Microsoft to OpenDocument Alliance: Wheres the Choice?

Updated: The battle between Microsoft's OpenXML format and the OpenDocument Format intensifies as Microsoft attacks the newly created OpenDocument Format Alliance.

Microsoft is accusing some competitors of exactly the same thing of which they have criticized the software company: pushing an exclusive standard to the detriment of all others and not enabling choice.

These sharp words from Microsoft follow the formation last week of the OpenDocument Format Alliance, a coalition of more than 35 organizations from across the world whose goal is to enable governments to have direct management and greater control over their documents.

The alliance—whose supporters include many of Microsofts Linux and open-source foes such as Corel, IBM, Novell,, Opera Software, Oracle, Red Hat and Sun Microsystems—is essentially positioning the XML-based ODF (OpenDocument Format) as the alternative to other document formats like Microsofts OpenXML, which is the new file format that will be used in Office 2007 when it ships later this year.

/zimages/6/28571.gifClick here to read how the new OpenXML file format could significantly slow the adoption of Office 2007.

Alan Yates, general manager of Microsofts Information Worker Business Strategy in Redmond, Wash., this week accused the alliance, which he referred to as "Sun, IBM and their friends," of wanting to push the ODF as an "exclusive" standard to the detriment of all others, rather than enabling choice among formats like PDF from Adobe, Microsofts OpenXML and HTML.

"Clearly, choice and competition are better than arbitrary technology preferences. Part of this confusion is clearly IBM and Sun promoting their products based on OpenOffice that have had difficulty competing in the marketplace thus far," Yates said.

The important long-term issue is how documents can integrate with information systems via XML, he said, adding, "It is great that there is competition to help customers into this new era of open, XML-based documents."

Simon Phipps, Suns chief open-source officer, agrees that choice and competition are clearly preferable, which is why standards exist for mature product categories, so that vendors have a baseline and can compete on implementations rather than competing on incompatible "standards," he told eWEEK.

The ODF Alliance is only interested in one baseline, extensible standard for editable documents, just like the one standard for Web pages—HTML—and the one standard for sharing noneditable documents—PDF, he said.

"That baseline is OpenDocument, widely implemented, truly open and unencumbered, compatible with .doc, managed openly at OASIS and currently under vote as an ISO standard. … As history proves, only monopolists fear baseline standards that give their customers true choice," Phipps said.

For his part, Bob Sutor, the vice president of standards and open source for IBM, said Microsofts accusation that the supporters of the OpenDocument Format are somehow limiting choice is "ridiculous."

In a post to his blog, he said that "theyve tried this line before. It was ridiculous then, and its ridiculous now. Give us a break, customers are really smarter than that," he said.

Its an insult to ODF and the OASIS process for Microsoft to claim that whats going on in ECMA is "open" or even just as open as the process under which ODF was created and is being enhanced, he said.

"Give us a break, were all really smarter than that," he said.

The alliance is also concerned by the fact that, as technologies continue to rapidly evolve, documents are created by public-sector agencies using different applications that may not be compatible with one another today, let alone into the future.

As such, a broad cross-section of associations, academic institutions, and industry and related groups saw the need to join together to promote open solutions to this problem, the alliance said.

/zimages/6/28571.gifRead more here about how Sun is pushing for greater adoption of the OpenDocument Format.

"Through the use of a truly open standard file format that can be implemented by numerous and varied applications, the Alliance seeks to enable governments and their constituents to use, access and store critical documents, records and information both today and in the future, independent of the applications or enterprise platforms used for their creation or future access," the Alliance said in a statement announcing its formation.

The OpenDocument Format Alliance also claims that ODF is the only established open-standard document format, and that it enables the retrieval of information and exchange of documents between different applications, agencies and/or business partners in a platform- and application-independent way.

Next Page: Support for the ODF.