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

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.

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TOPICS: Emerging Tech
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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.

Topic: Emerging Tech

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11 comments
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  • There will never be a shortage

    of those who oppose freedom and support the
    rich and powerful. Will they be able to fool
    all the people, all the time?

    Never! There will always be at least one
    holdout........ Me!
    Ole Man
    • Good luck to you!

      If it's any consolation, remember James Thurber's story about ROTC drilling for a visiting General during World War I in University Daze.

      Thurber was near-blind and unmilitary, and the General insisted on elaborate and quick marching and counter-marching.

      Eventually, thousands marched off in one direction and Thurber alone in another.

      Commented the General loud enough for Thurber to hear, That man is the only one who has it right.

      Well, it's encouraged me.
      Anton Philidor
    • OK

      I don't get it.
      cynthia.joffrion@...
  • Good summation.

    This OD Foundation skirmish is not very significant, as Mr. Berlind observes. So long as Sun and IBM and other Microsoft competitors and antagonists believe they have a chance to win, or at least win plaudits, the highly political battle will continue.

    But the summation to which I referred is from a quote in the Comment:

    "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."

    The comment on pdf should be more harshly negative and the comment on Microsoft's formats should make more allowance for the expensive efforts by both sides to manipulate the standards process. But in general that appears accurate.
    Anton Philidor
    • Thank you Anton

      As usual, with your in-depth microscopic
      examination of all things under the sun, you
      have missed completely the simple obvious
      true fact that was staring you in the face
      to begin with.

      The "raging controversy" has nothing to do
      with a standard, but rather
      Microsoft's "expensive efforts" to force
      their "ubiquitous format" to be accepted as
      a standard, thereby rendering standard as
      nonstandard.

      If they/you succeed, they will have reversed
      the definition of a standard, making the
      standard anything but standard.

      I sometimes wonder what it feels like to be
      capable of playing with words well enough to
      change the perception of average working
      people to right from wrong, and vice-versa.
      Of course the smell of money cements the
      ectosymbiotic transformation.

      Any comments on what that feels like?
      Ole Man
      • "ectosymbiotic"?

        Not an everyday word.

        Endosymbiotic refers to the situation in which one symbiote lives inside the other, so ectosymbiotic must mean the situation in which one symbiote lives outside the other.

        You wrote:

        "Of course the smell of money cements the ectosymbiotic transformation."

        So you might mean a situation in which one symbiote leaves the other forever. And is probably forlorn.

        You asked:

        "Any comments on what that feels like?"

        Confusing?



        From the rest of your post, you oppose the designation of Microsoft's format as a standard because it was developed by and responds to the needs of one company. Even though it can be used by others, and will, if approved, be as completely documented as other formats designated as standards.

        Apparently, the organization making the decision can accept Microsoft's role in the existence of the format or it wouldn't be under consideration.

        Hasn't your objection already been made obsolete?
        Anton Philidor
        • I would have thought

          It would have leapt at you. Using one word
          in conjunction with another usually changes
          or qualifies one by the other, so the
          definition of the other word (used in
          conjunction) should have (I thought)
          indicated the meaning.

          I'm sure you know exactly what I mean.
          Everything couldn't possibly be either to
          simple or too complicated for a small bit of
          comprehension.

          You persist in changing the subject away
          from a "standard" and using other words
          (such as format, document, etc) to make an
          argument for defining a standard, and
          complicate the discourse enough to confuse
          any participant enough so that they don't
          know what they're arguing about.

          All I can say to you is, it's really a shame
          that someone of your obvious intellect and
          education dedicate your talent and efforts
          to promote the welfare of the arrogant rich
          and powerful corporations and corporate
          government. You must be one of them.

          I may call you to the carpet in the future
          when you start laying it on too thick.
          Otherwise I won't bother you.

          Good day to you, sir.
          Ole Man
  • Thanks for setting us straight. But, it seems that the damage has been done

    in terms of the political battle. Those that will go in and vote on OOXML on a non-technical basis, will have been very negatively influenced by this and think that because of the problems with ODF, they should vote in favor of OOXML. All of the early press releases listed the Open Document Foundation turning against its own format, everybody assuming that the Open Document Foundation being the controllers of ODF. That will be very hard to undo.

    I guess they did in fact poke a sharp stick in the eye of those that had rejected their approach.

    And, that is the problem, with the rules of OSI, the OSI has been taken over by political interests only because of OOXML. Actually, all of those that joined to only vote on OOXML, are creating quite a problem within OSI I heard, since they can't get enough to vote on things to get anything done.

    David, can you do some investigation into the OSI problems, and give us some idea of what happened, and if it is going to get fixed???
    DonnieBoy
  • Wow David, thanks!

    Thanks for cutting through this convoluted story. Up to this point, most of us readers have only gotten bits and pieces of this story and struggled to understand it. Thanks for clarifying a complex issue.
    zaine_ridling
  • RE: OpenDocument Foundation's 'woes' have little to do with OpenDoc Format'

    In short:

    The ODF is dead, long live the ODF!!

    -Ramon
    RamonFHerrera
  • RE: OpenDocument Foundation's 'woes' have little to do with OpenDoc Format's future

    No one has bothered to bring this information foward to reflect today's stances? Lots of changes have gone on. I didn't say good or bad; just that there have been a lot of changes.
    tom@...