OpenDocument versus Microsoft's Open XML: War of words intensifies

Summary:Yesterday, the fecal matter started to hit the fan when Sun's director of Web technologies Tim Bray responded to comments made by Microsoft standards and open source general manager Jason Matusow regarding the OpenDocument Format (ODF).  Today, Andy Updegrove (lawyer for OASIS, the consoritium that published the ODF specification) ratcheted things up a notch by referring to Microsoft's statements as disinformation and "The Big Lie.

Yesterday, the fecal matter started to hit the fan when Sun's director of Web technologies Tim Bray responded to comments made by Microsoft standards and open source general manager Jason Matusow regarding the OpenDocument Format (ODF).  Today, Andy Updegrove (lawyer for OASIS, the consoritium that published the ODF specification) ratcheted things up a notch by referring to Microsoft's statements as disinformation and "The Big Lie."  Wrote Updegrove (excerpts):

This blog entry is a rarity for me: an exegesis on the deliberate disinformation spread by a single vendor.  I generally avoid a piece like this for two reasons: first, every vendor has its own PR agenda, with the differences being a matter of degree between the egregious and the merely disingenuous.  More importantly, there is a risk iwhen focusing on a single vendor of decreasing one's reputation for objectivity, despite the fact that one may certainly focus on the statements of a single source and fairly find them to be both inaccurate and cynical....All of [Microsoft's] statements share a common characteristic:  each is a blatant misstatement of fact, and it is that which I find to be so offensive.  True, there isn't a vendor alive that isn't guilty of spin, and spin has a heritage that goes back to time immemorial.  But we generally recognize spin for what it is when we read it, and can discount the exaggerations accordingly.  The Big Lie (which is what each of these statement is) has a more shameful geneology, however, and a more insidious and cynical intent....The offense of the Big Lie on the personal level is its assumption that, "I can lie to you and you won't catch me." Taken to the marketplace, and included in letters to government agencies, the effect is pernicious. As a result, exposing the Big Lies is both important and necessary - and hence the reason for blog entries such as this.

Never a dull moment and enough $10 words to make William Safire or Dennis Miller proud. 

Of course, the more work technology buyers have to do to get to the truth (which Microsoft is indeed obfuscating), the less time supporters of ODF have to curry favor with them.  That's because the same organization that just ratified ODF as an international standard (the ISO) is probably within a year of giving the same, very dubious honor, to Microsoft's Open XML. 

The ISO and its policies/procedures continue to be the elephant in the room that everyone seems to be sidestepping as though it were not there.  On the one hand, with the clock ticking, proponents of ODF clearly know about the hypocrisy of ISO standard setting.  The window of opportunity between now and when the ISO ratifies Open XML is so short that even the European Commission is balking on treating the ISO's ratification of ODF with any reverance.  On the other, those same proponents are flaunting the ISO imprimatur as though it's a legitimate badge of honor.  It's not.  Not in my eyes.  It's a joke.

Not only does the ISO ratify standards with blatant disregard for exisiting standards that it itself has set, the ISO (as well as Ecma, the consortium that is fast tracking Microsoft's Open XML onto the ISO's docket) does not limit its standard setting process to unencumbered submissions.  While that's not necessarily a condemnation of Open XML's "openness" (a subject for other debates), it gets to the point of why I say the ISO's imprimatur is dubious at best.  At some point, the elephant must be acknowledged and we have to ask the cold hard question: What is it about an ISO standard that makes it special, unique, and worthy of an IT buyer's special attention when compared to any other specification (ratified by some body or not) in the marketplace? 

Topics: Open Source

About

David Berlind was fomerly the executive editor of ZDNet. David holds a BBA in Computer Information Systems. Prior to becoming a tech journalist in 1991, David was an IT manager.

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