Open Tech Today - Top Stories

Monday, December 11, 2006

Standards Smackdown!

Technology rarely sparks public debate, let alone political intrigue. But a “no holds barred” fight has begun in the technology world over document formats. That means nothing to most people. But it is turning the IT world into the UFC. This fight is not just among geeky programmers. Industry heavyweights and governments are getting ready to rumble.

Ecma's approval of the Office Open XML (ooXML) standard this week sets up a big showdown. A competing standard – the OpenDocument Format (ODF) – is already ISO-approved.

I noted in a recent CNET article that Ecma's approval of ooXML will increase confusion in the marketplace. Consumers and companies now face two different document standards. One is a proprietary-encumbered standard, the other an open standard. Both are endorsed by standards organizations and industry allies.

The average person, even the average corporate customer will be confused. And when it comes to technology, the uninformed are easily abused. Politicians, often among the most technologically challenged, are already being targeted. It’s about to get worse. A giant PR blitz is coming. Corporate commanders are fueling the FUD missiles.

The ultimate question is which document standard will become the standard?

One group will greatly affect the outcome – the actual consumers of standards: programmers and IT developers. They are the people who use the specifications of these 2 standards. These developers (and companies that employ them) must deal with reality. Software development is hard work, and complexity drives up costs. It is true for software. It will be true for document standards.

According to a new study, in Asia today 70% of computer programmers use open source software in their work. Why? It’s cheaper than proprietary software and allows total access to the source code. Applying ooXML, a standard bloated with proprietary functions, will be difficult and costly. These will be serious disincentives to IT developers not employed by Microsoft.

All those Asian software developers using open source – 50% of them will use XML next year. Will they be willing to endure to pain and costs of using ooXML instead of ODF, a simpler, more open standard?

Welcome to the standards smackdown. The fighters have entered the Octagon. It looks like a sumo champion will face a jui-jitsu master. It’s déjà vu all over again. Want to know the results the first time? It’s here.

Oh yeah – it's on now.

Categories: OpenDocument, ODF, standards, ooXML, Microsoft


Jeff Kaplan said...

In response to a few private comments, I would add one additional comment ...

I am not saying that ooXML is a useless or redundant standard (as some do say). However, its usefulness is different and narrower than ODF. ooXML primarily collects all the technical specs needed to ensure backward compatibility with legacy Microsoft office suites. This has value for some newer apps (by MS and others).

However, since it is not a truly open standard, it does not offer the same value proposition for future access to data and enabling self-directed innovation that ODF offers. These 2 interests are of high priority for governments especially, and will likely outweigh mere backward compatibility.

Donald Axel said...

The links in the posting seem broken:
But it is turning the IT world into the UFC.

Want to know the results the first time? It’s here.
Otherwise thanks again for wording the conflict in an area which is dominated by badly formed terminology and determined to create Fear Uncertainty and Doubt, FUD.

Jeff Kaplan said...

Thanks, Axel. Those links are now fixed.