Wrapping Up Guillaume Portes
Rob Weir has a follow-up post on last week's "Guillaume Portes" post in which he summarizes the ideas and concepts he was trying to communicate. This is really a good one to read, but read the first post first.
It is good to continually tell the story and make the case. Having two standard file formats for office documents would be a bad thing for commerce, for end users and for the industry. With two formats, end users will be confused and costs will be higher for those who sell and buy software that works with documents. This will essentially cause a frictional drag on thre document processing market. Sure there will be those who will benefit from the chaos, just as there are those who benefit from the friction of currency exchanges. But over the years we’ve learned the value of things like uniform commercial codes, of currency unions and uniform trade regulations.
We already see where people downloading forms from their local town Web sites have to have a recent copy of Word and Excel installed. Well, actually, you can usually use OpenOffice.org instead of Microsoft Office, but some complex composition (such as multiple columns with tables, inserted images and inserted spreadsheets) documents suffer major layout changes if you are not using the same version of Microsoft's office suite as the person who created the document. As a citizen, I say that this should not be. Government documents are held in trust for their constituents, and the government should not mandate that citizens use brand X operating system or brand Y office suite in order to apply for a zoning waver.
And one of the problems with the OOXML specification as currently written, is that any document may be a "legacy" document, which means that these artifacts from a decade or two back will be included in the converted document. At that point, the document will not retain its layout and appearance if it is opened in any application that does not implement these artifacts. Poof! Like magic, that supposedly interoperable file format just became non-interoperable. What a surprise! And then we find that Microsoft has a format based on OOXML, but with VBA (plain text) macros encoded into some kind of binary blob. As of yet, there is not any documentation on that version of OOXML.
The other thing is this: as much as I love to read, I cannot read six thousand pages of anything. Long before I finished page 2500, I will have forgotten what was on page 1500 and earlier. Seriously. So I could not ever expect to be able to implement this standard. In fact, Brian Jones' blog says that he's been working on XML file formats for office applications for six years. Does Corel have six years to work out implementing OOXML? Does Sun? IBM? Novell? ThinkFree? AjaxWrite? Could any office applications that wish to be competitive in the marketplace sit out until 2013 while they try to figure out how to implement these oddball cases?