Open XML versus ODF, Part III

Well, since I did not receive any pointers to more analyses from my last post, I went searching on my own (doing the work myself always being a last resort!) I have found a number of articles which were very informative and seemed well put together. I am still reading and re-reading some of them, so my opinions my changed, but they all seem to be at least thoughtful analyses.

ODF/OOXML technical white paper has a fairly detailed analysis, though from the outset the author admits that the underlying philosophy of the paper is

“We are of the view that the format appears to be designed by Microsoft for Microsoft products, and to inter-operate with the Microsoft environment. Little thought appears to have been exercised regarding interoperability with non-Microsoft environments or compliance with established vendor-neutral standards [11].”

This seems to be an underlying theme of most of the articles – to start with the purpose of showing “why ODF is good and Open XML is bad”, as opposed to being purely unbiased form the start. This paper appears to be relatively fair in its analysis, however.

I also stumbled across a number of articles related to errors in the spreadsheet formula portion of the OOXML documentation, such as Microsoft OOXML spec ‘dangerously flawed’. While I would agree that these flaws (if they exist – I have not searched for them, but I beleive they do) are important, you do not through out a proposed standard because of flaws like this, you fix them and move on. I would be relatively surprised if a 6000-page document did not contain any errors. I would see this as an argument against fast-tracking standardization, but not for throwing the Open XML specification out altogether.

Then there are the documents presented on While I am sure there are some great documents on this site, for my purposes I excluded them from the outset, since the site is obviously biased. For similar reasons, I did not go searching around Microsoft’s web site, or Microsoft Blog’s for information supporting Open XML.

The wiki at maintains a substantial list of concerns with the Open XML specification. There are concerns in there with which I agree, and others with which I do not. It, also, starts from the premise that “Open XML is bad”, and so is not really an unbiased analysis.

One thing that struck me as interesting, is that outside of the purely Microsoft sphere of influence (the Microsoft web site, Microsoft blogs, etc.), I came across no information presented from a Microsoft perspective, or analyzing why Open XML is better or as-good-as ODF. It seems the Microsoft camp is focusing purely on “we would like to get this specification standardized”, rather than attacking the alternative.

This leads to the question, isn’t that the correct approach? Let the Open XML specification be standardized (with identified “real” problems fixed, and let Darwinism decide which format survives?  (I can hear the Open Source community crying already!)

But, isn’t that what having alternatives is all about?


I have been working in the world of technology for 25-odd years. I am an entrepreneur and consultant, focused on software solutions, social networking, and innovation processes. Currently, I am a Principal Consultant with T4G Limited, specializing in Portal Technologies (including SharePoint), software/systems development, service oriented architectures, and many other things which I will probably not remember until I need to use them. Prior to that, I was VP of Technology at Whitehill Technologies, Inc., where I spent almost 9 years helping to grow the company from a start-up to one of the most successful private software companies in Canada. Prior to that I worked on internet conferencing using early VoIP, and on large military communications projects. Before even that, I worked in satellite control, and remote sensing. Going way back to university, my focus was on theoretical physics and astrophysics. Currently my interests revolve around most aspects of software development, from technologies to management, and in the area of defining sustainable, repeatable processes for innovation within technology organizations. I also have a particular interest in Tablet PC technologies – I have been using one for several years, and I love it. On the personal side, I still have a strong interest in all aspects of science, especially physical sciences, as well as philosophy and comparative religion. In addition, I am into music, playing guitar (badly, I am sorry to say), and reading almost anything I can lay my hands on. I am also a member of the IEEE/IEEE Computer Society, and of the Association for Computing Machinery.

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5 comments on “Open XML versus ODF, Part III
  1. JD says:

    Hey Fred,

    I stumbled across this piece on Slashdot this morning which brings up and interesting issue you may or may not have found already, which seems to focus around OOXML’s support of strange character sets. I think the article is specifically in relation to extended character sets in URLs. I didn’t dig too deep into it, but I thought the point was interesting.

  2. Fred says:

    So the real idea is that everyone should start from scratch with the same format?

    No one ever said it would be quick, or easy, for a superior format (ODF or otherwise) or product to displace Microsoft Office. But it can happen. Dominant, entrenched products are continuously disrupted and displaced. It is done through innovation and having a better product, and/or a better business case.

    It should NOT be done by imposing legislated solutions.

  3. Sam Hiser says:

    Nice idea Fred.

    But if OOXML is standardized, you’ll not get a chance at a Darwinian sifting because Microsoft has already built its product catalog around it.

  4. Fred says:


    Thanks for the comment. I disagree, however, that the way to ensure a level playing field is to “legislate technology”, which is essentially what this standards process is trying to do (or at least what the ODF camp is trying to do through the standards process). Any belief that ODF is “open, benign, and not driven purely by corporate self interests” is naive. ODF is driven by corporate masters at least as ruthless as Microsoft.

    In the end, the way to “defeat Microsoft”, if that is the interest here, or at least to remove Microsoft’s effective monopoly on the Office market, is to build better products, with a better business case. ultimately, that is what wins.

    BTW, monkey’s are still here, dinosaurs are not!

  5. Josh says:

    Yes, Fred.

    Put a dinosaur in a cage with a monkey and let Darwinism decide who wins.

    Come on. The question here is whether OOXML is good for level competition different office software packages. It is not, while ODF is, and MS has no option to attack it on those grounds. Microsoft is interested in user lock-in, which is what it gets if ratified.

    Therefore they have no need or basis to attack ODF, only a huge monopolistic interest in getting OOXML ratified.

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