Even a chimp can write code

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Open Standards, not Open Source

Miguel has a very insightful post on the OOXML v/s ODF meme. He says:
Open standards and the need for public access to information was a strong message. This became a key component of promoting open office, and open source software. This posed two problems:

First, those promoting open standards did not stress the importance of having a fully open source implementation of an office suite.

Second, it assumed that Microsoft would stand still and would not react to this new change in the market.

And that is where the strategy to promote the open source office suite is running into problems. Microsoft did not stand still. It reacted to this new requirement by creating a file format of its own, the OOXML.

It is amusing to see the reactions of people who shouted from rooftops that Microsoft wasn't open or wasn't transparent, now that Microsoft is doing something to remedy that. The shrill voices that said "we do not have enough information on Microsoft's proprietary protocols to interoperate well" have now changed to "gee, at 6000 pages the spec is too large...too much information". There's also the dishonest comparison with the ODF spec that comes at 722 pages, conveniently ignoring the little fact that ODF references other specs like SVG. Miguel postscripts with this gem:

For example, many years ago, when I was working on Gnumeric, one of the issues that we ran into was that the actual descriptions for functions and formulas in Excel was not entirely accurate from the public books you could buy.

OOXML devotes 324 pages of the standard to document the formulas and functions.

The original submission to the ECMA TC45 working group did not have any of this information. Jody Goldberg and Michael Meeks that represented Novell at the TC45 requested the information and it eventually made it into the standards. I consider this a win, and I consider those 324 extra pages a win for everyone (almost half the size of the ODF standard).

Depending on how you count, ODF has 4 to 10 pages devoted to it. There is no way you could build a spreadsheet software based on this specification.

To build a spreadsheet program based on ODF you would have to resort to an existing implementation source code (OpenOffice.org, Gnumeric) or you would have to resort to Microsoft's public documentation or ironically to the OOXML specification.


Christian Stefan wrote me to point out that the OOXML specification published by ECMA uses 1.5 line spacing, while OASIS uses single spacing. I quote from his message:

ODF 722 pages
SVG 719
MathML 665
XForms 152 (converted from html using winword, ymmv)
XLink 36 (converted from html using winword, ymmv)
SMIL 537 (converted from html using winword, ymmv)
OpenFormula 371

Now I'm still missing some standards that would add severall hundred pages and changing line spacing to 1.5 will bring me near the 6000 pages mark I guess. This is not very surprising (at least for me) since both standards try to solve very similar problems with nearly equal complexity.

That's a kick in the pants if there ever was one.

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