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<nettime> Jamie Love x2 on Open Document Format

     [Back to our regularly scheduled programming. --tb]

James Love <james.love@cptech.org>
     #1: When standards are political -- ODF (the Open Document Format)
     #2: Is Open XML a one way specification for most people?

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----- Forwarded 

From: James Love <james.love@cptech.org>
Subject: [Random-bits] When standards are political -- 
     ODF (the Open Document Format)
Date: Sat, 21 Oct 2006 12:11:45 -0400


October 21, 2006 The Huffington Post
James Love
When standards are political -- ODF (the Open Document Format)

Yesterday I attended a meeting hosted by TACD at Harvard's Berkman  
Center about a very important issue -- one that is both highly  
technical and political at the same time -- the battle over the Open  
Document Format (ODF).

(See links: http://www.cptech.org/a2k/odf/odfwkshop20oct06/, http:// 
www.tacd.org, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/OpenDocument)

The technical part concerns what ODF is -- an open specification for  
the formats of common documents such as those created by word  
processors, spreadsheets and presentation graphics programs.
The political part concerns what ODF represents -- an end to the  
Microsoft monopoly in desktop applications that are used to author  
and manage these documents.

Estimates vary, but Microsoft probably controls somewhere between 90  
to 95 percent of the market for word processing, spreadsheet and  
presentation graphics programs. This means people use Microsoft  
software to create these documents, and also to store data. The  
source of Microsoft's monopoly is control over file formats, in a  
world where data needs to be shared.

Lots of companies or even free software communities can create  
software to do these common tasks. Corel's WordPerfect office suite,  
Apple's iWorks, the OpenOffice.Org, and doc.google.com are just a few  
examples of "competitors" to Microsoft office, each controlling a  
tiny part of the small non-Microsoft market share. But as we all  
know, we need to exchange data. With everyone using email and the  
web, we need to consider if others can read our documents, and if we  
can read what we receive from others.

By failing to document their own (periodically modified) file  
formats, and not supporting the file formats of competitors,  
Microsoft has been able to create a very compelling reason to buy,  
and buy again, Microsoft software. Documents created in (current  
versions) of Microsoft's software are the best way to read documents  
other people create using Microsoft's software. So long as everyone  
uses a reasonably current version of Microsoft's software, everything  
more or less works.

You can try to avoid using Microsoft -- but at price. Documents might  
not look right. Sometimes the differences are small -- but sometimes  
they are almost unusable. For this reason, most of the entire  
computer using world now relies upon software from Microsoft. Other  
companies don't even bother to invest in competing products. There is  
very little choice or innovation in this product space.

Some people say this is inevitable, but of course, this is not true.  
The lack of interoperability is deliberate -- the linchpin of  
Microsoft's monopoly. But if the public could embrace an open format  
for documents, the outcome would be much different. There would be  
more competition, more innovation, better products, cheaper prices,  
etc. And there is a highly relevant example -- the web.

Web pages are build upon the foundation of open format - called HTML  
- for hypertext mark-up language. The standards for HTML are  
determined by the World Wide Web Consortium - which is not controlled  
by any one company. The formats are open, well documented, and  
designed to work with different software and hardware. It has  
probably been the most influential and important data standard in the  
history of publishing.

There are now thousands of high quality and innovative tools to  
author web pages. Microsoft offers a few, but they were never able to  
establish a significant market share. Indeed, there is no "leading"  
tool for creating web pages. Instead, there is an astonishing variety  
of methods of doing so - ranging from bare bones text based html  
editing tools to incredibility easy to use blogging software -  
offered by a variety of companies, free software projects or even  

The "Open Document Format" (ODF) effort has been led by a large group  
of non-Microsoft software companies that are seeking to level the  
playing field for software tools to author and manage text, data and  
graphics. It is pretty new, only having been approved by ISO/IEC on  
May 8, 2006. So far, only a handful of products support ODF,  
including the much improved free software office suite called  
OpenOffice.Org, the online program docs.google.com, and some Linux  
only applications. Apple, Corel and Microsoft have yet to suport ODF.

A handful of thoughtful government officials are trying to require  
software vendors, including Microsoft, to use this new open standard,  
in order to achieve a number of important public policy objectives,  

     * More competition among suppliers of software,
     * Improved ability to manage archives of data,
     * Enhanced ability to use and re-purpose data contained in documents.

The State of Massachusetts and the government of Belgium and Denmark  
have already put in place requirements that ODF be supported by  
software companies, and now other governments are beginning to  
consider similar initiatives. If they succeed, it could result in a  
revolution in the structure of the entire software market, and bring  
much needed competition and innovation to these important areas.

Next year Microsoft will try to sell the public on it's latest file  
format -- "Open XML", which they are marketing as a "competitor" to  
ODF as an "open" data format. Open XML was described by one expert as  
a standard that only Microsoft could implement - similar to a job  
description custom made for a single job applicant.

Next month in Athens, Greece, at the new "Internet Governance Forum,"  
there will be proposals for global norms to support open standards  
for key aspects of information technologies, including but not  
limited to data formats. Many people are nervous about these issues,  
because Microsoft is investing millions to defeat them, and to attack  
personally government officials who Microsoft sees as too friendly to  
open standards, and to reward politicians and government officials  
who back Microsoft.

This battle, which is often very difficult to follow at the level of  
the technical details, is quite important. For years we have  
tolerated the manipulation of data formats to maintain a monopoly  
that has imposed all sorts of costs of society, in terms of high  
prices, lack of innovation and poor quality software. One only needs  
to compare the innovation seen on web publishing to the dearth of  
innovation you see on the computer desktop. If ODF succeeds now,  
Microsoft will have to compete on the basis of prices and quality -  
rather than by being the only product that will not mangle a  
document. That should be a good thing for everyone in the long run.

State and federal government agencies should be asked to require that  
software vendors support ODF.

James Love, CPTech / www.cptech.org / mailto:james.love@cptech.org /  
tel. +1.202.332.2670 / mobile +1.202.361.3040

"If everyone thinks the same: No one thinks."  Bill Walton"

Random-bits mailing list

----- Backwarded

     # 2

----- Forwarded 

From: James Love <james.love@cptech.org>
Subject: [Random-bits] Is Open XML a one way specification for most people?
Date: Sat, 21 Oct 2006 17:13:40 -0400

Bob Sutor?s Open Blog
Monday, October 16th, 2006 @ 11:56 am
Is Open XML a one way specification for most people?

I have been accused in the past of using a "weight" argument against  
the Open XML specification because it is several thousand pages long.  
While some people may think that is cute or funny, it is a real  
concern and is an obvious problem that programmers recognize. That  
is, it is hard enough to implement a standard correctly, and one that  
is that long will be virtually impossible to do right. Mark my words  
on this and let the buyer beware.

Who will implement Open XML correctly and fully? Maybe Microsoft.  
Why? Since it is essentially a dump into XML of all the data needed  
for all the functionality of their Office products and since those  
products are proprietary, only they will understand any nuances that  
go beyond the spec. The spec may illuminate some of the mistakes that  
have been made and are now being written into a so called standard  
for all to have to implement, but I?m guessing there might be a few  
other shades of meaning that will not be clear.

Fully and correctly implementing Open XML will require the cloning of  
a large portion of Microsoft?s product. Best of luck doing that,  
especially since they have over a decade head start. Also, since they  
have avoided using industry standards like SVG and MathML, you?ll  
have to reimplement Microsoft?s flavor of many things. You had better  
start now. So therefore I conclude that while Microsoft may end up  
supporting most of Open XML (and we?ll have to see the final products  
to see how much and how correctly), other products will likely only  
end up supporting a subset.

That means that other products and software, in practice, will NOT be  
able to understand arbitrary Open XML that might be thrown at them.  
There is just too much. Therefore they will only create a bit that  
they need and send that off. Send it off to whom? The only software  
that might understand it, namely Microsoft Office.

So this is how I see this playing out: Open XML will be nearly fully  
read and written by Microsoft products, but only written in subset  
form by other software. This means that data in Open XML form will be  
largely sucked into the Microsoft ecosystem but very little will  
escape for full and practical use elsewhere.

In my opinion, suggesting "choice" among ODF and Open XML by  
governments who are seeking control, true choice, and  
interoperability is nothing more than maintaining the status quo ? a  
requirement for Microsoft products under the guise of supporting a  

All standards are not the same and providing support for all  
standards is not the same. Think about the implications of what is  
going on here. Open XML is not about interoperability in general, it  
is about moving or keeping a vendor?s products at the center of a  
universe. Nice marketing tactic. And that?s what this is about: we  
hear nice words about "open" and "xml" and "standard" but the reality  
and problems of producing real implementations are left to technical  
folk. Listen to what your technical people tell you before you make  
policy decisions that are not open and not particularly practical.

To be clear, people can choose to implement Open XML or not. I think  
some will try. Let me know after you do.

Finally, do this little thought experiment: imagine how thick a ream,  
or 500 sheets of paper is. Double that to get the thickness of a  
thousand pages, make that 4 times thicker to see how thick 4000 pages  
is. That?s how many pages were in the last draft of the Open XML  
spec. How many people will you need to implement that fully and  
correctly, much less read it? I believe the final version is around  
six thousand pages (correction?). I think we?re already past  
feasibility for most people unless you?ve already implemented and  
debugged the software over a period of years.

James Love, CPTech / www.cptech.org / mailto:james.love@cptech.org /  
tel. +1.202.332.2670 / mobile +1.202.361.3040

"If everyone thinks the same: No one thinks."  Bill Walton"

Random-bits mailing list

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