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The Relevancy of ODF 1.0

By the time you read this (actually probably by the time I finish writing this post) a ballot approving the Public Review Draft of ODF 1.2, Part 1 will have passed.  Part 1 is the largest of the three parts of ODF 1.2, and reaching a Public Review Draft status is a major accomplishment.  Expect to see an official notice of the start of the public review period over the next few days.

But as we look forward to ODF 1.2, and then beyond to “ODF-Next”, it is worth giving some consideration to what we do with ODF 1.1 and ODF 1.0.

Today, if you surveyed ODF implementations, you would find that the preponderance of them write ODF 1.1 documents by default. Twelve months ago many of them wrote out ODF 1.0 format, and in another 12 months I predict most will be writing out ODF 1.2 format by default.

So what does this mean for ODF the standard?

Every 5 years each ISO standard undergoes what is called “Periodic Review”.  The outcome of this review is to classify the standard as one of: confirmed, revised, stabilized or withdrawn.   If it is confirmed, it means the standard is of continued relevancy and is still undergoing maintenance.  Revised means it is currently undergoing revision and periodic review is not necessary.  Stabilized means it “has ongoing validity and effectiveness but is mature and insofar as can be determined will not require further maintenance of any sort”.  And a standard is withdrawn (the most extreme option) if it has been declared unsafe, has a non-RAND patent asserted against it, or is “no longer in use”.

Some of the nattering nabobs in SC34 (e.g., Alex Brown) are floating the idea that ODF 1.0 should be withdrawn from ISO, claiming it is not implemented and not relevant.  At the recent SC34 meeting in Paris this view was echoed by a Microsoft participant (one of many) in the meeting, who additionally urged that a motion to withdraw ODF 1.0 be brought forward at the Stockholm SC34 Plenary in March.

I think this shows an extraordinarily poor understanding of how documents and document format standards work.  ODF is not a standard for a transient phenomenon, like a network or telephone protocol standard, that is no longer relevant when the last producer of the network protocol is gone from the market and the last signal fades from the wire.  ODF specifies a document format, and documents persist and remain relevant so long as the documents and their owners remain.

Additionally, and especially in public sector use, there are regulatory or statutory requirements for how long documents (records) must be preserved.  Some for 3 years, some for 7, some for 30 years, and some records must be preserved forever.  Just because ODF 1.2 comes along does not make ODF 1.0 retention and public access requirements go away.

Although most major ODF editors now write out new documents in ODF 1.1 format by default, they all are able to read and process ODF 1.0 documents as well.  So they are all “consumers” of ODF 1.0 and conform to the ODF 1.0 standard.  This occurs at the same time they are also conforming ODF 1.1 “producers”.  So it is absolutely false to say that there are no ODF 1.0 implementations today.  There are many, including OpenOffice, Symphony, Google Docs, KOffice, even Microsoft Office.  The are all ODF 1.0 consumers.

We should also consider the needs of new word processors that implement ODF, since there are still a few that do not support ODF yet, like Apple’s iWork.  When they eventually implement ODF they will want to implement write support (“producer” conformance) for the current version of ODF, as well as read support (“consumer” conformance) for earlier versions of ODF.  So to enable competition in this space, and allow for new players, we must preserve access to the relevant legacy standards.  Otherwise we would be perpetuating the type of information exclusion we typically associate with Microsoft, in the decades when they restricted access to their legacy formats.

In any case, it is still puzzling to me why some are pushing for the very unusual and extreme action of withdrawing ODF 1.0 from ISO.  This doesn’t pass the sniff test.  Something is rotten here.  This is an anti-competition, anti-user, anti-adopter and overtly political move, lead by Microsoft employees and Microsoft consultants in the Microsoft-dominated JTC1/SC34.   (I wish I had a pump big enough to drain that swamp.)  Ironically, by questioning the relevancy of ODF 1.0, they will cause many more to question the relevancy of SC34.

At some point, I agree that stabilization may be something to consider in the future.  But for now, ODF does not fit in that category because it is actively undergoing maintenance. SC34 members, including Alex Brown, have submitted defect reports against ODF 1.0, and the OASIS ODF TC is responding to them.  It is quite reasonable to expect that ODF 1.1 and ODF 1.2 will be broadly implemented at the same time as ODF 1.0 continues to undergo corrective maintenance.  That is the nature of document format standards like ODF.  Their relevancy, as perceived by users and adopters of the standard, is determined by the mass of legacy documents in the format, not on whether their current word processor saves in that format by default.

[12/15/09 Doug Mahugh today wrote to the OASIS ODF TC list, apprently concerned that this blog post might be misread as an official statement of the OASIS ODF TC.  I’ve attempted to dispel such notions in my response on that list.  As I’ve made abundantly clear on my Who is Rob Weir page, “The postings on this site are my own and don’t necessarily represent the positions, strategies or opinions of any of my employers or the organizations I’m associated with”.

My practice is simple:   I am not speaking as OASIS ODF TC Co-Chair, unless I am posting ODF TC agendas, minutes or similar official ODF TC notices to the ODF TC’s mailing list, or when I explicitly sign my name with the title, “Co-Chair, OASIS ODF TC”.]

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{ 9 comments… add one }

  • zaine_ridling 2009/12/15, 04:02

    Rob, since MS Office 2003 users are locked out of their own IRM/DRM documents, it only makes sense that Microsoft doesn't want ODF users to enjoy their more efficient format! Tell me you couldn't predict this move by now.

  • Anonymous 2009/12/15, 05:37

    I do think the persons that suggest this in ISO have a very good understanding of the nature of things. They are loosing so they need to think outside the box.

    Since it is quite clear that OOXML is in danger of being pulled back because not even Microsoft will make a strict compliant version they desperately need to spin the tale that ODF is equally bad.

    Only if they spread the FUD that says ODF is flawed and impossible to implement can they hope to escape the public backlash when OOXML get the treatment it deserves.

  • sinleeh 2009/12/15, 10:59

    Rob,

    I must admit I am always confused by the terminology used by Standard Bodies, may it be ISO or W3C.

    I thought that if a standard is said to be withdrawn, it means all revisions, may it be 1.0, 0.5 or 999.9, are withdrawn.

    It appears, however, that in this case "withdrawn" simply means a particular revision is withdrawn, not the whole thing.

    Quite frankly, I do not any see the reason to "withdraw" 1.0 because one has 1.2. May be a note placed against it saying that a newer standard is available and you are encouraged to use 1.2 instead. 10 years down the line, if I have a document written in 1.0, I still have to dig out 1.0 and 1.2 is not going to be useful.

    Does "withdrawn" means "no longer maintained"?

    I am sure we are seeing some political reason for wanting 1.0 withdrawn. Especially for the PR spin.

  • Rob Weir 2009/12/15, 12:03

    @Sinleeh,

    Think of it this way:

    "Stabilized" (or "Stabilised") means "No longer undergoing maintenance".

    "Withdrawn" means "No longer an International Standard".

    -Rob

  • The Mad Hatter 2009/12/15, 13:16

    And I think that this is the point. Withdraw ODF 1.0, and now the dates change, because ODF 1.1 was ratified at a later date. Do the same to ODF 1.1, and then Microsoft XML is an older standard.

    I've seen this sort of game played before. It all comes down to money.

  • Ronald Devins 2009/12/18, 12:35

    "Ironically, by questioning the relevancy of ODF 1.0, they will cause many more to question the relevancy of SC34."

    Actually, there's nothing ironic about it. It's what Microsoft wants. It's a lot of work to document OOXML and even their obfuscated efforts are better than nothing for competitors.

    If both ODF and OOXML de jure standards are junked, all that's left are defacto standards, namely OOXML and DOC from Microsoft.

  • Stephan Beal 2009/12/22, 06:57

    "Ironically, by questioning the relevancy of ODF 1.0, they will cause many more to question the relevancy of SC34."

    Since the ISO scandal where OOXML was baptized (after which many started referring to ISO as "I Sold Out"), many in the IT industry have already questioned the role, relevance, and judgement of ISO. If ODF 1.0 really is deep-sixed at the insistence of representatives from a small handful of organizations (MS and their lackies), i cannot imagine how anyone _not_ of MS could continue to support ISO. Such an organization serves only the needs of the few, and that's not ISO's purpose.

    i work primarily in the banking and insurance industries in Germany, where document retention rules require that we keep data for many years. The systems for reading the data have to be re-creatable during that time. If ODF 1.0 is sunk now, in 20 years, when some random lawsuit requires that a bank fish out old records, that bank will be unable to comply and will, in the legal sense of the word, be screwed. And the sad part is, it would be exactly what MS wanted, and what every sensible person knew would (but shouldn't) happen.

    MS has a history of obsoleting data formats to keep their products selling. There is NO reason in the world why WORLDWIDE-STANDARD formats have to follow that same path.

  • Anonymous 2009/12/23, 14:14

    Isn't it OOXML that has no implementations? Why are we maintaining a standard that no one, not even it's drafter, are using?

    It sure looks to me like the ISO or at least SC34, have become an arm of Microsoft.

    Can we trust anything coming out of ISO? I don't see how at this point.

  • suezz 2009/12/24, 09:42

    What is alex brown smoking. Who implements ooxml beside microsoft and that isn't even a full implementation.

    There are tons of applications that implement ODF (all versions).

    Also since microsoft lost the i4i patent case I would assume their standards gets withdrawn.

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