If you've spent any time with Sun's director of Web technologies Tim Bray (either in person or virtually, with his blog), then you'd probably get the same impression that I have of Bray. Smart. Centered. Very zen. Doesn't mind a good debate, but sticks to the technical merits. Checks his ego at the door (at least when he's in public which is my only experience with him). Determined. So, it was with a bit of suprise that I saw him (in his blog) telling-off Microsoft's grand poo-bah of standards and open source Jason Matusow. According to Andy Updegrove (lawyer for the OASIS consortium, the publisher of the OpenDocument specification), Matusow was reported in numerous places to have responded to ODF's ratification as an international standard as saying:
There are hundreds of industry-specific XML schemas used right now by industries spanning health care, real estate, insurance, finance and others. ODF is yet another XML-based format in the market....The ODF format is limited to the features and performance of OpenOffice and StarOffice and would not satisfy most of our Microsoft Office customers today.
Andy Updegrove quotes a flurry of egregious Microsoft bullshit about ODF from Jason Matusow. In particular: “The ODF format is limited to the features and performance of OpenOffice and StarOffice and would not satisfy most of our Microsoft Office customers today.” In your dreams, Jason.
For starters, I understand the value of having the ISO ratify ODF from an ODF-proponent's point of view. Many organizations require the imprimatur of the ISO before adopting some standard internally. Why? I'm not sure. The fact that the ISO (and Ecma) appear to willingly ratify multiple standards for the same thing is a mockery of standards setting and is wreaking predictable havoc.
Anyway, back to Bray's response to Matusow. From the looks of things, Matusow got under Bray's skin and it will be interesting to see where this ends up. The truth, if you ask me, lies somewhere in the middle. Matusow knows all about the middle. He's all about the middle. Whether he knows it or not, when he lectured me on the movement to the middle, it stuck with me and I think about more than I care to admit. In the bigger picture, we often see a movement to the middle between to technologies that compete head to head.
For example, over the years, Java (once the Fort Knox of operating environments) has become less secure as more functionality has been introduced. Likewise, Windows, which started with more functionality and nothing like the reputation of Fort Knox, is moving more and more towards the sort of lockdown that Java was once known for -- a lockdown that actually inteferes with the frictionless user experience that gave both users and malware developers the same carte blanche to system resources. A movement to the middle.
While I do believe that ODF may not satisfy some segment of existing Office users (a segment that leverages some of Office's more esoteric functions), I don't believe it's most office users. While I'm positive they exist, I don't personally know of any Office users that couldn't just as easily save their data to the ODF file format. The 80/20 rule (more like 90/10) is in effect. 80 percent of the users really only need 20 percent of the features. I know that's all I need. If that.
Likewise, while ODF may satisfy the needs of most Office users, switching off of Office is a different story to the point where they're happily relying on an ODF-compliant solution is a different story. The other day, my son turned his history paper in via email. He uses OpenOffice.org. His history teacher uses Microsoft Office. My son saved the file to be opened by Microsoft Office but the teacher couldn't open it. The next night, I opened it without a hitch and printed it for him so he could bring the hard copy in. User error? Perhaps. But it's not the first time I've heard of such potholes.