Group: 2008 Progress Shows ODF Will Prevail

It was a good year for Open Document Format (ODF), which gained support from governments across the world in 2008 as its backers continued to promote it as an international standard for XML-based document exchange, according to the ODF Alliance.

Despite the fact that ODF's rival, OOXML -- a format created by Microsoft for its Office 2007 suite -- was also approved by the ISO (International Organization for Standardization) earlier this year as an international standard, ODF Alliance Managing Director Marino Marcich believes that ODF will eventually win out as the dominant standard for document formats.

"I think that we're dealing with two formats to accomplish the exact same task," he said Tuesday. "At the end of the day, two formats for the same task just generates confusion and cost."

Marcich cited progress ODF made in the year and outlined in the ODF Alliance's annual report as proof that ODF will eventually beat OOXML. Governments around the world are currently setting interoperability guidelines for the technology used in their agencies, and are standardizing file formats a part of that decision.

ODF has now been approved as a technology standard for document exchange in 16 countries, including Brazil, the Netherlands, Norway, South Africa, Russia, and Germany, according to the report. In the Netherlands, government agencies must select ODF-supported products in technology purchases of €50,000 (US$69,920) or more, and in Brazil ODF also has been mandated for use in government agencies.

OOXML, on the other hand, is only being piloted alongside ODF in Denmark, and only the U.S. state of Massachusetts has approved OOXML as a standard, he said.

ODF also gained more support among word-processing applications from major technology vendors, Marcich said. Google Docs, Adobe Buzzword and OpenOffice.org's desktop and portable applications all now support ODF as a file format.

On the contrary, "I can count on my left hand how many .docx's I've received," he said, referring to the file extension for default Office 2007 files. However, to be fair, the OOXML/.docx implementation in Office 2007 differs from current OOXML specification, which has been altered through the standards process and is now known as ECMA 376.

Still, it's true that the default file format for exchanging most Office documents now is .doc, the default binary document file extension for Office before Office 2007. Even Marcich acknowledged that "the old binaries dominate the landscape" right now.

Unlike Marcich, Microsoft still believes there is room for more than one XML-based file format, said Dough Mahugh, a Microsoft senior program manager for Office interoperability, in an e-mail Tuesday.

"Microsoft is committed to interoperability, transparency and user choice," he said. "That is why we are supporting additional formats going forward; after all, users have always wanted access to multiple formats, and now they have even more options."

Microsoft has agreed to support ODF in Office as part of Office 2007 Service Pack 2, which is due out between February and April 2009, and eventually it will implement the current OOXML specification in Office 2007 as well.

Last week, Microsoft publicly outlined how it would implement ODF in that service pack release and expects to in the next several weeks to release implementation notes for ECMA 376 as well.

However, Marcich expressed concern over the implementation of ODF revealed by Microsoft last week, saying it has raised some eyebrows among ODF proponents for not being in line with how the ODF specification is currently implemented.

"It suggests that Microsoft will deviate substantially from the course taken by other vendors," he said. "This could break interoperability."

ODF proponents have reason to worry, as the process to ISO approval for OOXML was riddled with complaints that Microsoft acted unscrupulously, the standards process was not implemented properly and the specification approved was too unwieldy to implement.

Mahugh, however, defended Microsoft's planned implementation of ODF, saying the company is "confident" in it, which is why Microsoft "took the step of publicly disclosing the principles and priorities that guided our development, released our implementation notes, and are supporting DII events around the world," he said. DII, or the Document Interoperability Initiative, is a group Microsoft created to foster interoperability between different document formats .

Mahugh added that Microsoft encourages other ODF implementers to "provide a similar level of transparency and participate positively" in the company's DII events.

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