Your Spec or Mine?

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 for ODF.

From a corporate IT perspective, is this much ado about nothing? Share your views and concerns with me at [email protected].

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 copy.

About the Author

Carolyn April is the executive editor of features for Redmond magazine.


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