OpenDocument gets ratified by ISO: Whoop-ass or big whoop?

OpenDocument gets ratified by ISO: Whoop-ass or big whoop?

Summary: For proponents of the OpenDocument Format, the long wait from specification publication to supposed international standard is over.  Reports and press releases from all parties with an interest in ODF have been rolling in to inform the world that ODF now has the imprimatur of the International Organisation of Standardization.

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TOPICS: Open Source
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For proponents of the OpenDocument Format, the long wait from specification publication to supposed international standard is over.  Reports and press releases from all parties with an interest in ODF have been rolling in to inform the world that ODF now has the imprimatur of the International Organisation of Standardization.  Theoretically, this should give it an advantage over Microsoft's Open XML upon which no such honor has been bestowed.  But does it matter? The ODF Alliance has a press release in PDF format here (why not ODF?. Oh never mind).  But Andrew Updegrove, general counsel to OASIS (the consortium that published ODF), has more:

ODF is now ISO/IEC 26300......While there are still some procedural steps internal to ISO/IEC that are required before the official text of the standard will be finalized and issued, these steps are formalities rather than gating factors. With adoption of ODF by ISO/IEC now assured, software that implements the standard will now become more attractive to those European and other government purchasers for whom global adoption by ISO/IEC is either desirable, or required.

Cause for celebration? Don't get the confetti out yet.  While the imprimatur of the ISO may make it easier for some ODF-compliant IT managers to sleep at night while giving ODF (as document formats go) a supposed leg-up in the standards war over Microsoft's Open XML specification, it may not turn out to be the differentiator that some hoped it would be.  Calling the notion of standards into question in the first place, as the old saying  goes, the best thing about standards is that there's so many of them.  This is no different.  The ISO may have established ODF as the international standard of document formats. But, within the next 12 to 18 months, Microsoft's Open XML is likely to get the ISO's imprimatur as well (making both just a standard).    Updegrove continues:

Microsoft's Open XML specification, also headed for consideration by ISO/IEC, is still in process within Ecma.  Upon completion, it would be submitted to the same voting process.

And Ecma, as far as I'm concerned, is a joke.  Microsoft selected Ecma because Ecma has a status afforded to very few other organizations: it can add any of the specifications it publishes to ISO's fast track for rapid consideration and ratification as an international standard.  In and of itself, that's really not a problem to me. But that, taken in combination with the admission of Ecma's chief that patent holders are free to use Ecma's imprimatur to give their technologies (open or not) a marketplace advantage and that its only natural for Ecma to ratify multiple standards for the same thing is, well, just weird. Said Ecma's Secretarie General Jan van den Beld in an interview I did with him this past December:

Ecma made all standards for DVD — five competing rewriteable/recordable formats.  They all do the same thing.  The reason there are five is that there this is a patent war.  All of those standards have been fast tracked to the ISO and all been approved without any comments.  The ISO cannot decide for one industry group.  It must be neutral.  it can pick one over the other.  There's no possibility for a standards body to decide it in favor of IBM, Sun, or Microsoft.  It's very possible for the ISO to set both standards. There may be overlap, but it doesn't matter.  For the ISO, it's impossible to get in the way of patent wars.

Have patent? Can standardize.  Even if a standard already exists.  That should be Ecma's tagline.  Two standards for the same thing? Five standards for the same thing?  Why bother with standards at all? And, as can be seen from the interview, the ISO is apparently no better.  So, in the big picture, the ODF Alliance can count its chickens for about a year.  But once Microsoft's Open XML gets the same ISO imprimatur that ODF has been blessed with -- and there's no official reason it shouldn't -- then neither badge of honor will carry much weight in the bigger picture.  The playing field will once again be level and the debate over which is better can once again devolve into a question of which is more open, which has more technical merit, which has more backers, and/or which is more broadly adopted by end-users.

Topic: Open Source

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15 comments
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  • The fact it's published in PDF says volumes...

    That is to anyone paying attention. Hey, don't get me wrong, standards are multiple and if they got this one in then good on them. Won't really mean much but good on them anyhow.
    No_Ax_to_Grind
    • Published in PDF for a good reason...

      PDF is a publication format, while ODF and Microsoft's Office formats are editable. If it were published in ODF or .doc, what's to stop anyone from altering it and spread disinformation with it? Isn't that the reason PDF was created in the first place?
      Tony Agudo
    • Yeah, it wasn't in .DOC

      I don't suppose it has to do with the fact that PDF is a document presentation format and not a document storage format might have something to do with it.

      But hey, I'm sure they'll convert it to whatever MS's "bet the company" "PDF-killer" format is, just as soon as it runs on Vista in 2008...
      Robert Crocker
  • PDF Format

    David, the document was [b]made[/b] in StarOffice 8 which uses the ODF. It was released as a PDF, exactly because it is the [b]Portable[/b] Document Format. Not all systems may currently have software that supports ODF, but most have a PDF reader.

    This doesn't take away from ODF getting ratified by ISO.
    dr.adrian
    • Considering they just anounced a MS Office Plugin

      The MS Office ODF Plugin that allows you to Open ODF in MS Office and adds a Save As ODF option in the menu and works on Office 97-2003 will change all of that. They worked on it a year and it just got out of testing Friday.

      No excuse not to use ODF now. NONE!
      Edward Meyers
      • Who is they?

        where's the info on this?
        dberlind
        • Gary Edwards and the ODF

          [i]The OpenDocument Foundation has notified the Massachusetts ITD that we have completed testing on an ODF Plugin for all versions of MS Office dating back to MS Office 97. The ODF Plugin installs on the file menu as a natural and transparent part of the open, save, and save as sequences. As far as end users and other application add-ons are concerned, ODF plugin renders ODF documents as if it were native to MS Office.

          The testing has been extensive and thorough. As far as we can tell there isn't a problem, even with Accessibility add ons, which as you know is a major concern for Massachusetts.

          Now that we've had a chance to fully review their RFI document, we expect to submit a formal line by line reply, offering the ODF Plugin for immediate testing, review and implementation.

          Some people might wonder why the Foundation would be interested in "extending" the life and vested value of these Win32 bound desktops?

          Our reply is that this isn't about "Windows" or MS Office. It's about people, business units, existing workflows and business processes, and vested legacy information systems begging to be connected, coordinated, and re engineered to reach new levels of productivity and service. It's also about the extraordinary value of ODF and it's importance to the next generation of collaborative computing. And it's about ODF rising to meet the needs of key information domains as they are represented by desktop productivity environments; publishing, content and archive management systems; SOA efforts; and the Open Internet.[/i]

          http://www.groklaw.net/article.php?story=20060504015438308
          Edward Meyers
      • NONE?

        Except that Office documents are about 1 billion years more advanced than ODF?

        Check out how far behind OpenOffice is...
        http://development.openoffice.org/todo.html

        Microsofts Office and Document architecture is far superior and there is zero chance that it is going to somehow get surpased by OpenOffice ... $50 billion can buy all the added technology needed to make sure Microsoft remains #1.
        ggibson1
        • ODF not OO

          And this plugin works in MS Office.

          No where did I mention Open Office. BTW OO is not the only office suite that supports ODF; KOffice, Abiword, Star Office, and now through plugins MS Office among others all support ODF.

          As I was talking about MS Office... unless your argument is that MS Office is an inferior product and hence shouldn't be used over another ODF capable suite I don't see your point.
          Edward Meyers
        • A third party plug-in sounds like it's just the ticket

          I think it's a great idea to allow MS-Office to access the ODF standard document format. MS Office users will be able to use their favorite word processor or spreadsheet and still save their work in an internationally recognised (and royalty free) file format.

          This is a bit off the ODF topic, but I use MS Office and as far as I can tell, it still uses a file format that was introduced with Office 97. It seems to be up to the task but it's hardly "a billion years more advanced than ODF."

          Cheers
          WiredGuy
      • Where is the MS Plugin

        The more places that post it the more likely peop[le will use it.
        support@...
  • Microsoft:Nevermind. You don't need to lift a finger

    For those who care, there's a [url]=http://www.groklaw.net/article.php?story=20060504015438308]GROKLAW article[/url] regarding a new MS Office ODF plugin.

    It pretty much takes the wind out of MS' sails.
    Ok. I think that does it.
    D T Schmitz
  • Should be a big whoop!

    We have long needed a universal standard for
    public documents which is application and
    platform independent. I hope this is the one.
    richdave
  • Multiple document standards -- ECMA / ISO etc.

    Great article and video, well written as well as relevant. It reminds me of the farce created when a Mars probe failed because US scientists were using Imperial units and Europeans were using metric.
    Money talks in this field as everywhere else, and perhaps the bureaucratic survival strategies of organisations like ECMA and ISO are no more ridiculous than the IT corporations' wrangling over formats. I would not like to see ISO and ECMA go under just because of commercial realpolitik, as there are several fields in which standards are vital.
    alphasun
  • mockery of standards

    sounds like David had nothing else to bitch about so he picked a bfd subject. this really is a "so what" subject. David, find something worthwhile to talk about.
    phuk_yeu