Usually, representatives of national bodies can go about their business without too much fear of being molested by multinationals pushing their favorite standards. But when the economic stakes are high enough, standards committee members can become the subject of more attention than they wish, and to feel like citizens of Iowa during a presidential year.
Perhaps the most significant news this week in the battle between OOXML and ODF was Micorosoft's decision to escalate the air wars by sending IBM an open letter "valentine" yesterday, posted at the Microsoft Interoperability Web page.
Given that there has been a fair amount of information, disinformation, and supposition flying around, I thought that I should share some additional details that I've learned relating to the contradictions received by JTC 1 regarding Ecma 376 (nee Microsoft OOXML).
One of the things that you learn early when you blog is to ignore the flames, or at least try to. Lots of people will assume that you're a jerk (a/k/a you think something they don't), or that you have all of your facts wrong. They can often get pretty harsh about it, too. Still, you have to keep in mind that you're not going to always be right, and own up and take it in the chops like a grownup when you get called out.
Just a few minutes ago, Sun announced that it would make a "preview" version of its Office to ODF plugin in "mid February," with the full version to follow "later this spring." Plugins will be available for use with both Sun's StarOffice as well as the open source OpenOffice.org office suite. The announcement comes three days after Microsoft announced the immediate availability of its Office to ODF plugin at SourceForge.
With Microsoft's OOXML formats at last under review by Joint Technical Committee 1 (JTC1) of global standards bodies ISO and IEC, things are heating up dramatically in the battle between ODF and OOXML. When the deadline for the one month contradictions period of the ISO/IUEC Fast Track closed on Monday afternoon, JTC 1 had received responses from a total of nineteen national bodies, with most or all of those responses including formal "contradictions" under applicable rules.
Three and a half years after 9/11, I remain astonished at how few of the comparatively easy and essential defensive tasks we've accomplished, in comparison to the vastly expensive (and often unsuccessful) initiatives that we have mounted.
As those who are following Microsoft's OOXML formats through the standardization process will know, those formats are now in the "contradiction" phase in JTC 1 at ISO/IEC. Or, so it would seem, they are in the "so, what is a contradiction, anyway?" phase in JTC1.
The most interesting news this morning is that Adobe is contributing the entire PDF specification to the open standards process. According to the Adobe press release (reproduced in full at the end of this post), the specification will be contributed to AIIM, which currently administers those component parts of the PDF specification that Adobe had previously made available for standardization. When AIIM has completed the preparation work and its membership has adopted the new material, it will be submitted to ISO.
What do global wiki projects, assistive technologies announcements, efforts to buy Wikipedia access, major platform announcements, simultaneous competing toolkit releases, and public calls to arms to defend Europe against being "railroaded" all have in common? They're all part of just one week's head-butting between the proponents of ODF and Microsoft, as OOXML embarks on its effort to become an ISO/IEC-adopted standard (a status ODF already enjoys).
Sunday afternoon, the Free Standards Group (FSG) signed an agreement to combine forces with Open Source Development Labs (OSDL) to form a new organization – The Linux Foundation. The result of this consolidation will be to dedicate the resources of the combined membership to "accelerate the growth of Linux by providing a comprehensive set of services to compete effectively with closed platforms."
OOXML, the Microsoft Office XML-based formats, are now in the adoption queue at ISO/IEC. That process takes six months - the same amount of time that the PAS process takes (the route used by OASIS to submit ODF to ISO/IEC) – but has two steps rather than one, although the practical result is much the same. During the first one-month step, any member may submit "contradictions," which, loosely defined, means aspects in which a proposed standard conflicts with already adopted ISO/IEC standards and Directives.
When disruptive technologies come along, standards need to evolve in parallel, so that they are there when new products hit the shelf. The result can be standards "swarms" that provide multiple, overlapping solutions to choose from. Ultimately, the fittest survive and things settle back into a more stable (and limited) ecosystem.
A story at InformationWeek called Five Disruptive Technologies to Watch in 2007 couldn't help but catch my eye on New Years Day. The reason is that all five technologies, and the strategies of the vendors that are promoting them, rely upon standards – in most cases, fundamentally. That's no surprise, because disruption by definition is painful, and no one in the supply chain (including end users) likes pain. Providing a convincing argument why the resulting pleasure will more than offset the pain is therefore imperative.
A year ago, many words were written (including by me) on why Microsoft may have chosen Ecma to package Microsoft's Office Open XML formats as a standard. Now that Ecma has finished that project and adopted the result, there's additional data to examine that sheds some light on that question. That will be my topic today, and for the next several entries.
Elizabeth Montalbano at ComputerWorld wrote a piece yesterday about a thus far little noticed project puckishly named "Project Missouri." How little noticed? I just tried a Google search of "'project Missouri' IBM ODF" and found…just Elizabeth's article.
The news on the ODF front continues to flow, as the air wars continue between ODF and OOXML. This morning's email includes a message from OpenOffice.org's Louis Suarez-Potts to those interested in the progress of OOo's ODF compliant, open source software suite. That message announces the third OOo release of 2006, versioned as OpenOffice.org 2.1.
Today is the day that Ecma, the European-based standards body chosen by Microsoft to fast-track its Office Open XML standard to ISO, will vote to approve that specification. What exactly will that mean? Let's try the Q&A format again to sort it all out.
David Berlind posted an interesting interview yesterday with Justin Steinman, Novell's director of marketing. In that exchange, Steinman doesn't show any cards regarding Microsoft's plans, but he does confirm that the conversion code that Novell is developing to make its office suite "bi-directional" will be "100% open source."
Things are changing very fast in the ODF landscape right now: Last week, Corel announced it would provide limited support by mid-2007 for ODF (open, view and edit of text only – but not save), and greater support for OOXML – presentations and spreadsheets as well as text. Yesterday, Carol Sliwa at ComputerWorld released a detailed story on Microsoft's anti-ODF lobbying in Massachusetts. Later this week, Ecma will formally vote to adopt OOXML and submit it to ISO for consideration (expect things to pick up on a number of fronts when that happens). And now we have the Novell announcement. What, as they say, does it all mean?