More Than One Way?

Thursday, 2007-January-25 at 10:08 1 comment

In More than one way?, Jim Robertson argues that Tim Bray's insisting on one file format for office documents is similar to insisting on one programming language.

And yet there he is, arguing for the "one true format" (which, coincidentally, happens to be the one Sun backs). Like other products, document formats can be good, bad, or indifferent. I haven’t looked at either in detail, but I see little harm in letting people who actually care look at them and make an informed decision.

If everyone had the choice of which formats to use and which software to use to handle these formats, he might have a point.  The fact is, once one vendor's market share reaches a certain point, those who use other vendors' products require either the addition of compatibility with the major vendor's file formats, or they must switch to the other vendor.  With OOXML, the format is not open.  It is designed to support one vendor's proprietary products.

One of the big things about ISO standards is that government agencies normally have to follow them unless they have a compelling reason.  Is it right for a government agency, trustee for the citizens, to require those citizens to buy software from one particular vendor in order to use the documents created on their behalf?  If Ecma International had the integrity to insist that the format must be fully open (open meaning fully documented, and available for anyone to implement in any product at any time without the necessity to seek permission) and hopefully technically-sound, we would not be having this discussion.

Tim's article that Robertson was responding to is found here.

Entry filed under: ODF.

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1 Comment

  • 1. Luc Bollen  |  Friday, 2007-January-26 at 10:13

    I’m sorry, but I really don’t see the benefit of having 2 different standards for exchanging the same type of information.

    A example can be found on internet : if we had 2 incompatible versions of HTML, each one with its own merits, will this had allowed a faster or better development of internet ? Obviously not. Users would have needed 2 different browsers, depending on the site they wanted to access. Or each browser would have needed to implement 2 different rendering engines. In all cases, this means additional burden and costs to the community, with no added value.

    Programming languages have nothing to do with exchange of information : they are tools, and it is indeed a good thing to have different tools for different usages. In the same way, you have a lot of different hammers on the market, and this is indeed a good thing : a carpenter will use a specific hammer, and a plumber will use a different one. But if they have to work in the same building, it will be easier for them to exchange information when both talk English, rather than 2 different languages. Of course, each one will probably use a professional jargon for specific subjects.

    In the same way, it would be beneficial for the users if Microsoft makes use of existing standards, and if needed add some extensions for specific issues, like compatibility with previous versions of their Office software, rather than inventing a completely new format.

    It would be even better to use exactly the same format, by collaborating to cover missing “specificities” within ODF, but the route chosen by Microsoft seems to me the less beneficial for everybody, except for themselves.

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