James Governor's Monkchips

OpenXML vs ODF: fighting dirty isn’t a good look

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Yesterday I asked whether the archiving argument for ODF against OpenXML stacked up. One comment came from Sam Hiser, who came back with:

“It’s utter naivete. You’d amend your view if you understood how the MOOXML format operates throughout the stack.”

Being naive, I wish we could have a mature conversation about the pros and cons of document formats. I dont like dirty politics and associated swiftboating in any field- and tech is no exception. Digging through trash and talking it. That’s my biggest concern about the way this argument is playing out: going negative may win elections but it doesn’t help the body politic in the long run. Would you like to be in George Bush’s place right now? Black helicopters circle.

I would counsel both sides to be cautious about the behind the scenes, and front of house, brawling and finger-pointing. Customers in many sectors don’t seem to care about the same things the industry appears to right now, and that’s a bad thing. Public sector requirements and politics are framing the conversation for everyone, which is hardly Cluetrain. The public sector 0wnz the document format discussion. But as Hugh points out in his seminal Porous Mebrane: Why Blogging Works post:

The things that A is passionate about, B should also be passionate about. This we call “alignment”. A good example would be Apple. The people at Apple think the iPod is cool, and so do their customers. They are aligned.

Best comment yesterday came from Clive, who is on the customer side of the equation:

James – knowing you are not exactly a Microsoft apologist, your post made me actually reevaluate which camp i was rooting for. I was finding it so easy to get caught up in the whose side is winning when I realized, wait, we all could actually lose if it’s just one format. That solves nothing, plus ODF sort of sucks when you strip it down despite how emotionally i wanted MSFT to take one. Hats off for helping me at least question myself and get back to my day job which has always been “what problem are we trying to solve”. My boss the CIO isnt going to ask me which friggin format i implemented, but does it work, who supports it and does it WORK WITH WHAT WE HAVE.

By not arguing solely for either side of ODF vs OpenXML am I really the enemy of both? Seems a shame. I do know one thing – I will be covering both standards for the next few years, because customers will be using them. I am an industry analyst – pragmatism is a big part of the job, even if openness is a personal prejudice. I hope I don’t lose any friends by calling for a middle ground…

disclosures: IBM and Microsoft are both clients.


  1. Excellent, excellent post. I think that both camps could take this advice to heart and realize that negative campaigns (be they FUD or based on real facts) just *hurts* the overall effort — which is document standardization.

    What’s typcial about this battle is that the OSS side is more about process and the MS side is about results. What the OSS camp often fails to realize is that things are ultimately about results, especially when it comes to customers.

    I think that MS has a valid point about the workflow, and speaking as one who has had to build ODF indexing in the past, I can agree — ODF is not the easiest to deal with in large batches. But I think that MS needs to learn that the process needs to be important. Good results achieved through less-than-honorable means (and even those perceived as less-than-honorable, as the do’er isn’t necessarily the one who gets to be the judge of it) starts-off with a bad taste in the mouth of others.

    On the other hand, I *also* think that the OSS community could learn that the results and the end-product needs to matter as much as the process to them, in order to be successful. There are projects that have done a good job of this (KDE, GNOME, Firefox, Thunderbird) but it’s interesting to note that *ALL* of those successes came at later versions (v3 of KDE, v2 of GNOME, Firefox and Thunderbird instead of Mozilla/SeaMonkey) where end-uesr feedback was the driving force.

    What I, and a lot of others, would really like to see, is a format that is best-of-breed, and completely open. While I am on the OSS side of the debate 9/10 times, I think that MS is a leg-up in the race, as they just need to open their format and process a *bit* more to be there. The OSS side is a bit farther away from the end goal, as I see it.

  2. James-

    You may consider Clive’s the best because he fawns all over your brilliant insight.

    Before you embark on a pro-environmental binge on negative meme-ing, take a look at the principal poluter of the whole global technology field, the stifler of innovation, the liars, the sophists, the im-perfectionist Capitalist Tools, the lobbyists, the monopolists.

    We’ve been airing the format issues VERY clearly for a long, long time (for me personally, it’s been since Oct 2001). The issues are up on the record. If you’d like to catch up — here are 2 good places to start:

    GROKLAW: EOOXML Objections

    What is OpenDocument?

    You’re saying fighting dirty isn’t pretty. We are indeed fighting dirty; but you ought to inspect the landscape. Some of us have decided do descend into the muck where Microsoft dwells. You standard is one-sided unless you call that company on its tone & hyper-competitive & abusive zeal.

    We’re taking the fight to their lair. I advise you before casting aspersions on our tone and tactics to take a look at the battlefield called technology. It’s not a pretty place to have your eyes opened. It’s covered with the blood, littered with the bodies, of organization large & small. There’s a lot here behind the scenes that it’s too easy to overlook when one saunters into the middle of a fight for the future of the Internet.

    We objected to your initial post…

    …because you — perhaps inadvertently — used synecdoche while telling your question. That’s a classical figure of speech used in poetry for substituting a part for a whole. You raised doubt about the archival argument in the format situation with the result of casting doubt on the whole idea of ODF. It’s a clever rhetorical tactic — very much in the mold of what Microsoft has been doing. It won’t stand. The archival argument is sound. The single format for documents is sound.

    If you’d like a gentlemanly environment to discuss the issues, read up and take it to the Berkman Center or some such safe haven where weak ideas won’t last any longer than here on the Mean Streets of the blogosphere.

    Get real. Grow up. It’s ugly out there.

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