OpenOffice.org has dismissed an analyst report from Burton Group which claims that Microsoft's Office Open XML document format is preferable to the OpenDocument Format.
The latest generation of document standards is generally based on Extensible Markup Language (XML), a set of rules created by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) to make it easier to share structured data.
The two most prominent examples of XML-based document standards are the OpenDocument Format (ODF), as favoured by free or low-cost office-productivity suites such as OpenOffice.org, and Microsoft's Office Open XML (OOXML) format, which is central to Office 2007.
In late 2006, OOXML was given the green light by the membership-based Ecma standards organisation. However, it is yet to be ratified by the International Organization for Standardization (ISO), and its semi-successful passage through various nations' standards committees has been marred by accusations of voting irregularities. ODF, by contrast, has had ISO certification since 2006.
In a report entitled What's Up, .DOC?, issued on Friday, US-based Burton Group recommended that large enterprises and corporations avoid ODF in favour of OOXML, largely because of its compatibility with legacy Microsoft formats.
"Government agencies and other organisations seeking to use a free, non-Microsoft productivity suite will be happy to use ODF, the file format behind OpenOffice.org," reads the report. "On the other hand, libraries and large businesses, faced with storing and using years of Microsoft Office legacy documents, will prefer OOXML, as OOXML can more faithfully recreate the look and metadata (such as spreadsheet formulas) stored in Microsoft's binary file formats."
"In short, because OOXML is more ecosystem- and application-oriented than ODF, most vendors and enterprises will see it as more useful than ODF," the report added. "In terms of productivity application model concerns, ODF is primarily focused on content and presentation domains, and it is far less useful for scenarios requiring advanced structure and behaviour capabilities."
Referring to the ISO vote-rigging allegations, the report suggested that those "disruptions" might cause the ISO to revise its procedures, "so, in some respects, the OOXML episode will produce some useful stimulus/response improvements within ISO".
Speaking to ZDNet.co.uk on Wednesday, OpenOffice.org's marketing lead for Europe, John McCreesh, questioned the Burton Group report's value, claiming it "contained no new research and was just the result of some analyst sitting down and speculating".
"It's interesting compared with the Becta report that came out last week," said McCreesh, referring to a report by the UK's educational technology agency which warned schools against deploying Windows Vista and Office 2007. "Becta commissioned independent research and came to a completely different conclusion. [The Burton Group report] says more about the author's personal prejudices than any objective, research-based conclusions."
McCreesh insisted that ODF was suitable for use in large organisations, suggesting it was "based as far as possible on open standards". "If a large enterprise is 100 percent committed to Microsoft products, they should stick with it [but], given the competitive world we live in, I don't know how long that position is sustainable," he added.
However, the elements of the Burton Group report that have caused the greatest outrage among the open-standards community have been those questioning the independence of ODF from its progenitor, Sun. "ODF's evolution will likely be slow and complex, in part because of the fact that OpenOffice.org, the primary implementation of ODF, is arguably still, in some respects, controlled by Sun," reads one section of the report.
"It's important to understand that Microsoft appears to be sincerely committed to making OOXML a substantive standard," states the report. "It's also important to recognise that some of Microsoft's competitors may be hypocritically engaging in precisely the sorts of behind-the-scenes power plays that they've asserted Microsoft, if left to its own devices, would inevitably employ… Although Sun could considerably simplify ODF-related processes by yielding full control of both ODF and OpenOffice.org to standards bodies and open-source initiatives, it's probably already too late for such a move to make a significant difference to ODF's trajectory."
McCreesh denied that Sun, whose StarOffice productivity suite forms the basis of OpenOffice.org, has any undue influence over its spin-off. "The OpenOffice.org community consists of thousands of volunteers," he said. "They cannot be cajoled by Sun or anybody else into doing things they don't want to do; Sun does not enjoy the happy monopoly position that Microsoft does. The process ODF went through was open from the start."
Burton Group also attracted controversy in August 2007 when it warned businesses against the use of Google Apps, another free software competitor to Microsoft Office.