Tuesday, 9 December 2008

Standards bodies should use standards

If you are active in standardisation you are involved in a highly collaborative environment. Developing standards is all about joint work; about compromise and consensus; about collaborative document drafting and editing.

Now there the trouble starts. If you want to jointly develop and edit documents you need to be sure that everyone can access the document and open it for editing. This touches on the issue which word processing technology and which document format to use.

To say it very bluntly: standards bodies should use a standard for that. The purpose of standards is to ensure interoperability and thus to facilitate collaboration. That's what the work of standards bodies strives for. And that's what standards bodies should take into account when deciding about their working processes, as well.

The Open Document Format (ODF) is an agreed and accepted ISO standard (brought into ISO by the standards body OASIS) and has successfully been implemented in various products and offerings including, amongst many others, OpenOffice, StarOffice, IBM Lotus Symphony, Google Docs. The great thing is: since all of these products implement one standard and compete on the level of the implementation, you are free to choose between either of these applications for working with the documents they produce.

In other words: the document formats are .odt, .odp, and .ods. So a document called, say, “standard.odt” can be produced with OpenOffice, I put in my comments using Lotus Symphony, my colleagues from partner companies use StarOffice or Google Docs or whatever for inserting their comments. Nobody is forced to buy one single, specific software. Everyone can use what they like best, what they prefer in terms of look and feel.

Therefore, the Open Document Format is best suited for collaboration.

Several standards bodies these days discuss whether to accept Microsoft Office 2007 formats. This means files with the extension .docx; .pptx, .xlsx. To be clear. these formats are not a standard. Office 2007 has, for whatever reasons, not implemented the Open Document Format standard. After the release of Office 2007 Microsoft pushed for a different document format standard called Office Open XML (OOXML); this standard is in the final process phase of ISO. If Microsoft are going to implement it for their products once it is final – which is not clear by now – the current Office 2007 format is already obsolete. Moreover, Office 2007 is not available for different platforms. So as a Linux user you won't ever be able to access the information contained in Office 2007 documents. On the other hand, Microsoft announced that they are going to implement the Open Document Format some time in the near future.

In addition, once collaboration is done, a compromise found and consensus reached, for publishing the final version of a standard there is also an open and accepted ISO standard available: the Portable Document Format, better known as pdf.

All of this drives me to the following conclusion:
  • For document formats the Open Document Format standard is available, widely implemented and best suited.

  • PDF is best for publishing final versions.

  • Moving to Office 2007 does not make sense at all, since the validity of the format is questionable and since users of different platforms than Windows are excluded.
Or to cut a long story short: Standards Bodies should use standards.


Stephen said...

Hi Jochen, there are so many inaccuracies in this that, knowing you to be an upstanding fellow, I wonder whether you've accidentally published a draft that you gave up on a while ago?

IS29500:2008 (OpenXML) is a published ISO standard now.

Office 2007 SP2 will implement ODF 1.1 (Btw, Microsoft has joined the OASIS ODF TC and the ODF Interoperability and Conformance TC)

There was a DII Workshop in Brussels last week. Check Doug's blog to see the reports.

You make the point that ODF is an ISO standard, but the version implemented by Symphony isn't is it?

I think your colleagues have also announced that Syphony will implement ISO OpenXML. So perhaps that's what you were thinking of?


Jochen Friedrich said...

Hi Stephen, You are right in one point. I should have been more correct in saying Open XML has been published by ISO 3 weeks ago (instead of saying that OOXML was in the final phase in ISO).

The rest you moan about is probably more a question of interpretation than - as you call it - inaccuracies. Most notably I acknowledge that Microsoft announced that ODF will be implemented. Thanks for adding that this is planned with Office 2007 SP2. This is good news and, I should say, yet another reason for standards bodies to go for ODF.

Regarding Lotus Symphony: it is certainly based on ODF. See http://symphony.lotus.com/software/lotus/symphony/help.nsf/GeneralFAQ for further details.

Stephen said...

There are several different versions of ODF though aren't there Jochen? So saying "is based on ODF" is a bit vague; does symphony implement IS26300:2006? (I thought it implemented a later version that hasn't been submitted to ISO yet.)

So my point was(agreeing with you), that perhaps IS29500:2008 is the most logical choice for standards bodies to use standards.

Jochen Friedrich said...

Hi again, Stephen, Nice rhetoric... But let's not confuse people endlessly. So just for you to be very clear: IBM Lotus Symphony supports the ODF standard ISO IS:26300. You can find that carved in stone at http://symphony.lotus.com/software/lotus/symphony/home.nsf/products

What is more important, though, I believe is that ODF is widely implemented, guarantees interoperability, prevents people from being locked-in into a specific software from a single vendor, and will be supported by Microsoft, as well.

I use ODF everyday. It's great. I use Symphony, I use OpenOffice, I use GoogleDocs. I can open, read, edit documents with either ODF implementation without problems. The applications are available across platforms so also Linux users can install and use them. That's what is needed for collaboration today.

Jochen Friedrich said...

Sorry, for whatever reason the link to the Lotus Symphony webside got corrupted.

So here it comes again: Link to Lotus Symphony product information.

Mark said...

Jochen promises ODF interoperability as a GUARANTEE!?
He can count the versions, one, two, three,
And knows of the new OASIS committee
That “will analyze the state of ODF interoperability”
Because more work than the standard(s) alone is necessary.

A single standard? Simply not reality.
He missed the memo about IBM’s planned “seamless interoperability”
With Microsoft Office 2007 formats, so we see
That all vendors will support multiple standard formats, as need be.

Jochen markets Symphony for free,
But how does IBM make its money?
Customers, ask IBM for Jochen’s interop GUARANTEE.
You will only get it for a high consultancy fee!

Useful references to see: