there have been some great discussions about Open XML online in the last week. Here are a few of my favorites …
Jason Matusow started an interesting thread about Open XML implementations on his blog. The participants include several people who have implemented Open XML support in their products, and it’s both rare and welcome to have this much hands-on experience in a public debate about file formats. I love the way Andy Updegrove raised questions that led to some great comments and debate; be sure to read all the comments on this post.
Jody Goldberg’s aptly named Spreadsheet Proctologist blog has a post on “ODF vs OOX: Asking the wrong questions” that explains some of the thinking behind Gnumeric’s work with Open XML. The comments on that one are pretty interesting, too, if a bit less calm than the comments on Jason’s blog this week. (E.g., “WTF do we care if MS OOXML is easier to partially implement in Gnumeric than ODF?”)
David Williams has an article on ITWire about “Linux and Windows interoperability with OpenXML” that discusses some of the ways Open XML can be used from the Linux platform. He had previously posted an article (How open is “open” when Microsoft say it?) that questioned the need for Open XML, so those two articles make nice bookends on some of the issues.
Jason Brooks at eWeek offers some interesting thoughts about the ISO standards process in his article “ODF advocates are getting ahead of themselves by celebrating Microsoft’s ISO failure.” He talks about eWeek’s experience with interoperability between Google Docs and Microsoft Office, in the comment thread that follows I noticed this: “If you pass along unrecognizable data you run the risk of carrying file corruption, formatting errors and possibly viruses.”
That perspective is at the heart of much of the debate around document formats these days. I happen to think it’s really useful to have a document format that allows round-tripping of content that a particular consumer/producer application might not recognize. This enables new kinds of interoperability, and can be really handy in workflows where a document may need to carry a “payload” of some business data or other content. It also enables application-specific macros to be included in a document, and in the case of the DOCM/XLSM/PPTM formats, the content of the document is entirely standards-based while the macros are available to a consumer that can use them, and can be ignored by consumers that don’t recognize them.
Many people don’t like this approach. I’ve even heard people argue that macros are inherently a bad idea, precisely because they’re tied to a specific piece of software. But millions of users like macros and find them useful, and things like OPC make it possible to have macros in a document without tainting the body of the document with content that isn’t 100% standards-based.
I especially enjoyed this comment on that post, which may include a touch of unintended irony: “All things from Microsoft are inferior. I will not deviate from this stance, and I won’t believe otherwise because any MS alternative I’ve tried has been superior.”
Rick Jellife’s “Harmonization by augmenting ODF with OOXML elements” offers a practical solution to the fact that ODF and Open XML will both be around for many years to come, which takes advantage of the ability to round-trip unrecognized content: use each format’s support for custom schemas to enable interoperability between them. Again, the comments are well worth reading. This concept is a practical solution that doesn’t require competing interests to come to an agreement on anything; I should have known the venerable V1 chair Patrick Durusau had a hand in this idea.
Rick has another interesting post entitled “Your country’s comments rated!” It seems inevitable that some people will start handicapping (as in horses, not wheelchairs) the future outcome of the ISO process, and Rick’s longstanding standards experience makes his predictions more interesting than most, in my opinion.
On a non-controversial note, Erika Ehrli has announced the details of next year’s Office Developer’s Conference. We didn’t have one this year, so there will be two years worth of Office developer tools and techniques to catch up on. See you there!
And finally, here’s an Adam Smith quote that was sent to me this week by a European Open XML developer (whom I’ve never met in person; emphasis his):
As every individual, therefore, endeavours as much as he can both to employ his capital in the support of domestic industry, and so to direct that industry that its produce may be of the greatest value; every individual necessarily labours to render the annual value of society as great as he can.
He generally, indeed, neither intends to promote the public interest, nor knows how much he is promoting it.
By preferring the support of domestic to that of foreign industry, he intends only his own security; and by directing that industry in such a manner as its produce may be of the greatest value, he intends only his own gain, and he is in this, as in many other cases, led by an invisible hand to promote an end which was no part of his intention.
Nor is it always the worse for the society that it was no part of it.
By pursuing his own interest he frequently promotes that of society more effectually than when he really intends to promote it.
I have never known much good done by those who affected to trade for the public good. It is an affectation, indeed, not very common among merchants, and very few words need be employed in dissuading them from it.
I’ll leave the relevance to the current Open XML debate as an exercise for the reader.