OpenDocument Foundation's 'woes' have little to do with OpenDoc Format's future

Summary:I've been so busy with other stuff that I've only peripherally been paying attention to an ongoing meme on the Internet about how the World Wide Web Consortium's Common Document Format (CDF) had been identified by the OpenDocument Foundation as a superior document format to the OpenDocument Format that it had been backing for so long. On the heels of the controversy, the OpenDocument Foundation was shuttered yesterday.

I've been so busy with other stuff that I've only peripherally been paying attention to an ongoing meme on the Internet about how the World Wide Web Consortium's Common Document Format (CDF) had been identified by the OpenDocument Foundation as a superior document format to the OpenDocument Format that it had been backing for so long. On the heels of the controversy, the OpenDocument Foundation was shuttered yesterday.

But in the headline of the aforelinked Ars Technica story -- OpenDocument Foundation closes up shop after slamming OpenDocument Format -- hides a subtle truth regarding the relationship between the OpenDocument Format and the OpenDocument Foundation: the future of the OpenDocument Foundation has nothing to do with the future of the OpenDocument Format. In other words, any indication by anybody that the OpenDocument Format has been vacated by its supporters is pure FUD. The only reason I say this is because even I fell victim to the wrongful association between the two when, during one of the recent Dan & David Shows, we talked about how it appears as though CDF is the heir-apparent to ODF. Not only is that not true from a pure news perspective, even the W3C's Chris Lilley (one of the consoritium's resident experts on CDF) has discounted the OpenDocument Foundation's theory. Lilley told Andy Updegrove:

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.

Updegrove, who provides legal counsel to OASIS (the consortium that continues to evolve the OpenDocument Format specification), continues in his post to provide the inside scoop on why the Foundation had its change of hearts. I can't vouch for the story but it basically described as a case of sour grapes. Bites Updegrove:

.....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....

....[In publicly announcing that CDF should replace ODF], what were [the OpenDocument Foundation founders] Gary, Sam and Marbux thinking?.....

....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.

The drama is practically made for a soap opera. All that's missing is some sexual tension that only the new TV series Chuck has successfully managed to blend with geekdom (with apologies to Beauty and the Geek which is enough to make any self-respecting geek vomit). OK, so apart from the soap opera that's underway, what are the armchair quarterbacks saying?

Well, going back to the Ars Technica story, here's what its author Ryan Paul had to say:

The heated debate over open document formats continues to escalate, even as businesses in North America exhibit utter apathy about XML-based standards for documents. Despite the raging controversy, PDF remains the single most ubiquitous document format used in industry. As the controversy continues to unfold, it's likely that Microsoft's format will win by default, simply because it's tied to the most popular office software.

ZDNet's own Mary Jo Foley (not necessarily an armchair quarterback) asked:

As a result of the latest infighting, is Microsoft now all-but-guaranteed that OOXML will sail through the ISO standardization vote in Feburary 2008 because ODF — and its backers — will be in disarray?

Infighting or not, the question of whether OOXML will get the ISO's imprimatur as an international standard in February 2008 is one that many are waiting to see answered. Was this "infighting" and should it have a material impact on the OOXML? Not if you ask me. Disagreement has always been a part of the standards setting process and the process would irretrievably break down if, every time there was disagreement, the participants simply left the room. The fact that one party has broken away from the process is immaterial to the futures of both ODF and OOXML.

Topics: Emerging Tech

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