Update on OpenXML vs ODF

Thanks to one of my favorite web comics, Everybody loves Eric Raymond, I discovered two rather interesting articles in the OpenXML and ODF debate.

The first article is by Miguel de Icaza from end of January in which he says that the EU Prosecutors are wrong, starting with a bashing of  ECIS council Thomas Vinje, who is coordinating the industry support of the European Commission case in the EU antitrust case against Microsoft. You can see here who are those "some companies" that Miguel is referring to.

Miguel then goes into a valiant defense of OpenXML, trying to show that ODF were at least as bad as OpenXML, and that statements against OpenXML had to be politically motivated.

Rob Weir then wrote a response in which he goes through a step-by-step analysis of Miguels claims, which leaves very little doubt about the serious flaws in Miguels posting.

In his rather undignified response Miguel then tries to assert a purely authoritative argument based on his previous work on gnumeric which leaves the main point of multiple compatible implementations of ODF unanswered.

Robs response to this is rather amusing and insightful

To Miguel’s question, on whether I have actually done any coding in this area, or whether I am "just another armchair general". I prefer to let my words and logic stand for themselves. A resume is a poor substitute for a sound argument.

only to  continue with detailing a resume that easily competes with that of Miguel. One might even say it out-resumes it.

One thing that struck me as very insightful about Miguels posting was his analysis that with OpenXML succeeding as an ISO standard, Open Standards would no longer be a useful path to promote Free Software in the governmental area:

The real challenge today that open source faces in the office space is that some administrations might choose to move from the binary office formats to the OOXML formats and that "open standards" will not play a role in promoting OpenOffice.org nor open source.

This is probably a correct assessment.

If Microsoft succeeds in having its proprietary OpenXML format accepted as an "Open Standard", the term will have become meaningless and the efforts to break the Microsoft lock-in will have lost years of work.  As Miguel correctly points out, this is the political motivation behind OpenXML:

Open standards and the need for public access to information was a strong message. This became a key component of promoting open office, and open source software. This posed two problems: […] Second, it assumed that Microsoft would stand still and would not react to this new change in the market.

The first problem he described was that many of the people promoting Free Software in this way neglected the need to stress a fully Free Software implementation of the office suite. With this I fully agree.

So based on Miguels argument: Because there are fully Free Software implementations of ODF and there is no indication there will ever be a Free Software implementation of OpenXML, OpenXML represents a step back for Free Software.

On a related note: Here is an article that describes the attempts to test the OpenOffice.org plugin written by Miguels employer to read/write OpenXML files. The result:

All in all, my experiences with the OpenXML translator were less than positive, and reports on OpenOffice.org-related newsgroups and forums indicate that I’m not alone. The translator is useless when installed in a stock version of OpenOffice.org; Novell apparently focused on making the translator work with its own flavor of OpenOffice.org. Even then, the translator’s performance is far from perfect. While Novell’s attempts to improve compatibility between OpenOffice.org and Office 2007 are commendable, the current result of the company’s endeavors are less than impressive.

The ODF plugin for Microsoft Word seems to fare much better. Although it still has some glitches that should be worked out, the authors conclusion is that standardising on ODF is the way to go.

So more than three months after the publication of my article "Novells Danaergeschenk" on Groklaw I think that the basic conclusions still hold.

About Georg Greve

Georg Greve is a technologist and entrepreneur. Background as a software developer and physicist. Head of product development and Chairman at Vereign AG. Founding president of the Free Software Foundation Europe (FSFE). Previously president and CEO at Kolab Systems AG, a Swiss Open Source ISV. In 2009 Georg was awarded the Federal Cross of Merit on Ribbon by the Federal Republic of Germany for his contributions to Open Source and Open Standards.
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