Translate This!


Just a quick note. I was pointed at this list of file formats on Wikipedia. The document formats list alone is almost 40 items long. My takeaway from this list is all about the richness of innovation in software. The formats are representations of the features in those products. There are really good reasons that software packages have used their own formats in the past. Performance, feature representation, cost of development, etc. Now, with the push to XML you would think that we would see a decrease in the desire to create separate formats due to the promise of that standard. But, go to the Wikipedia list of XML standards and in there are more than a few formats as well.


I am not advocating more complexity, or more diversification of formats. I am noting that there are really good reasons why multiple formats exist and this will be a truism for a long time to come. I am an advocate for innovation in software and the idea that maximizing choice in the marketplace is good for everyone. The fact of the matter is that translation between formats has always been the path to interop (for document formats), and now with XML-based formats that path is even more appropriate than ever through translation.


China wants to create its own standardized XML format…translation will enable interop. Google Docs has its own format….translation will enable interop. OpenOffice has ODF..translation will enable interop (to MS Office, to Google Docs, to IBM Workspace). Adobe PDF is its own format…translation will enable interop. 

Comments (6)

  1. Daniel says:

    In regard to your comment "Google Docs has its own format,"  I was wondering which format you were talking about?  

  2. G Fernandes says:

    Indeed. Quite like different, incompatible versions of JavaScript in the Netscape and IE browsers helped interop.

    Now why do I get the feeling I’ve got the bull by it’s tail?

    Microsoft really is incredible. It’s the only corporate I know of that distributes the Kool-Aid to all it’s employees.

    It’s having it’s effect anyway – Jason thinks he’s got the bull by it’s horns while he’s happily wagging it’s tail!

  3. Bash says:

    Seconding Daniel.  What ‘own format’ does Google Docs have?  Certainly I did not see any format there that had not been used by another program.

    Furthermore, ODF is supported by OpenOffice, Google Docs and IBM workspace.  The three already interop.  Ms Office…certainly needs to work on joining the club.

  4. jasonmatusow says:

    Ok – I’ll try to keep my Kool-Aid-ridden self from too much rhetoric.

    Here is the post I’m refering to about the Google docs thing:

    http://odf-converter.sourceforge.net/blog/index.php?2006/11/03/14-what-s-the-problem-with-google-docs

    Also, I haven’t gone back to look at old press coverage, but I believe at the time that Google announced the availability of Google docs there was discussion of the fact that there had to be translation between what their output was and ODF.

    Please don’t misunderstand – I am fine with the idea that their app had its own format. If they choose to move to ODF – good for them. My feeling is the the producer of the software should choose the format that best represents their applications capabilities.

    I’ll comment on the other stuff shortly –

    Jason

  5. Daniel says:

    On the very page that you linked to a Google employee writes in, just a couple of weeks after the problem was pointed out,  to say that they fixed their application’s initial issues with writing/reading ODF.    

    I don’t have any issue with Microsoft Office using OOXML.  I do have an issue with Microsoft acting anti-competitively to make it as obnoxious as possible to use a different format if the customer wants to (just try using the Microsoft-sponsored OOXML/ODF translator to see what I mean- MS Office prevents developers from integrating another document format as a first-class format.  And then MS says "it would require too many resources for us to do that", which doesn’t seem plausible.)  Until Microsoft stops trying to prevent competition like this, how can we take it seriously when anyone in MS says "we want healthy market competition for the formats?"   MS can go ahead and use its own format, but just don’t lock me in, and don’t claim that a second-class format integration is a good solution.  

    And I wish Microsoft would quit trying to tell me I have all of these needs for document format capabilities.  99% of my document needs are covered just fine by the basics of any old format– ODF, OOXML, or .doc, thank you very much.  If I use Office 2007, its because I like the great work you guys did on the UI, not because of the supposed benefits of the document format.  If I need to use some special feature whose output can only be represented in OOXML, then great, I’ll use OOXML.  But at all other times, I would like the opportunity to choose ODF without excessive annoyances (that is, treatment of .odt just as .docx, with default Save-As, etc), and I want MS Office to play as well as possible with the format that I choose to use.  It should be me– the customer– who chooses, not you.