back to article The ODF debate: A real world view

What exactly is meant by document portability? Does it mean that a document created in one application can be viewed using a different application on another operating system? Does it mean that the document can be viewed and edited within another application on the same or another OS platform? Or does it simply mean that you can …


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"if it ends up as simply another Microsoft-oriented file format, being openly documented, licensable at no cost and completely accessible, means it will allow far easier integration"

"If you have an application or service that you think should be integrated with or accessible through an “office like” application, or has the ability to manipulate an office style document, should you build around Open XML and reach 90 per cent- plus of the market, or ODF and reach a minority—a no-brainer really."

"if Microsoft gets the standardisation done, and therefore avoids any government issues with the file format, it’s hard to see the open source community denting the Redmond monopoly position through a debate over file formats"

Real world? You make the opposite case without even trying, what "if not"?


Quite a one-sided view

OpenXML, unlike ODF, is not a fairly developed standard inasmuch as it is far easier for Microsoft to implement than it is for anyone else. Arguing that 3rd parties should implement OpenXML on account of the wide adoption that Microsoft's name brings with it ignores the technical hurdles (and thus cost) associated with its use by third parties.

Why is this the case? Because OpenXML is designed around representing in XML the internal structures of Microsoft Office documents -- not around representing documents themselves the best way possible. As such, it gratuitously fails to take advantage of existing standards which ODF leverages -- and adds a great deal of extra work for 3rd-party implementers who, on account of Microsoft using its own proprietary mechanisms for such things as vector graphics, metadata conveyance and mathematical formula layout, are unable to leverage existing libraries and codebases written for handling the existing standard mechanisms for this. Microsoft, of course, already has a mature codebase for handling its internally-developed formats for vector graphics and formulas -- giving it a massive advantage over everyone else in terms of rendering OpenXML. For an example discussing the value added to ODF via reuse of MathML, see http://www.robweir.com/blog/2006/08/math-you-cant-use.html

While Microsoft has claimed that ODF is unfinished or incapable of representing all aspects of a document format necessary, this claim is not nearly so compelling as would appear at first sight. There are certainly items ODF leaves undefined -- the spreadsheet formula format is one, for instance -- but this is hardly a concern, as this means that MS can simply continue using their existing formula format and be conforming. As for other missing features (such as some list-numbering formats which Word supports), it would be reasonable for Microsoft to define an extension for those features (in its own namespace, such that the elements in the ODF-defined namespaces were fully standards-compliant and the document as a whole was still readable with the exception that these elements would not render as expected). In the alternate, it would have been even *more* reasonable for Microsoft to have participated in the working group which produced ODF in the first place (as they were invited to do) and thus ensured that its output met with their needs.

I'll close by pointing to http://consortiuminfo.org/newsblog/blog.php?ID=1857, where the argument is made considerably better than I can here.


Documents held hostage

*BELIEVE* that Microsoft *will* hold your documents hostage. Two weeks ago, while out of town for the week, my wife found it happening to her: she had planned to use "remote desktop" software to continue with urgent work that needed to be done. But M$ so-called Windows Genuine Advantage suddenly kicked in and locked her out of her own desk-top machine (yet another "false positive"). And she was 1000 miles away from the installation disks M$ demands to know about for re-activation (not mentioning the hours on the phone it takes to convince them of anything). She was *hosed*. Partly because of an "urgent uppgrade" to which she never consented.

Microsoft's OpenXML is so complex a format -- and so dependent upon the (Microsoft) proprietary sub-formats for "legacy" document BLOBs (binary large-objects) it contains that you can be quite certain *no*one* except Microsoft will be able to use it. So OpenXML is open in name only.

Her lost time for that one incident (she is an attorney; her hourly rate is a bit more than mine!) crosses the US$ 5000 threshold for the US Computer Fraud and Abuse Act: as far as I am concerned, Microsoft are a bunch of felons who have bought off the Bush administration via their agent Abrahamoff. And you should *never* trust your documents to them.

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We all win.

By far the neatest feature of the ODF formats is in their handling of meta data. One can open the formats with winzip and view the meta data.

What a wonderful advance in Digital Rights Management !

(yes, you heard me correctly)

This little feature amounts to a non-destructive testing method for documents ... no longer can someone claim, with a straight face: "Um, no I didn't write it. I musta' saved it by mistake. Bill Gates made me the author."

I'm so happy I could just spit, or maybe I'll just invent Relativity again; it only takes a minute, I have a macro.


Usefulness of MS formats?

I was given some test MS-Office XML documents by a local MS leader, and they come in two formats: Plain Text & Indecipherable.

The latter format is produced by the "full" export, the former by the default. The Plain Text really was pared to a minimum, many common character styles simply weren't exported at all. The Indecipherable was full of complicated MS keywords (no doubt copyrighted etc) much like MS-Word's default HTML output only more obscure.

In summary, I reckon MS will find a similar way to botch the process In Real Life. "Open" in their mind seems to mean only "with our explicit permission & lockdowns".


If Baen Books can do it, surely Microsoft can too?

Note the encryption and publishing policy here:


Compare that was MS's tight-wadded policies, & remember that Baen are putting up their main product here, whereas MS are putting up one set of file formats from one product.

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