Mad, Beautiful Ideas
OOXML vs ODF, revisited

It’s been an exciting week in the XML-based Open Documentation arena. The Burton Group released a report outlining a list of supposed ‘reasons’ why OOXML is a superior format than ODF.

I’ve written on this before, and I will make no qualms about the fact that I am firmly in the ODF camp. In fact, a number of the things that the Burton Group views as strengths of OOXML, I view as weaknesses. For instance, the Burton Group mentions that OOXML is more closely related to the old binary formats, which makes it superior for interoperability purposes.

As the ODF points out in their rebuttal, these sorts of arguments, which abound in the Burton report, completely fail to make a distinction between file formats, and the applications that use them. Open Office, the most well known of the office suites that use ODF, also supports the old binary Microsoft formats, not as well as Office, but they still support it. The Burton report reads like a Michael Moore book. It’s filled with partial facts and half truths, making broad jumps of logic with very little proof. The report even goes so far as to suggest several times that even attempting to compete with Microsoft was folly, and a waste of time.

There may be no direct evidence that Microsoft paid for this report to be generated, but the bias is still painfully evident.

The report does say a few things that are almost certainly true. OOXML is likely to win due purely to the fact that it is supported by Microsoft Office. Microsoft Office is incredibly prolific particularly in Business, and that position will be easily exploited by Microsoft to push OOXML into acceptance. But that does not make it a superior format. The ODF does an excellent job defending their format in the above link, so I’ll let them do it.

Things have still been moving in a good direction, despite the obvious FUD. Microsoft has agreed to release the specs for the old binary Office formats as part of their Open Specification Promise. Furthermore, they’re going to begin an Open Source project (though whether it will meet the OSI definition remains to be seen), detailing how to convert from the old Office formats to OOXML.

People are excited, particularly the teams who’ve spent the last decade trying to decode those formats. This project should aide greatly in interoperability for both the old and new formats, making it far easier for non-Windows boxes to integrate into a primary Windows network. Interoperability is key at this point, and while ODF may lag behind OOXML in acceptance, that is going to be because people are already familiar with Microsoft’s products, not because of any technical superiority.