML findings are suggested as being horrible and bad in a standard it seems that often the same things apply to ODF which has simular flaws but in a more standardized spec which however does not make the problems of interoperability or implementing support for Office documents any less.  

> This is a bad thing as OSS should not be the judge of what the rest of the world may or may not choose to use as their Office format. Hmm, aren't 'OSS' people also part of the 'world' - surely their opinions should be listened to *as much as* everyone else? They will have to deal with such files if it becomes a recognized standard - for example, if their local government chooses to use it for tax forms, etc. If they expect problems handling OOXML then they should say so now, before the spec is cast in stone. IMHO, a good spec should be able to stand up to criticism, and if necessary adddress it - we shouldn't point to another spec and say "but that's just as bad". My own personal view is that ODF has fewer issues than OOXML, and that time would be best spent improving ODF.

A good improvment for ODF would be to implement a simple date format for usein spreadsheets.

ISO 8601 is not implementable. It is to complex.

If you add a complex ISO 8601 date in an ODF spreadsheet that would most likely render the spreadsheet useless for most applications as it is unlikely any will ever be able to interprete full ISO 8601 spec. The use of 8601 dates is therfore very bad for interoperability of ODF documents.

Also spreadsheets use mostly an internal processing format for dates. Because these internal format cannot be mapped fully on the complex ISO 8601 spec that could lead to loss of data during reading and writing of documents where the ISO 8601 values are converted to an internal value and back.