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ODF Alliance, Who, What, Where (and Why?) 92

Andy Updegrove writes "On Friday, the new ODF Alliance was launched with much fanfare to 'educate government' about the OpenDocument Format. A flurry of brief news articles appeared the same day, based on pre-launch interviews (as well as an Op/Ed piece in the Wall Street Journal by Sun's Scott McNealy), but they didn't include much information. So what's it all about, why was it formed, and will it be likely to succeed? Given that the 36 members include only one government unit (the ICT department for Vienna), the answer is clearly to establish a beachhead in the government market as a target of opportunity, and then to expand from there to meet the real goals of the members."
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ODF Alliance, Who, What, Where (and Why?)

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday March 05, 2006 @03:16PM (#14854222)
    Every member will have slightly different goals but one goal brings them all together. No one company (especially Microsoft) should be the gate keeper to people's own data.
    For several of the members (like IBM for instance), their basic survival depends on an open file format. If Microsoft controls all the files then nobody else can compete.

    Does it matter? Judging by their resistance in Mass., Microsoft thinks so.
    • I think Microsoft's just lazy and seems to think "what's wrong with OfficeXML? We're going to be using a new XML format with the specification open for outside usage." If you've noticed, OpenOffice is the only office program to fully support (and use by default) the ODF's. KOffice is up next for that, but it seems that up to this point, every single office program had its own format, even OSS.

      Then again, it's Microsoft, so there must be some sort of underlying goal to squash its competitors, right?
  • by all204 ( 898409 ) on Sunday March 05, 2006 @03:16PM (#14854223)
    Here is an other article on this: .html [] It's a few days old though. (March 3rd)
    • by Jasper__unique_dammi ( 901401 ) on Sunday March 05, 2006 @03:34PM (#14854276)
      Quote from where the parent linked to, link []:

      "new Office XML specifications are freely available for anyone to download and Microsoft offers perpetual, royalty-free licenses to use them"

      If the format is efficient and simple enough to handle, this seems good enough for me. ofcourse Microsoft is hardly an independend organisation, and i think these kinds of standards should be from such a organisation. Is the ODF more independend?
      • by SirTalon42 ( 751509 ) on Sunday March 05, 2006 @03:49PM (#14854311)
        OpenDocument Format was created by OASIS and is currently used as the default format in OpenOffice and KOffice (well KOffice 1.5 which uses it at the default format is a couple days away from being released, 1.4 supported OpenDocument natively though). I believe Gnome Office and other office suites are also implementing OpenDocument support.
        • I do recall reading that Abiword wasn't going to use ODF (specifically .odw and .otw) as its native format because it didn't do all it wanted to (whatever's in the .abiword XML format I'd assume). If GNOME Office is going to eventually get all its software to use ODF natively or at least up to par with its main format, that's a plus for ODF as well.

          At this point, a lot of office software supports ODF importing, and many of them support exporting as well, but MS Office lags behind as usual.
      • The difference is Office XML cannot be used in OpenSource applications.

        Why? Although Microsoft grants you a license, you are not permitted to sublicense. As such, Office XML could never be used in a BSD or GPL, or any similar sublicensing Open Source scheme.

        Also, ODF was established by a consortium of companies, is 100% unpatent encumbered, and will most likely become an ISO standard for document distribution in the near future.

        Office XML is pretty open, but its not 100%. It's basically only usable by closed source projects, which is most likely Microsoft's intent.
        • by Anonymous Coward
          "Office XML is pretty open, but its not 100%. It's basically only usable by closed source projects, which is most likely Microsoft's intent."

          And it has no promise of future extendability that will be as "open" as the current MS proposal. It is Microsoft's usual tactic. People want an open compatible file format an Microsoft doesn't want to support it. What does that say: Microsoft doesn't listen to its customers and they put their intrested ahead of their customer. *sigh* What kind of business gets away
          • They DO listen to their customers. If they didn't they wouldn't try to get rid of ODF. Microsoft knows what the customers want and how much they can leave out and still get away with it. Example: IE 7. Is IE 7 vastly improved? The UI is, because Opera and Firefox are luring people away with things like tabbed browsing. But Triton (aka MSHTML) was only marginally improved because Microsoft know that people will care more about a snazzy UI than about web standards and that improved-but-still-partial CSS2 supp
            • Now that's a little FUDdy; the IE7 development team is trying much harder than in the past to improve its HTML and CSS rendering, but a monstrosity such as IE must be quite difficult to get up to par with the year 1999 [] let alone 2006 and beyond (with all the modularisation parties going on at W3C).
              • by rtb61 ( 674572 ) on Sunday March 05, 2006 @08:01PM (#14855131) Homepage
                "IE7 development team is trying much harder than in the past"

                So that statement differs from other similar statements that have come out of microsoft in the last twenty years, exactly how? No matter what they say any more, anybody that believes them has, well, questionable judgement.

                Yeah, we promise this version will actually be reliable, secure and stable (and compatible with previous versions).

                ODF is about reducing overhead costs, compatibility issues and long term data retention. As well as issuring competition which is a legal requirment for most government purchases.

                Yes, it is for every company on the planet apart from microsoft, who although they are free to use it, not only refuse to do so but are doing everything in their power to destroy it, this is commonly reffered to as blind greed.

              • by Jesus_666 ( 702802 ) on Sunday March 05, 2006 @09:06PM (#14855333)
                When I read comments like "we really love XHTML, but we can't offer full support so we're just going to pretend it doesn't exist. And hey, look! We now support 50% of CSS2! Hurray for IE's great CSS support" I start doubting that they are that committed to bringing Trident on par with the other renderers. Seriously, they should just buy a sourcecode copy of Opera's renderer along with all rights and only include Trident for legacy support, using the Opera renderer as the new codebase. Or port Tasman (the rendering engine used by IE5/Mac), for which they obviously already hold the rights, to Windows.
                My opinion is that trying to bring Trident up to snuff would be like taking DR-DOS and trying to turn it into a modrn operating system. Rebuilding or replacing the thing wholesale might just be the better option. And maybe they underestimated the time it takes to bring a product that was obsolete when it went gold five years ago up to date.

                NOTE: I called MSHTML "Triton" in my earlier post. The correct name is "Trident".
                • Well, I too seriously doubt they'll get anywhere. My guess is that they'll just say fuck it, change the default theme of Firefox 1.5, and send that off as IE7. Us web developers are very hopeful that IE7 won't suck complete balls, but looking at it, it looks like it will continue with the ball sucking trend since IE4.
          • On the page I found this detailed analysis of the legalese of Sun's pledge and Microsoft's covenant not to sue users of Office 2003 XML:
   =1762 []
            IANAL but as I understand it Sun made the pledge officially to the standards consortium OASIS, for all future versions of OpenDocument, and Microsoft put it on their own website, for Office 2003 XML, with an added notice

            "Microsoft will also be offering this same covenant with respect to the fo

        • Although Microsoft grants you a license, you are not permitted to sublicense.

          Assuming this is true, so what? The party to whom you wanted to "sublicense" can just get a license directly from Microsoft.
        • Microsoft's license basically prohibits anyone from coming along hijacking their format and using it as the basis for their own. You are just plain wrong, there's nothing to stop anyone from using these formats in a GPL project, the only reason why you wouldn't would be for competitive reasons so as to not allow people to move from a GPL product to Microsoft.
        • Have a look here for some more information about licensing osoft_Office_Open_XML_licensing [] although the article needs some cleaning
      • by kebes ( 861706 ) on Sunday March 05, 2006 @03:55PM (#14854336) Journal
        The problem is that the Office XML format allows for (among other things) embedding binary data. So critical parts of a document could still be wrapped up in a complicated, obfuscated way, requiring reverse-engineering and so forth (or possibly even being "off limits" entirely, depending on patents and so forth).

        The ODF is entirely different, since the specification is clear that no such binary data is allowed. As often happens, the MS offering has the appearance of satisfying a need ("open and accessible!") while not actually delivering on the promise.

        new Office XML specifications are freely available for anyone to download and Microsoft offers perpetual, royalty-free licenses to use them

        Even if that's true, apparently the way it is worded, nothing prevents MS from releasing a derivative of their format with new licensing terms. So people will get locked into an upgrade path that at first has no costs, but eventually does. ODF on the other hand is committed to keeping the standard free.

        OASIS is much more independant and impartial than MS will ever be, and I'm much more comfortable trusting them. The OpenDocument format is very clearly open and readable, meaning anyone in the future will be able to read/write the documents easily (and without paying royalties). The same cannot be said for the new Office XML. In that case, you're just trading one locked-down format for another. The question should be: "If we're going to the bother of switching to a new format, why not select the one that offers us the most accessibility and flexibility down the road?" And the answer is: "you should switch to ODF." I have no doubt that MS Word will read/write ODF witin a few years.
        • Why would MS try to appease ODF loving governments with an XML format and then piss them off again by embedding binary data for everything?
          • by IvyKing ( 732111 ) on Sunday March 05, 2006 @06:31PM (#14854834)
            Why would MS try to appease ODF loving governments with an XML format and then piss them off again by embedding binary data for everything?

            For the same friggin' reason they put the brain dead Posix inteface in Windows NT - so they could claim to meet the requirements of Posix compatibiliy without intending any serious use of it. Remember the fuss with Kerberos??

        • critical parts of a document could still be

          Why talk in hypotheticals? The formats exist []. They don't work in the way you describe.

          It was a funny joke to start with - the idea that you would have an XML document as one huge CDATA section. It seems the joke is so funny that it has become automatic truth, without anyone bothering to check. Maybe it needs listing at

  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday March 05, 2006 @03:29PM (#14854262)
    March 3, 2006

    Software Hardball

    March 3, 2006; Page A10

    In principle at least, there is no controversy. No one would argue that content you create belongs to anyone but you. But, in fact, it doesn't.

    That's the dirty little secret behind much of the software people use today. In business, in government, in schools and in homes all around the world, we entrust our work to software applications: word processors, spreadsheets, presentation programs and all the rest. And, too often, that's where we lose control of our own words and thoughts -- simply on account of the way we save our documents. Because we tend to store information in formats that are owned and managed by a single dominant company, in a few short years we may no longer be able to access our files if the format is "upgraded." Or we may be required to buy a new expensive version of the software just to access our own thoughts. We do it without giving it a second thought. After all, what's the alternative? A typewriter? An adding machine? A quill?

    Think about it: If the Constitution were being drafted today, we would likely lose free, or low cost, or even any kind of access to much of the vital background in the Framers' correspondence to one another -- all because the file format will no longer be supported sometime in the future. A letter is more or less permanent, and easily transferable to different environments. An email is not.

    Software appears to give us all the control we need over our documents -- until it doesn't. The problem shows up when we decide to try something different. A new way of doing things or a different software application. Something better. Something cheaper, more reliable, easier. But we're stuck with all these files in a format that's exclusive to the company from which we bought the first software application. In business, that's called a barrier to exit. Companies that create barriers to exit figure we won't notice until it's too late when the cost of switching is too high.

    In the larger scheme of things, barriers to exit are bad for the consumer. It means that in the long term we often end up paying more than we should and getting less innovation than we would on a level playing field. Companies should compete on the value their products provide, not on their ability to lock customers into a proprietary "standard." At this point, some people throw up their hands and say that's just the way of the world. Nothing we can do about it.

    Not so. There is now an open, international standard for common personal productivity applications -- spreadsheet, presentation and word-processing programs -- called the OpenDocument Format (ODF). Approved by an independent standards body, ODF has the backing of a broad community of supporters including consumer groups, academic institutions, a collection of library associations including the American Library Association, and many leading high-tech companies, but no single company owns it or controls it. (A "standard" created and controlled by a single company is not a true standard.) Any company can incorporate the OpenDocument Format into its products, free of charge, and tear down the barriers to exit.

    Imagine being able to open any email attachment, read it and make changes, even if you don't have the exact program it was created in. That's the kind of interoperability the OpenDocument Format is designed to foster.

    If this standard is to become a reality, we must insist on it. In the U.S., Massachusetts has been leading the way with a mandate that all software purchased by the commonwealth comply with ODF. Globally, 13 nations are considering adopting it. The reason is simple. The data belongs to the people, not to the software vendor that created the file format.

    If you don't think this is an issue, take a look at what happened after Hurricane Katrina. People needing emergency services information found that some government Web sites could only be accessed from a singl
  • by ggurley ( 958535 ) on Sunday March 05, 2006 @04:09PM (#14854383)

    One of the key reasons that alternatives to Microsoft Office haven't made substantial headway in government and educational institutions is because many users aren't aware of the alternatives available. Or if they are, they are unable to distinguish the advantages and disadvantages between the alternatives and Microsoft Office, and haven't received any substantial training using such alternatives.

    As an educator, I began using and NeoOffice/J in the classes I taught or coordinated, along with Microsoft Office, to teach the fundamental concepts of preparing documents with office suite applications. Upon completion of the training, my students had a much better grasp of the differences between office productivity suites, their advantages and disadvantages, and which application performed better at preparing certain tasks based upon features. Moreover, those students could make better educated decisions of which office productivity suite to choose based upon their needs, not based upon which application has a greater marketshare or saves files in a specific format. Because of the benefits I witnessed from the instruction provided to these students, I ended up writing the book "A Conceptual Guide to 2.0" ( []) that is based upon the handouts I prepared for those classes.

    My hope is that the adoption of open source formats become a success. Users shouldn't have to choose to use a software package based upon the use of a closed source format tied to a specific application. Every application has its advantages and disadvantages, and every user needs specific features from an application when creating documents. Having applications standardize on open source formats, and have them compete on features/interface/ease-of-use/ etc., is much better for users in terms of choice and the assurance that documents created today are assessable by everyone for many years into the future.

    • Just to be pedantic ;) open source is one thing, open format is another.

      Of course, a file that is created by an open source software is on an open format, but the oposite is not always true for closed source. A file that is written by a closed source software may also be on an open format.

  • Simple solution: (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward
    Plain text.
  • ... has become a thin mask for clumsy corporate activity. I'm hoping that the members step forwards with an end to end strategy that can be adopted by governments, at the moment it is hard to work out what a government would do with these good intentions.

"Let every man teach his son, teach his daughter, that labor is honorable." -- Robert G. Ingersoll