I’ve decided to put together a list of misconceptions that I hear, generally on the topic of document formats. I’ll try to update this list to keep it current, with the most recent entries at the top. Readers are invited to submit the FUD they observe as comments, and I’ll include it where I can.
This inaugural edition is dedicated to the fallout from the recent supernova we know as the OpenDocument Foundation, that in one final act of self-immolation swelled from obscurity to overwhelming brilliance, but then slowly faded away, ever fainter and more erratic, little more than hot gas, the dimming embers no longer sustainable.
Q: Now that the originator and primary supporter of OpenDocument Format has ended its support for ODF, does this mean the end for the ODF standard? (18 Nov 2007)
A: This question is based on a mistaken premise, namely that the OpenDocument Foundation was the originator or steward of the ODF standard. This is an erroneous notion.
The ODF standard is owned by the OASIS standards consortium, with over 600 member organizations and individual members. The committee in OASIS that that does the technical working of maintaining the ODF standard is called the OpenDocument TC. It has 15 organization members as well as 7 individual members. Until recently the OpenDocument Foundation was a member of the ODF TC, one voice among many.
The adoption of the ODF standard is promoted by several organizations, most prominently the ODF Alliance (with over 400 organizational members in 52 countries), the OpenDocument Fellowship (around 100 individual members) and the OpenDoc Society (a new group with a Northern European focus, with around 50 organizational members). To put this in perspective, the OpenDocument Foundation, before it changed its mission and dissolved, had only 3 members.
When you consider the range of ODF adoption, especially in Europe and Asia, the strong continuing work on ODF 1.2 in OASIS, and the strong corporate, government and organizational participation demonstrated in the global ODF User Workshop recently held in Berlin, we seem to be making a disproportionate amount of noise over the hysterics of the disintegrating 3-person OpenDocument Foundation.
A number of analysts/journalists/bloggers didn’t check their facts and seem to have fallen into the trap, and ascribed a far greater importance to the actions of the Foundation. Curiously, these articles all quoted the same Microsoft Director of Corporate Standards. I hope this correlation does not prove to be a persistent contrary indicator for accuracy in future file format stories.
Luckily for us, David Berlind over at ZDNet has penetrated the confusion and gets it right:
…the future of the OpenDocument Foundation has nothing to do with the future of the OpenDocument Format. In other words, any indication by anybody that the OpenDocument Format has been vacated by its supporters is pure FUD.
11/27/2009 Update: Berlind did further research and interviews on this topic and followed up with a podcast and new blog post OpenDocument Format Community steadfast despite theatrics of now impotent ‘Foundation’ on this subject.
Q: The Open Document Foundation has a document, a “Universal Interoperability Framework” that on its title page says “Submitted to the OASIS Office Technical Committee by The OpenDocument Foundation October 16, 2007”. What is the status of this proposal in the ODF TC? (18 Nov 2007)
A: No such document has been submitted to the OASIS TC, on this date or any other date. OASIS policy states that “Contributions, as defined in the OASIS IPR Policy, shall be made by sending to the TC’s general email list either the contribution, or a notice that the contribution has been delivered to the TC’s document repository”. A look at the ODF TC’s list archive for October shows that there was no such contribution.
Q: The Foundation claims that the W3C’s CDF format has better interoperability with MS Office than ODF has. Is this true? (18 Nov 2007)
A: The Foundation’s claims have not been demonstrated, or even competently argued at a technical level that would allow expert evaluation. I cannot fully critique what is essentially vaporware. However, those who know CDF better than I do have commented on the mismatch between CDF and office documents, for example the recent interview with the W3C’s Chris Lilley in Andy Updegrove’s blog.
Q: So, does IBM then oppose CDF in favor of ODF? (18 Nov 2007)
A: No. IBM supports both the development of ODF and CDF and has a leadership role in both working groups. These are two good standards for two different things.
The W3C, over the years has produced a number of reusable, modular core standards for things like vector graphics (SVG), mathematical notation (MathML), forms (XForms), etc. To use a cooking analogy, these are like ingredients that can be combined to make a dish. ODF has taken a number of W3C standards and combined them to make a format for expressing conventional office documents, the familiar word processor, spreadsheet and presentation documents. ODF is an OASIS and ISO standard.
But just as eggs, butter and flour form the base of many recipes, the core W3C standards can be assembled in different ways for different purposes. This is a good thing.
CDF is not so much a final dish, but an intermediate step, like a roux (flour + butter) is when making a sauce. You don’t use a roux directly, but build upon it, e.g., add milk to make a béchamel, add cheese for a cheese sauce, etc., CDF itself s not directly consumable. You need to add a WICD profile, something like WICD Mobile 1.0, before you have something a user agent can process.