Your Spec or Mine?
- By Carolyn April
Sniping heated up this week in the ongoing battle over document file formats
that pits Microsoft and its Office Open XML specification against the OpenDocument
Format (ODF) standard and its proponents – namely, IBM.
The latest salvo? Microsoft issued an open
letter more or less accusing IBM of petty maneuvering, hypocrisy and standing
in the way of customer choice. At issue is IBM's vote before the Ecma standards
organization in which Big Blue was the lone dissenter in a 20-1 nod for Office
Open XML to gain Ecma's approval as an international open standard. Ecma is
now pushing the Microsoft spec onto national standards groups ISO/IEC JTC1 for
the ratification that ODF already enjoys. Microsoft is accusing IBM of leading
the charge to prevent such a stamp of approval.
Here's one choice nugget from the letter:
This campaign to stop even the consideration of Open XML in ISO/IEC JTC1
is a blatant attempt to use the standards process to limit choice in the marketplace
for ulterior commercial motives -- and without regard for the negative impact
on consumer choice and technological innovation. It is not a coincidence that
IBM's Lotus Notes product, which IBM is actively promoting in the marketplace,
fails to support the Open XML international standard. If successful, the campaign
to block consideration of Open XML could create a dynamic where the first
technology to the standards body, regardless of technical merit, gets to preclude
other related ones from being considered.
Now, I don't know about you, but this whole ODF vs. Office Open XML debate
seems more politically charged than it is an argument over technical merits
or the value of having one or more standards for the industry to follow. Microsoft
says there's room for both standards, that they are not cross-purpose. ODF devotees
find this self-serving, pointing out that Microsoft as a lone vendor would enact
too much control over the file format standard -- and is mostly concerned with
its use in its own proprietary products. Office 2007 will feature Office Open
XML support and backwards-compatibility with document formats from previous
versions of Office.
Microsoft suffered a blow earlier this month when legislation was introduced
in both Minnesota and Texas that would mandate the use of an XML-based open
document format standard to preserve all documents. This standard would have
to be implemented by multiple vendors and be royalty-free. While neither piece
of legislation states it explicitly, ODF is widely viewed to be the standard
format they are planning to use.
So what's wrong with having two XML-based standards for productivity application
document formats? From a market perspective, Microsoft's Office covers the globe
so it makes sense that it crafts a format that works seamlessly with its new
versions of the software as well as the old. But from a purist's point of view,
a standard is meant to be just that: a single standard. That bolsters the case
From a corporate IT perspective, is this much ado about nothing? Share your
views and concerns with me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Carolyn's Mailbag: Busting the DRM Dream
Steve Jobs made waves last week when he voiced
his support for doing away with DRM altogether, and many of you agreed:
I don't remember where I got this
article from, but it details ugly DRM features in Vista. This has made
me seriously consider putting off my plans do to more music and video downloading
on my computer. I've been a longtime Microsoft supporter, but hearing about
the stuff in this article makes me seriously consider a Mac. I hope that the
decision makers at Microsoft will decide to drop DRM, too.
I remember reading this a long time ago: "If you can play it, you
can copy it."
Personally, I want to shoot the record companies for making it impossible
to own music in any format other than a CD and still have it be able to play
on anything more than the simplest CD player out there. I can't remember how
many times I have bought music just to play it on X player because of DRM.
As far as I am concerned, DRM stands for "dumb record manufacturers"
and nothing else. Go, Jobs, go!
Too many times we just sit back and take what comes at us, but I wanted
to take a minute and state that I agree wholeheartedly about removing the
DRM off of music.
On a similar note, I'd also like to be able to make backup copies of
my movies so that when my children get them all scratched up, I can make another
Carolyn April is the executive editor of features for Redmond magazine.