Stuffing it Up – ODF and OOXML Document Format Battle

ODF (Opendocument Format) vs OOXML (Office Open XML) – chronicles, observations and notes

Industry Motive: To preserve a monopoly and the fight to protect a four-billion-dollar per year cash cow against those who stand for open standards, against those who want to create even playing fields, fair competition, innovation and open access for everyone to benefit.

What started as a technical evaluation of data specifications has turned into one of the most ferocious political fights in IT history. Here, the true nature of the corporate giant has come to light again. Today there are choices for word processing and folks want to feel free and not tied into a single product. A dinosaur of a company, omnipresent, does not pick up on the changing times soon enough; it tries to live in the past — sometimes at all costs and without regard to those changing times, their potential customers, or to shame.

The format war boils down to who will own and/or control the way you save and open your document formats. There are approximately 60 billion documents in circulation and archived. So, perhaps, the real question is this: Do you want control and the freedom to choose the application you want to use to open these documents (without, of course, any complications), or do you want to be locked into a system and format totally controlled by one dominant company?

Before you answer, I would like to clarify some issues, mostly about the ISO, paid Wiki edits and more…so read on!


International Organization for StandardizationThe main front in this document war is taking place at the International Organization for Standardization, widely known as ISO, an international standard-setting body composed of representatives from various national standards organizations. While ISO defines itself as a nongovernmental organization, it can set standards that often become law, either through treaties or national standards. This makes this organization more powerful than most NGOs.

In practice, ISO acts as a consortium with strong links to governments and big corporations. Take note, that the important committes usually are controlled by big corporations. Also note that many NSBs are not public entities, but private (case of Germany, Venezuela, Uruguay, etc.). Read: New ISO Policy Provides International Solutions to Market Needs.

From this front could emerge a vendor-controlled format that serves as an “International Standard” for Third World and developing countries. Folks who could afford this application probably wouldn’t concern themselves with the implications. However, a paid format only would suppress the underprivileged. Those who can afford a computer but who cannot afford expensive software and paid upgrades would be unable to express their thoughts and they would not be able to gain access to archived documents.

While the scenario above could happen, it works against the ISO Action Plan for Developing Nations (PDF).

The goal of ISO is: “One standard, one test, accepted worldwide.” Therefore, creating “Two Standards, One tested, Rejected by many Worldwide” makes it likely that something bad may happen!!!


The OpenDocument Format was developed as part of a greater mindset and movement which is no longer grass roots but now mainstream: the need for information and access to information to be free and readily accessible. Some for-profit corporations have realized the advantages of this goal and acted upon it. See, for example “NYT goes Free.”

The OpenDocument Format (ODF) is 100% free for developers to use and integrate into any product they wish to create. The source is completely open. No one person or business has any right to its copyright, trademarks, and – where relevant – software patents for the specification are irrevocably available. ODF was developed by a large scale collaboration among companies, governments, universities and organizations. The core group drafted a specification reviewed by literally hundreds of individuals at OASIS to create a truly interoperable file format that is easy to enhance and extremely easy to integrate into old and new applications. The result provides a format which will free up your data and not lock you in to any one product or even one company.

After gaining OASIS approval in May 2005, the OpenDocument Format gained full ISO approval in May 2006. OASIS would have welcomed Microsoft to work on ODF and help make it as best as possible. However, although Microsoft is an OASIS member, it declined to participate after repeated invitations, insisting at first on a “wait and see� approach. Later, seeing the activity of this movement, Microsoft hurried to produce their own 6,000 page documentation, which they claimed would be “open� and that was needed to give customers the choice of a third format.

Doug Mahugh of MS in Maylasia at the Microsoft Tech Ed 2007: OpenXML said it best, and his response was frank: “Office is a USD$10 billion revenue generator for the company. When ODF was made an ISO standard, Microsoft had to react quickly as certain governments have procurement policies which prefer ISO standards. Ecma and OASIS are ‘international standards,’ but ISO is the international ‘Gold Standard.’ Microsoft therefore had to rush this standard through. Its a simple matter of commercial interests!

Hence Microsoft’s interest in going after ISO’s approval come hell or high water…

Note: When MS declined to participate in OASIS development of ODF, it was their first break away from all ISO Global relevancy policies. One long-standing question asked again and again, since Microsoft was first invited to join ODF development: If Microsoft was sincere about an Open Standard, would they not support the ODF?


In the beginning of this rush for ISO’s approval, Microsoft started off by paying someone to change the information on the Wikipedia ODF page, but they were caught. with their hand in the cookie jar. This tactic certainly was embarrassing, but unfortunately effective. The error was noticed big time on Digg: At the same time, Microsoft decided to go after ISO approval for “Office Open XMLâ€? with all their might in a desperate attempt to catch up with ODF.


The OOXML Specification on Paper.)


…or, the “easy to implement ‘open’ standard.”

During the reviews of the OOXML specification by ECMA, and later by ISO, plenty of reasons have arisen regarding just how much the OOXML falls short of the established standard it is trying to compete with. First, there are patents attached to many components of the format specification and uncertain pledges not to sue from Microsoft regarding usage. But what are these pledges worth coming from a company with a demonstrated disregard for agreements and built on the culture of of Intellectual Property and enforcing it when threatened?

Perhaps the most tangible reason why the OOXML alternative to Open Document is not an Open Format is that it would be almost impossible for anyone to implement the 6,000 page standard. If for no other reasons, it is simply too long and complicated for others to be able to create their own application using OOXML as the native format. The OOXML specification also references undocumented binary codes, references to Word 95 “autoSpaceLikeWord95″ and “suppressTopSpacingWP,” other proprietary technology and various legacy products.

Maintenance of the OOXML specification is positioned so only Microsoft can make changes to it, whenever and however they like. OOXML was not formatted for interoperability with any other file format including ISO approved ODF and will never be. As Microsoft makes changes to OOXML or releases Office 2009 with new features, interoperability keeps remaining impossible. And above all, it fails to meet every ISO policy and ISO goal established.

Thus, in the true sense of the word “open,” OOXML is not open. It is a deception from its named purpose of “open” as it forces the consumer to purchase products for the sole reason of preserving a corporate, not open document, standard.

Part Two >>>

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