Round 2: Where do we go from here? (ODF & OOXML Discussion)

May 7 2009

So yesterday's post And in this corner ..." - can you hear Michael Buffer introducing ODF vs. OOXML in the boxing ring? is now the single most read post on my blog in the 5 1/2 years I have been blogging. The number of referrers is the highest I have seen as well. All for what I thought was a fairly routine post about what it felt to be caught in the middle of a playground fight over who got to push the swing - and who got to ride. Seeing the further discussion around the web honestly entertained me - as well as disappointed me.

My blog entry saw both Rob Weir and Doug Mahugh respond. I am glad I could get both of them talking to each other - and not at each other. I find myself truly in the middle - agreeing and disagreeing with both of them on many of the things being done. But what I want to see is action out of the discussion (and drama) and I really do not see any positive progress on that. So a few comments:

1. I have been asked by many on both sides of the ODF and OOXML debate on why I, and PSC, are not part of the standards committees or process. Do I really need to provide more details then reading the fallout of SP2? Frankly, I do not care about procedure on how a standard is changed, modified, or certified. I do not care about who is voting and how they voted. I believe we need defined standards that provide the blueprint we need to build solutions - and in the end - create documents end users can use. But everything I have seen in the past 24 months around the process of making something a standard has left a horrible taste in my mouth. For all of you who want to endure the process - more power to you. Myself, I just want to create kick ass solutions and solve real business problems - and see change that helps the end users.

2. I would love to see IBM and Microsoft step up to the plate and really communicate. So to both Rob and Doug - how about both of you become leaders and get IBM and Microsoft to a table and come up with a plan on how to work together. If both organizations came up with a plan, everyone else would fall into line. Go in with the understanding that there are two standards - IBM prefers ODF and Microsoft prefers OOXML. Both of you have to work with the other as users (and the companies and government agencies they work demand those standards) and finding a solution that provides the best interop for both across all applications and platforms is in the best interest of your customers. Hash out all the bad blood, get all the issues on the table, and formulate a plan. Don't wait for some technical committee or other standards posturing - do this outside that. Then go to the standards events with a message. I realize this means working together - and I might be perceived as high on something right now - but this is what your customers are looking for. Your customers want competition - but not when it hurts everyone. We want our choice of applications - be it Office, Symphony, OpenOffice.org, Apple iWork, Google Docs, and many more - and we want them all to be able to pass documents around. If you both came together and worked out a plan - and a best way forward for anyone who is going to support the standards - with guidelines, we can reach that goal. Or you can continue down this road and have more and more customers and end users get frustrated with you and find other solutions. You know - I can generate a PDF without needing a document or spreadsheet in ODF or OOXML - right?

3. Focus on providing tools that I can use vs. engaging in a debate. Both of you (your companies) are working on OOXML and ODF toolkits. The Open XML SDK Version 2 toolkit is a huge step forward over Version 1. Version 1 spent so much time around the packaging of OOXML files, but Version 2 lets me build documents. But do we really need to wait for Office 2010 / 14 to have that be supported? Customers want to do document generation in Office 2007 now!  Brian Jones' blog has some great samples and demos - but so far everything I have seen is C#. The site OpenXML Developer has samples from both Microsoft and third-parties : almost exclusively C# with a token set in Java. Same goes for the ODF Toolkit project - lots of good progress but it is focused on Java and C#. But where is the ODF generation support for the IBM application that touches the most users - Lotus Notes? Both of these toolkits are going to help foster document generation in the long term - but they don't help the developers who do the majority of application automation today. Those folks are using COM to drive Office or UNO to drive OpenOffice.org/Symphony. They are writing Visual Basic and LotusScript code. They are starting to move to the higher end languages as Visual Studio Tools for Office and Eclipse.org entice us with features and functionality. These toolkits should do the same. Give me samples that allow me to plug ODF and/or OOXML within the environments I am working with today. As I speak at conferences and talk with customers - they feel there is a gap in functionality and learning tools to move their developers to the next stage. Solve that problem today and the entire story around document generation makes a giant leap forward.

I hope my thoughts here help move the discussion forward - I have zero interest in staying inside the current whirlpool. I am open and available to work with IBM and Microsoft. I have done so for many years. Tell me how I can help you and I will do what I can to make that happen. But please, it's time for everyone to realize how important this is and move forward.