ODF / Open XML – Technical Specifications Mature Over Time

Clearly things are heating up to a fever pitch this week. September 2 is just around the corner and the media knows a good story line when they see it. Great drama for coverage as country votes become public. The U.S. looks like it is headed for a Yes with comments and Germany has cast its Yes with comments vote. Brazil, No with comments. Countries all over the world will be registering their votes this week and some will publicly post their votes while others we’ll have to wait until after the 2nd to know how they voted.

One argument that keeps getting raised by individuals representing companies with deep commercial interests in ODF is that Open XML is not technically ready to be approved. This seems inconsistent to me as those same folks are clearly ok with the fact that ODF was clearly not mature at the time of its JTC1 adoption.

Before I go any further, this is not about criticizing ODF. It is meant to be illustrative of the weakness of the arguments against Open XML.

Some facts to consider:

8 of the 32 P- member countries voted Yes with comments for ODF. Some of the issues raised were items such as:

  • The British Standards Institute pointed out non-conformance issues to mandatory ISO PAS procedures and requested the be addressed, normative references to specs that were different from similar existing ISO standards, incomplete specification of compression formats, and constraints due to implementation-specific references (meaning features in Star/OpenOffice represented in the spec). There was no BRM to address these comments.
  • Egypt noted that at the time of submission for international standardization, there was no support in the specification for Arabic languages.
  • Japan noted that it would be nice if the spec would address the technical capabilities to support accessibility.
  • China noted in their first comment that ODF should be integrated with China national standard final draft (UOF), and that it lacked support for user defined schema.

ODF is not a static specification – ISO/IEC 26300 (ODF) is no longer the most current version.

  • The OASIS Open Document Technical Committee continues to expand the capabilities of ODF. The ODF 1.1 has been released and 1.2 is in draft form already. These represent significant ongoing work based on elements either flawed or missing in the 1.0 specification.
  • The PAS management guide (JTC1N5746) states a desire to avoid divergence of the JTC1 spec from any future versions. Therefore the management guide requests that the originator of the specification work closely with JTC1 on revising or amending a PAS submission. Given that ODF 1.1 was not submitted to JTC1, should we interpret this to mean that it is not mature enough and that they are waiting for 1.2? What should be inferred about the maturity of the 1.0 specification?
  • The technical committee is not only progressing on the core spec, there are three subgroups working on accessibility, formulas, and metadata. This would seem to suggest that a significant amount of work was required to bring the spec forward from its IS 26300 form.

My point IS NOT to say that ODF should not have been standardized. In fact, Microsoft did not work to block this contributed specification from our competitors – we voted in favor of its adoption by ANSI of ISO/IEC ODF as a recognized National Standard. It is remarkable that so much effort is going into the blocking of an ISO/IEC specification. In other words, when ODF was submitted the same sense of civic duty was not as strongly felt by those opposing Open XML today.

My point IS that people with glass houses should not be throwing stones. Specifications mature over time. A real litmus test for the viability of the ISO/IEC DIS (draft international standard) 29500 (Open XML) is whether or not there are independent implementations. The answer to this question for Open XML is an unequivocal yes. There are independent Open XML implementations based on the existing specification in applications that run on Linux, Mac, Palm OS, iPhone, and Windows. My colleagues in Germany informed me recently that there are more than 70 in that country alone. I think the point is made that the spec is mature enough to drive independent implementations. Could it be better? Sure, and the comments coming in will certainly help achieve that goal.

Technical comments are valuable, and there is a commitment on the part of Ecma TC45 and the DIS editor to consider and respond to all comments. Furthermore, a proposal has been made by Ecma TC45 to establish a joint maintenance agreement with SC34. This is a level of working relationship the ODF TC at OASIS has not established with JTC1 (it is not mandatory as far as I understand it). The commitment is there to take the comments and resolution process very seriously.

Comments (12)

  1. Heinz says:

    Open XML ist not opposed as a matter of principle or origin (despite that OOXML is 100% MS) What people oppose is your methods to block filing of comments. No unbiased standard body can let Open XML as-is through. It is time to get real. Incidents as in Norway will clearly result in consequences for your party. Don’t underestimate the options available for anti-competitive behavior.

    Reasonable persons understand that OOXML was not ready. And you seem to agree with the facts.

    If the only way to get your multiple standard through is to take over control of all the standard offices with your business partners I really wonder how strong your case for OOXML is.

  2. Well we’re in the middle of our last face to face meeting for Ecma TC45 before the ISO vote on September

  3. Brian heeft vandaag weer een post over OpenXML met daarin een aantal interessante links: ODF / Open…

  4. Bruno says:

    I think a lot of countries blindly voted for ISO certification of ODF, despite its many shortcomings, simply because they didn’t care about ODF and had no plans to actually use it.

    OOXML, on the other hand, they do intend to use, so they put it through much greater scrutiny in order to get it as perfect as possible.

    Well, that’s the motivation of those acting in good faith.  The others, like IBM, simply want to block OOXML’s ISO status so they can use ISO status as a talking point when lobbying governments to ban all formats for government use except ODF.

  5. gerd says:

    "OOXML, on the other hand, they do intend to use, so they put it through much greater scrutiny in order to get it as perfect as possible."

    !!! lol !!!

    No. Open XML is as bad as that. You can’t fastrack a specification and then get several hundreds of comments. So who is to blame? Ecma, Microsoft? those who found the issues? Even Rick Jellife says no!

  6. jasonmatusow says:

    Heinz – first, contributed specifications are the norm in the world of standards. Rather than the 6 voting members of OASIS (of which 3 are IBM and 2 are SUN if I am not mistaken), TC45 at Ecma had more than 20 companies and organizations represented…including direct competitors of Microsoft. The spec was originally 2000 pages, but increased to its 6K size because of requests for a) greater documentation, b) the inclusion of samples, and c) changes to the specification (which were adopted by MS in its products BTW).  

    Second, comments are handled by the full working group at Ecma, and in the next phase of the JTC1 process, under the guidance (if I have this right) of the JTC1 editor. There is an active proposal in place (don’t know the resolution yet) to have this work done in conjunction with SC34 – (a level of inclusion and involvement for the national bodies not afforded to them by ODF). But – as people are pointing out in this thread (rightly so), ODF and Open XML are NOT THE SAME – and the use of Open XML is on a much broaders scale, thus the scrutiny should be higher.

    Bruno – I would go so far as to say that IBM would consider their actions to be in good faith and in keeping with what they believe to be right. I have no problem with that – I just think when you are working to block something as hard as they are it becomes harder to maintain the high ground becuase they stand to directly benefit if Open XML is not accepted as an international standard. Again, motivations are important. (yes, MS stands to benefit if it does become a standard – but so does every government around the world who is using our products, AND so does every ISV and SI out there looking to build solutions using this specification that then tap into the opportunity of the Office ecosystem).

    Gerd – Open XML is seeing global adoption today, at a very rapid pace. We are also seeing a rapid growth of Open XML independent implementations in the <1year since Ecma published the spec (never mind the literally thousands of ISVs building solutions on top of the Office implementation).  So yes, scrutiny will be more significant both from supporters and detractors alike. That is the whole point of my blog posting above.

    Thx all for the comments.


  7. RichL says:

    Groklaw is reporting on a Microsoft memo that surfaced in Sweden regarding MS promises of "marketing support" and "additional support in the form of Microsoft resources" in exchange for a favorable vote regardless of whether the voting member understands (or even has read) what is being approved.  Link is:


    I guess all’s fair in love, war, and international standardization.

    The question I have is what kind of standard do we end up with if it’s approval is the product of massive lobbying and political manipulation?  If the result derives from a heavy-handed lobbying effort to ram something through a process, why bother?  Just publish the spec independent of ISO certification and continue to push it as the defacto corporate standard like all of the prior binary office formats.  If Microsoft OOXML adoption statistics are to be believed, what difference does an ISO stamp of approval make?  What this process seems to be doing is muddying the reputation of the ISO organization.

  8. Bruno says:

    IBM and Microsoft may have self-interest as part of the motivation for their actions, but the difference is that Microsoft has not tried to block ODF standardization, indeed voting YES for both ISO and ANSI certification, nor is Microsoft lobbying governments to mandate exclusive use of a particular format.

    Microsoft is for allowing people to use whatever format they want, while IBM is trying to block any and all alternatives to ODF in attempt to shove it down our throats thru government mandate.

    And I still say that ODF did not undergo the scrutiny that OOXML is undergoing because most people/countries simply don’t give a damn about that format.  Anti-OOXML forces like to pretend that ISO rubberstamped the OASIS ODF spec because it was flawless, which is complete and utter bull.  You can’t even implement a basic spreadsheet with the ODF spec that ISO approved, for crying out loud, but that didn’t stop IBM from lying to governments that the ISO ODF format could indeed be used for spreadsheets.  The reason nobody raised opposition to ODF during the ISO process is that nobody cared.

    Now, Jason, you said that you think that IBM believes it is acting in good faith.  You have more faith in them than I, because I don’t believe that for one minute.  I’ve been reading IBM mouthpiece Rob Weir’s blog, and Brian Jones is right, it’s like Fox News over there.  Pure one-sided propaganda.  And it has a huge "NO OOXML" graphic at the top, showing that it’s an anti-OOXML site far more than it is a pro-ODF site.  NO Microsoft site has an anti-ODF graphic on it.  And 90% of the anti-OOXML comments from various countries are written by IBM themselves.  ISO has always been a more political org than a technical one, but I’ve never seen it politicized to this extent.

    Here’s the bottom line.  IBM wants to block OOXML ISO certification, and use that to convince governments to mandate ODF, because IBM is too chicken to put ODF up against OOXML in the marketplace.  They think they’ll lose that fight, so rather than battle it out on the merits in the marketplace, they want to simply block OOXML instead.  It is disgusting.

    Sorry for the rant, but IBM is exhibiting three things I can’t stand: 1. Self-righteousness. 2. Shameless hypocrisy.  3. Spewing outright lies (e.g. lying to governments about the capabilites of ODF).

  9. jasonmatusow says:

    RichL – I will comment on Sweden in a top-level posting.

    Bruno – while I admire your passion, I am more inclined to believe that IBM really believes what they are doing is right. I happen to disagree with that. I do think you raise some good points that most folks don’t often address.



  10. Mike E says:

    I’m just interested to know why if Microsoft "voted in favor of its adoption by ANSI of ISO/IEC ODF as a recognized National Standard", haven’t they included support into Office 2007 natively?

  11. jasonmatusow says:

    Mike – MS supported the recognition of ODF as a national standard because we believe in diversity of document formats. The real focus, IMHO, is on the innovation in the application space and not the dogmatic adherence to a single doc format standard. There is much to be offered in greater openness of doc formats – so the trend to standardization of these technical elements is a good thing overall. But, ODF, Open XML, PDF, HTML, etc. etc, never mind the huge body of commercial XML-based doc formats (vertical apps in particular) are all reasons why we believe in this diversity.

    We support ODF through transalation mechanisms today.

    Hope that helps.


  12. As I said in my last post, Open XML did not get approved. Frankly I was going to leave the topic alone