Unification of ODF and Open XML: An army without a general

It is interesting to witness vocal minority who insist Open XML and ODF become the same format. It must cause them terrible heartburn to know that their recommendation comes against the wishes of the ODF Editor. And yes, Rob, this is Mr. Durusau speaking as “the editor of OpenDocument.” So much for fine distinctions.


Mr. Patrick Durusau is again making his position on the issue clear:

“As the editor of OpenDocument, I want to promote OpenDocument, extol its features, urge the widest use of it as possible, none of which is accomplished by the anti-OpenXML position in ISO. Passage of OpenXML in ISO is going to benefit OpenDocument as much as anyone else. Here are some specifics:

OpenDocument currently lacks formula definitions for spreadsheets. (To appear in OpenDocument 1.2.) Many core financial functions in spreadsheets are undefined except for actual Excel output. That output varies by version and service pack of MS Office. What happens if OpenDocument and OpenXML reach different definitions of those functions?

OpenDocument does not presently support legacy features of Microsoft formats. That will be easier with a formal definition of those features. Without OpenXML, OpenDocument has no authoritative definition of those legacy features. That delays OpenDocument supporting them in some future release.

OpenDocument does not have a robust mapping to the current Microsoft format. That requires an OpenXML that has completed the standards process. If OpenXML is unclear, it must be fixed in order to create a robust mapping between the two.

The bottom line is that OpenDocument, among others, will lose if OpenXML loses.

Covington, 24 March 2008

Patrick Durusau”

Comments (9)

  1. Anonymous says:

    So Rob, thanks for your comment. Always great to hear from a “fan.”

    You should chat with Patrick on your comments on his content. I can’t speak for what he is ‘implying,’ I have never met him. IBM is a member of Ecma, so we’ll take that as a validation of your support for the organization.

    “The market rewards those who guess right, and punishes those that guess wrong.”

    The current scorecard for ODF adoption in Microsoft Office is 20+ Million (past 30 million now actually) compatiblity pack downloads vs. 300k ODF translator downloads. Indeed, the market will reward (is rewarding) those who guess right by a count of 100 to 1. But, as you say, we already have the translator for ODF, and there are others that exist as well. So if ODF does eventually become compelling to users of our products, we already have a solution for them.

    Unlike your tactics, we do not oppose ODF, nor did we show up in national bodies dropping a list of (identical, with the same typos) comments and spreading IP FUD around. (Read Brian’s recent post on the problems in ODF as they relate to Open XML comments.) Just like we did with PDF, we have a solution for using ODF in our products. If you’ll recall, a few people were working very hard to force Microsoft NOT to support PDF… ironic given our current context.

    I give a lot of credit to folks for not having to “guess” which format to use; the 300 or so Open XML implementations today indicate that Open XML is here to stay; the ‘let’s force everyone to use one format’ discussion ended a long time ago. The market opted for “choice.”

    If you’re using the “we were here first” argument, I guess then we should take that as an endorsement of Open XML, given that formulas and other functionality required for compatiblity with legacy documents were proposed to ISO first by Ecma. To hear Gary Edwards tell the story, IBM showed up just two meetings before vote on the spec, and have been fighting to keep Microsoft Office compatiblity OFF the ODF agenda since you arrived.

    At this stage, the volume and quality of your comments on Open XML would certainly prohibit you from hosting any forum for incorporating its functionality to ODF; I doubt you would be in a position to objectively evaluate the formats and figure out workable solutions.

    The “say anything” tactics you’ve employed make you a poor candidate for the groups of people like DIN, Rick Jelliffe, Mr. Durusau and others who are genuinely interested in progressing the discussion.

  2. Anonymous says:

    You’ll have to ask the author of text, I won’t speak for him here… I read this as him stating that after the standardization process is complete, and the BRM feedback has been incorproated, it will be easier to migrate legacy content. For example, the famous "Compatibility Settings" whose full documentation was accepted at the BRM will result in a more complete definition for the functionality.

  3. Anonymous says:

    Hi Rob, the documentation for the settings can be reviewed through Standards New Zealand if you are a member of the committee (or if they give you permission.)

    There are some sites which have posted the dispositions (search using for favorite engine for "Open XML dispositions.")

    Brian Jones blogged about one specifically: http://blogs.msdn.com/brian_jones/archive/2008/01/18/suppresstopspacingwp-compat-settings-1.aspx

  4. Anonymous Coward says:

    Hmm, I’m wondering only one little detail:

    “That requires an OpenXML that has completed the standards process”

    Completed, really? So what was the outcome? I’m sure many of us would like to know both the completed text of the standard and the resolution.

  5. Rob Brown says:

    Hi Gray,

    I’m very interested in those "compatibility settings" – curiosity really, I don’t have any need for them right now. But anyway, is there a draft of the documentation available yet?

  6. Rob Weir says:

    As Co-Chair of the ODF TC, let me say that Mr. Durusau’s views in no way represent the position of OASIS or the ODF TC.  Of course, he is entitled to express his personal opinion. And so am I.

    Patrick makes 5 assertions in his letter, and these are easily rebutted:

    1) National bodies lose an open and international forum for further work on DIS 29500.

    *Is Patrick implying that Ecma is not open and international? Do you agree with that, Gray?  That would be a good thing to to know in those places where Microsoft is currently pushing for adoption of OOXML, arguing that it is an open standard.

    One does not approve a standard in ISO in order to be more open. Openness should be there from the beginning. Patrick’s argument appears to be "Let’s give OOXML the highest level of approval and then it will be a better standard". But ISO standardization is not done with sacramental oils. There is not transmutation. OOXML does not become a good standard because it is approved. A standard is approved because it is good.

    2) Microsoft based third-party vendors may be excluded from contracts because Microsoft has no ISO approved format.

    *Microsoft could always add support for ODF to their product. Then they would be supporting an ISO standard. Similarly, I assume they are now seriously thinking of adding Blu-ray support to the XBox now that HD DVD failed. We should not be propping up Microsoft and giving them a free ticket to ISO because of their bad business decision in ignoring ODF and delaying their own standardization activities. The market rewards those who guess right, and punishes those that guess wrong.  The consumer wins when standards consolidate.  We should not be looking to avoid this natural outcome.

    3) ODF has no ISO-based formula definitions to insure compatibility between OpenDocument and OpenXML.

    *And OOXML has no ISO-based formula definitions either, because OOXML has not been approved by ISO!

    4) ODF has no ISO-based definition of MS legacy features for an ODF extension.

    *And OOXML has no ISO-based definition of MS legacy features either, because OOXML has not been approved by ISO!

    5) ODF has no ISO-based definition of the current MS format for mapping purposes

    *And OOXML has no ISO-based definition of the current MS format either, because OOXML has not been approved by ISO!

    These last three points by Patrick are rather poor. The fact that portions of the Ecma-376 specification are interesting as technical disclosures of proprietary Microsoft Office interfaces does not automatically recommend the entire 6,045 page specification for approval as an ISO standard. If the ODF TC desires any information on these three topics, we already have access to all of this material via the Ecma-376 text and the Ecma’s Disposition of Comments report, both of which will exist regardless of whether DIS 29500 is approved.

    There is absolutely nothing we cannot do now, given the materials we have now.  Whether things like the spreadsheet definitions in OOXML are "ISO-approved" or not is immaterial. We know the ISO review was shallow. We cannot assume that Excel compatibility information in OOXML is correct. We would need to test and verify everything. Slapping an "ISO" label on OOXML doesn’t make it more useful or more accurate for ODF.

    In no way whatsoever is ODF hurt, harmed or even annoyed by the imminent demise of Microsoft’s ill-conceived and reckless experiment in ISO.

  7. Jesper Lund Stocholm says:


    You can find the complete collection of dispositions on noooxml.org (for your daily phun) in the comment section of http://www.noooxml.org/forum/t-36002/the-2293-pages-of-the-ecma-comments-are-here

    You will then need to find the specific resolutions passed at the BRM in http://www.itscj.ipsj.or.jp/sc34/open/0989.pdf . It’s Resolution 33. This will give you the relevant Responses in the big document.

    Please let me know if I can help with more.


  8. Andy says:

    “The “say anything” tactics you’ve employed make you a poor candidate for the groups of people like DIN, Rick Jelliffe, Mr. Durusau and others who are genuinely interested in progressing the discussion.”

    Are you aware of the opinion of DIN staff?