David correctly points out that some appliances, like washing machines or electric dryers, with higher power requirements, have a different plug design. “Clearly, a one size standard does not fit all”, as he says. However, this is an intentional design decision made for safety reasons. If things cannot safely be interchanged, then good industrial design is to make them impossible to be interchanged. These plugs are incompatible and non-interoperable on purpose.
No one would intentionally do that with a file format, would they?
David then suggests that a single standard is insufficient because it would stifle competition and innovation:
Electricity is a largely mature and stable technology and there is not much room for innovation in the socket and receptacle space. Document formats, on the other hand, are constantly evolving to keep pace with changing technology. Competition is vital to ensure that those formats continue to meet those ever changing needs. Imagine if a single document format was adopted 15 years ago. How would that format deal with things that we take for granted today like including links to web pages, adding digital photos, or even embedding video in our documents? Unlike electricity, document formats are evolving at a rapid pace and competition will help drive that innovation.
I see it differently. Has a single HTML standard held back competition and innovation on the web? Has the move from vendor-specific network protocols to TCP/IP deprived consumers of innovation? Has the standardization of SQL held back the database industry? Have standardized programming languages like C and C++ prevented others from innovating? I see no evidence of this. On the contrary, standardized HTML, TCP/IP, SQL and C/C++ have been fundamental to the modern IT economy and have been responsible for many billions of dollars of value.
I’d also challenge the assertion that standardization equates with lack of innovation. If this were true, how does Microsoft reconcile their work standardizing OOXML, .NET, C++/CLI, C#, etc., with their needs for continuing innovation? Are these areas, “largely mature and stable”?
Or is this really just a belief that standardization is good when Microsoft originates and controls the standard, but it is bad otherwise?
Back to the examples of HTML, TCP/IP, SQL, C/C++. These standards continued to evolve, and innovations were brought to consumers, but they were done in a multi-vendor standards process where they reconciled their multiple perspectives and needs. Is that such a bad model to follow?
In the end, where does innovation come from? Does it require absolute control? Or does it come from having bright people? I’d suggest the latter, and point out that Microsoft employs several, but not all of the bright people in the area of file formats. Microsoft and Microsoft’s customers would benefit greatly if Microsoft would join with their competitors who are already innovating and competing in the evolution of the ISO ODF standard.
Remember the “X” in XML stands for Extensible. Making a single file format that meets Microsoft’s needs, as well as IBM’s, Sun’s, Corel’s, Novell’s, Google’s, etc., is not only technically possible, it is the best approach for the consumer. This does not mean that competition ends, or that all office applications will have identical features, or that we can only have lowest-common-denominator functionality. It just means that we should agree on a common representation for the features that we already have in common, and then have a framework for layering on vendor-specific innovations to express the areas where we differ.