OpenDocument vs Microsoft's Office Open XML

by Jean Hollis Weber

The office documents standards war (between Microsoft and just about everyone else) is well into a new phase, as Microsoft's Office Open XML challenges the OASIS OpenDocument format as the only ISO standard for office documents.


Ian Lynch
2007-01-22 14:40:07
We need more complexity in standards like a hole in the head. There is smple solution to this. Microsoft adopts the open internationally agreed standard and then competes on an even footing with everyone else. They could have done this from the outset, they were involved with OASIS as ODF was being developed. The fact that they have decided to go it alone is their choice. There is simply no need for another ISO standard. If ODF has any shortcomings contribute to fixing them, its really very simple.
M. David Peterson
2007-01-23 06:45:02
Hi Jean,

The problem I have with the "Do we need two standards?" argument is pretty simple,

While I hate this phrase (I'm an animal lover, so the thought makes me cringe), "There is more than one way to skin a cat."

We have FireWire, and we have USB. They both are serial data transfer protocols. Do we really need two serial data transfer protocols?

In my own opinion, yes, we do. Why? Well, while its an older article (March, 2002), I really like this overview from Galan Bridgman of the differences of using IEEE 1394 and USB on Windows XP >

What I gain from this article is pretty straight forward,

The competition of having (at least) two standards for the same purpose encourages competition, and competition tends to have the desirable side effect of producing better, faster, more reliable technologies as a result.

In short: Competition between technical specifications designed to serve the same purpose has proven to not only be important, but *crucial* to the effort of advancing technology to each "next level", whatever that next level might be.

Another way to look at it: If each and every time we reached a state of "good enough", we would never get past however good enough is defined.

> Is it good enough for purpose A?

Seems to be.

> What about purpose B?

Well that depends.

> And what about purpose C in which has not even been conceived yet?

It would be impossible to know.

"Do we need two standards?"

Yes. In fact, I believe we need to allow for AT LEAST two standards, and then let the market(s) decide which one(s) they prefer to use.

M. David Peterson
2007-01-23 06:47:47

"we reached a state of "good enough",

should read

"we reached a state of "good enough", we stopped there, ..."

2007-01-23 09:24:53
Mr. Peterson, I think you are completely, profoundly wrong, for the right reasons. What we need is not multiple standards, but multiple implementations of the same, extensible (it's the X part of XML, as you know, and the core of ODF) standard. Competition does foster innovation, but that innovation does not have to push us farther apart - and make no mistake, trying to reconcile ODF with the proposed OOXML will drive us apart. They are too incompatible to interoperate, and thus encourage continued siloing of documents that should be shared by all.
M. David Peterson
2007-01-23 09:53:49

So are you of the belief that it would have been better for the folks behind IEEE 1394 and USB to work on the same specification foundation, and the result would have been better because of this?

Sorry. It's a nice idea. But in the real world it doesn't happen that way, and for good reason. Are USB and FireWire (IEEE 1394) compatible in any way, shape, or form? You wouldn't expect to plug your USB device into your IEEE 1394 port, and expect it to just work, would you? What about the other way around?

That said, would it be nice if you could? Sure! But I personally enjoy the faster speeds I now get with my USB 2.0 ports because of the competition that FireWire presented that forced the USB folks to build a better spec. On the same hand, I like the fact that with FireWire, the speeds are getting to the point that you barely even notice if even a few seconds have transpired before your entire music collection to your FireWire-enabled device with a simple click of a button.

And all of this is made possible by good old-fashioned competition, driven by market forces -- just like technology always has -- well, until now.

2007-01-23 13:37:08

Thanks for the clarification, but you're still confused. That people are still trapped in either a USB or a Firewire silo is a terrible thing for consumers. Here's the ODF/OOXML analogised as a serial data transfer protocol/connector competition:

We invent a plug design, backed by a flexible, reclockable basic chipset, where the data is handled in software. Everyone adopts the plug design, the chipset plummets in price due to economies of scale. Smart people, finding special needs or identifying opportunities for data transfer or device design, extend (there's that word again) the software to make the same plug work better, without obsoleting it. Over time, the best aspects of the underlying protocol are adopted by everyone, but the early adopter devices still work.

If we all agree on the underlying extensible standard (ODF) and then extend it to meet needs or to create positive differentiation between implementations without shutting out other players, then we all win and we'll be able to read our documents in 100 years.

The right example is TCP/IP - we all agree to the basic rules, we can all collaborate, and we all win, while competing our heads off. OOXML reduces competition by being too difficult to implement for non-MS players.

2007-01-28 22:39:25
In relation to what Ian Lynch said above, it turns out that we do not need Microsoft to implement ODF for Office, as the OpenDocument Foundation has already done this work. The OpenDocument is soon to release something called the daVinci plugin for Microsoft Office, which is claimed to have full fidelity conversion between legacy MS Office documents and ODF.

See this article:

"This seems to be the company line for Microsoft's justification that ISO/IEC should have two conflicting file formats each promising to do the same thing, because only one of those formats can handle the biliions of binary documents conversion to XML with an acceptable fidelity.

This is not true, and we can prove it. And if we're right that you can convert the billions of binaries to ODF without loss of fidelity, then there was no "technology" argument for Microsoft not implementing ODF natively and becoming active in the OASIS ODF TC process to improve application interoperability."

A demonstartion of the daVinci plugin for Microsoft Office can be downloaded for testing purposes from here:

2007-03-05 04:34:03
hello i have just got a problem with my usb......... i cant open it and when i try to open it an error message comes saying that i need to format my ucb..... i dont want to format it coz i got all my work on it and i really need it... what shall i do???
2008-04-01 19:49:31
The arguments for "market forces" are well and good, however imagine if the Global Internet was made up of competing formats and protocols. It would not be what it is now. This is entire point of International Standards, however this is not to say that industry and national standards don't have a place. It is necessary for competing technologies to build up to being a International Standard, this is what they do, it is illogical to have two International Standards for the same thing, it no longer becomes a International Standard, but two competing national or industry standards with a ISO number. This is what we have here with the silliness. How can any software developer create a product that adheres to two International Standards, so in-fact it seems a large corporation has been able to ensure nobody follows any standard, there will just be groups of products that will work with one of the previous industry or standards, it makes the ISO standard useless and broken, and retard development of tools and products that can use those standards and hence one company will still be able to command hefty prices for their products because there won't be any reasonable competition.