OOXML expert: ODF standard is broken

The ISO standard for ODF documents is impossible to implement, says an expert who has now found both OpenOffice and Microsoft Office 2007 non-standard compliant
Written by Peter Judge, Contributor

The International Organization for Standardization's OpenDocument Format standard is broken and needs to be mended, according to an expert who claims to have carried out tests on the format.

Alex Brown, a document-format expert who is convenor of the process to standardise Office Open XML (OOXML), posted a blog this week reporting the results of tests which he claims reveal that OpenOffice documents do not conform to the International Organization for Standardization's (ISO's) version of the OpenDocument Format (ODF) standard. 

Speaking to ZDNet.co.uk this week, Brown, who reported similar problems between Microsoft Office 2007 documents and the OOXML standard, said the standardised version of ODF, known as ISO/IEC 26300:2006, "has a defect which prevents any document claiming validity from being actually valid. Consequently, there are no XML documents in existence which are valid to ISO ODF."

There is a critical flaw in the ODF schema defined by the Organization for the Advancement of Structured Information Standards (Oasis) and approved by ISO as ISO/IEC 26300:2006, according to Brown's blog, which means that no XML document can conform to the standard. Although the flaw invalidates ODF as a standard, it is relatively easy to fix, and Brown provided a defect report and suggested fix in his blog.

Even using a mended schema, Brown found in a "smoke test" that OpenOffice still does not produce valid standard documents: "This is to be expected and is a mirror case of what was found for Microsoft Office 2007." A smoke test is not a complete test, but the equivalent of starting up a car engine to see if it smokes, he explained.

Microsoft Office 2007 has not caught up with the ISO standard based on OOXML because changes were implemented in an ISO meeting, but OpenOffice has "bypassed" ISO/IEC 26300:2006, said Brown: "It aims at its consortium standard, just as Microsoft Office does".

Although OpenOffice is only one implementation of ODF, it is more popular than other ODF-based applications, such as KOffice, said Brown, and is therefore a good test. Brown took the same document that he used in his test of Microsoft Office 2007's conformance to the OOXML standard, saved it using OpenOffice and tested the resulting .odt (ODF format) file. It produced thousands of errors, most of which were very similar to each other.

The ODF community has yet to respond to Brown's findings and is currently working on a new version of ODF, version 1.2, for submission to ISO. Brown said his suggested change should be built into the ISO standard, based on ODF 1.0. "Technically this is not huge news," Brown told ZDNet.co.uk, "but ISO/IEC 26300:2006 is currently the only ODF standard and ISO should fix problems when they have been found."

Although Brown has been labelled as an OOXML supporter, he said he is in favour of all good standards and that, by offering a fix to ODF, he is actually supporting the document format. Brown referred to a post by Patrick Durusau, editor of the ODF standard, in which Durusau argued that standards supporters should promote and develop their own standards instead of "bashing" others.

"There may be flaws in ODF, but it is quite usable as it is," said John McCreesh, OpenOffice's marketing lead in the UK. He maintained that ODF is superior to OOXML, and that OpenOffice's team is uncovering problems with inputting OOXML documents: "If you do what the specification says, it doesn't look the same as it does in Office Word 2007. People want compatibility with Word 2007, not with some document that's alleged to say what the specification is."

Fundamentally, the issue is allowing user companies to be sure that their documents, which contain their intellectual property, will still be readable in 20 years' time, said McCreesh.

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