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 The outcome of this review is to classify the standard as one of: confirmed, revised, stabilized or withdrawn.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 And a standard is withdrawn (the most extreme option) if it has been declared unsafe, has a non-RAND patent asserted against it, or is “no longer in use”.
Some of the nattering nabobs in SC34 (e.g., Alex Brown) are floating the idea that ODF 1.0 should be withdrawn from ISO, claiming it is not implemented and not relevant.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”.]