Doc Format Activities – Open Letters and More

Today an open letter was posted to the interop site at Microsoft. Yesterday, an open letter was posted from Sun, which I commented on in a blog post yesterday. IBM delivered a new product suite to market in the same market segment. Things are getting interesting.

As for the IBM product - I'd like to reiterate how much the release of the new product offering factors into their stance on Open XML. As for the product they are selling, there are some skeptics as to the value of their offering - read this from Forbes Magazine.

Coverage on the open letter: Galli at eWeek, LaMonica at CNET and ZDnet. I'm sure there will be more.  

Comments (8)
  1. Anonymus Cowerd says:

    Too bad that the MS XML spec is essentially a proprietary format wrapped in XML.  Options like "format like Word 95 does" make it impossible to implement by anyone except microsoft.

    In what way exactly is that interoperability?

    As the linked open letter says, MS XML is basically centered around the "rich set of capabilities in Office 2007" – in other words, a container for proprietary MS junk instead of a platform for interoperability.

    Oh BTW congratulations on getting approved by the rubber-stamp ECMA, and I’ll se you when ISO tells you to pound sand.

  2. jasonmatusow says:

    Hello Anonymus Cowerd – always glad to hear from those who don’t agree.

    1) document formats represent the applications that create them. There is a reason that of the founding members of ODF were IBM and SUN. They both have competitive products in the market, and both use ODF (but not the same implementation mind you). Google is now introducing its new service in this marketplace and strangely enough, the file format they use is one that represents the features of their product (and is not either ODF nor Open XML).  

    2) As for references to old MS technologies – there are also references to non-MS technologies such as image formats. That is the nature of standards making.  

    3) The Ecma statement you make is rediculous – but it makes such a juicy sound bite. Ask yourself this first – do I think ISO is a good standards organization? Do I think ISO standards meet my definition of "open" and/or some quality bar that makes it a non-rubber stamp? If so – then you should like Ecma a great deal. ISO granted Ecma the highest accredidation it offers – meaning the process is the most stringent and ISO-like. Hmmm…

    4) I certainly hope ISO does not tell us to pound sand (as you put it). I have a great deal of respect for their process and it is good to see Open XML going through the process in the same way as all other standards taken for consideration.


  3. Michael P. Ridley says:


    I have some questions that I think would be useful for a lot of people to think about and answer, including you. These issues have been troubling me for some time.  As you know, the California Assembly introduced AB1668 ( and the New York Legislature is being actively lobbied to do the same (by IBM).   I personally do not think this issue is an ODF vs Microsoft XML thing, I think it is far more insidious than a simple contest on who is better or which standard should prevail.

    This topic is a question of public policy and whether or not this in the best interest of the people. The other big question is whether or not a legislature should interrupt the fair procurement practices of a State and force standards on multi-million dollar enterprise level systems.  To be honest many of the Assemblyman barely no how to use a computer much less make a decisions on ODF and XML.

    Here is the section of the bill that really bothers me:

    Beginning on or after January 1, 2008, all

    documents, including, but not limited to, text, spreadsheets, and

    presentations, produced by any state agency shall be created,

    exchanged, and preserved in an open extensible markup language-based,

    XML-based file format, as specified by the department.

    Many if not a vast majority of the documents created by governments are made by automated means.  New York has an enormous computer infrastructure producing 10’s of millions of documents weekly as defined by the bill AB1668.  The way this bill is written would cause an enormous fiscal burden to the state forcing them to rewrite many of the legacy systems to bring it into compliance with the proposed specification   Many states including New York have Archival rules in place to handle the long term access to these records, in NY it is called “SARA" ( . These regulations maintain that the state archives come up with rules and Best Practices on archival and the retrieval of documents, in addition, when records should be destroyed or disposed of. This is an important point because some of the bloggers on this site contend we should be able to view records from the government for an indefinite period of time which is not the case by matter of statute.

    Here are my questions for this fantastic and talented forum to consider:

    What is the cost benefit analysis of this move to ODF when automated processes produce a bulk of the documents that the state produces?

    Why are we forcing procurement requirements at the legislative level instead of using proper system engineering practices at the requirements building stage?

    Does not the states procurement process already address these issues by forcing contractors to adhere to the states archival rules which allow vendors the flexibility to come up with the best technology for the state to use?

    Why do these bill force specs on the systems that were never developed or designed with these standards in mind causing the potential of the reengineering of legacy systems.  (No grandfather clause)?

    What do we as a society get in return for this massive investment?

    Ultimately who gains from these bills?  I will answer one “IBM global services”

    One more point.

    A lot of people that use the ODF argument essentially say it’s some type of elixir where magically the state agencies will collaborate. ODF and XML will not help that or even come close to making that a reality until an enterprise wide data dictionary or Meta Data mapping repository is done. This issue is so complex I feel I do not have the time or patience to articulate myself on this subject. In addition there are so many rules and regulation on interagency data mining (for privacy sake) that this could be a topic all onto itself.

    In fairness and openness I know Jason. I am not a fan or an enemy either Microsoft or IBM I think they both are awesome companies trying to grow and expand their market share. With respect this forum and feel that Jason is showing his integrity by taking it on the chin for Microsoft. The ODF standards community has a place in the enterprise level however with respect to this topic I see it more as a smoke and mirrors issue. I feel that the current rules and procurement practices in place protect the public far better than the various lobbyists tend to lead people (legislators) to believe.

    This is an issue where if these bills become law one company clearly wins.  This issue and subsequent bills is big money where consulting and integration of large enterprise system becomes the focus not ODF.  

    Please comment, I look forward to your critique or agreement.

    Michael P. Ridley

  4. jasonmatusow says:

    Michael – great to hear from you, and thank you for the very thoughtful post. I am in the middle of writing up a large entry on this topic, and you have given me much to think about. Rather than responding down here in the comments, I am going to do 2 things.  First, I am going to copy your comment and post it to the top-level of my blog as it is worth elevating the conversation. As people comment on it, please feel free to respond etc. here. I will be diligent about publishing the incoming comments (I monitor them to block spam).

    Again, good to hear from you and great posting.


  5. Here is a comment submitted to an earlier blog posting about doc formats. For those of my readers who

  6. Michael/Jason,

     Does the NY law (as written) preclude production of documents in PDF format?  By my reading of the snippet enclosed, I believe it might.  Wouldn’t that throw a major monkey wrench into the courts system?

  7. jasonmatusow says:

    Larry, I have not read the NY submission (remember, none of these are laws, they are only proposed laws) so don’t know the answer to that. The original text of the MN bill explicitly said "XML-based" formats. That would exclude them.

    The thing is, if the governments carve out PDF, then they are simply demonstrating that the legislation is an attempt to single out a solution for use. In other words, a hard procurment preference and that is not healthy.

    Michael may have more on the NY bill.


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