Competitive intelligence or cat fight?

Watching the fur fly over the debate between ODF and OOXM

In information technology, few issues
seem to inspire more passion than debating the merits of the
OpenDocument Format and Microsoft's Office Open XML, and each
side has more than a few words to say about the deficiencies of the
other's approach. Here are some of the charges GCN has heard
during the past year or so:

OOXML 'provides a facade of
openness. It sounds good until you get below the surface and
discover what is different.'
' Bob Sutor, manager
of standards at IBM

'IBM is pushing very hard
against this idea of Office Open XML to be an international
standard. There were 21 members of Ecma, and the final vote was 20
for and 1 against, and IBM was the only one opposing
standardization....We find this to be [a] fairly contradictory
statement from [IBM's] past statements of encouraging
innovation and trying to support the open-source
' Tom Robertson, general manager of
interoperability and standards at Microsoft

'The most interesting stuff
happening with ODF is not the productivity editors on the client
but ODF on servers. We're moving from a world where the only
place to look at PowerPoint or Excel files [would be] on a licensed
copy of Office on a licensed copy of Windows. Now all of a sudden
that data is liberated. You can look out on the server with Python
or Java code, on a Linux server, with analytics running on the Web
or advanced search engines. There's a lot of things that are
unlocked by this not being a black box.'
' Robert
Weir, an IBM software architect and member of the OASIS ODF
technical committee, at a July 2006 XML Community of Practice

'If the ODF Alliance
existed several months ago, Peter Quinn would still have his
' Ken Wasch, member of the then newly formed
ODF Alliance, about Quinn's resignation as
Massachusetts' chief information officer due to supposed
political pressures from Microsoft over the proposed use of

'You can't mandate a
particular technology for people when it does not meet their needs.
And that is why we believe that choice among them is so
' Robertson, on charges that OOXML just
replicates ODF

'Part of the challenge with
other formats, whether it's ODF or the old WordPerfect
formats, is they don't have the innate capability to support
a lot of the functionality that people are using today.'

' Jeff Raikes, president of Microsoft's business

'Everybody's got Word
documents, and spreadsheets, and presentations and other things.
What format do you save them to so you can render, modify and
share? Do you do it in Office so that you have to buy an Intel and
Microsoft computer to get at your own data? ... Or do you do it in
an open format? ... We think the right answer for the government is
to support an interface that is open, royalty-free, multivendor and
supported by a standards body. The Open Document Format is a
' Scott McNealy, Sun

'What Massachusetts has
done is created a thinly veiled procurement preference, and that is
what we think is out of line.'
' Stuart McKee,
Microsoft's national technology officer, on the
commonwealth's mandate to use ODF

'All it really does it is
perpetuate a world that only has one dominant office
' Standards attorney Andrew Updegrove, on

'We have a cold war between
the two document formats. This is a Star Wars moment. On the one
hand, we have the forces of dark, represented by tyranny, central
command, anti-intellectualism, fascism, rigidity, brittleness,
mediocrity and the color gray. ... On the other hand, we have the
forces of light, free expression, shared knowledge, public
discourse, transparency, trust, adaptability, flexibility,
suppleness and vibrancy. I'll leave it to you to apportion
these values according to your own [belief] system.'

' Sam Hiser, founder of the OpenDocument Foundation, at the
2006 LinuxWorld in Boston.

About the Author

Joab Jackson is the senior technology editor for Government Computer News.

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