Mad, Beautiful Ideas
Who Loses? Potentially Everyone

Patrick Durusau, who edits the Open Document Format standard, posted an open letter today asking Who Loses if [Office] Open XML is denied status as an ISO Standard, the vote for which is in process right now.

His arguments for why OOXML is necessary for ODF are interesting: currently ODF doesn’t support Formulae within the standard (soon to be rectified), ODF doesn’t have ISO-approved extensions for old MS Office legacy features (so what?), and ODF doesn’t have a map of the current Microsoft Office formats (why should it?). It appears to me that Durusau is trying to add a lot of MS Office-isms to ODF, and I’m not quite sure why.

Both formats try to solve a similar problem, so there is bound to be a lot of cross-pollination in ideas, however, just because ODF doesn’t support everything that MS Office does at this time doesn’t mean that ODF needs MS OOXML. When Microsoft displaced WordPerfect and Lotus as the premiere Office applications, features were lost, compatibility between formats was not maintained (Excel will import Lotus 1-2-3 files, but I don’t believe it can save them). Hell, I know several accountants that still lament the death of Lotus 1-2-3.

If ODF is lacking support for features that people need, it is the responsbility of the ODF people to add the extensions necessary for those features. Perhaps we should look at the features that MS Office provides, to try to ‘plan ahead’ for features before they’re supported in clients, since we don’t want to force clients to use non-standard ODF extensions, but is OOXML necessary as a standard for that to happen? I don’t think so.

Perhaps, as Miguel de Icaza believes, we’re wasting time focusing on OOXML. Now, while I disagree with Miguel on OOXML’s viability as a ISO standard, I am willing to acknowledge that the community may be a bit too focused on it at this time. However, there are more reasons to be against OOXML than for it. It’s a redundant standard, as ODF already fills that niche. It’s an incomplete standard, as Office 2007 still has an enormous number of extensions to the proposed standard. It’s not a true XML Format, as large parts of the old Binary formats have simply been wrapped into XML blocks. ODF, while missing some features, is a better format. A better standard. We only need on ISO standard for XML-based office formats, and that standard should be the best one. If Microsoft would work with ODF to get the features that they require into the ODF standard (assuming those features are worth standardizing), then we wouldn’t be in the mess that we’re in.

I doubt anyone, except for maybe Roy Schestowitz, wants this unrest to continue. Moreso, we’re tired of getting bad data formats forced upon us, and we certainly don’t want bad data formats forced through ISO. If ODF needs OOXML, it’s needed as an ally, as a thing to be integrated, not as a competing standard.