Editors Note: This is the first in a series of articles that examine why the ODF Foundation closed down.
Did the OpenDocument Foundation recently shutter its doors for good because it was unable to convince Oasis to support its converter, known as Da Vinci? Or was it because OpenDocument Format was simply not designed for the conversion of Microsoft Office documents, applications, and processes?
The debate on these issues continues two weeks after foundation members confirmed the organization had shut down.
Marino Marcich, the managing director of the ODF Alliance, an advocacy group of vendors, academic groups and technical organizations, told eWEEK that the Foundation had proposed advances to Da Vinci, its plug-in for providing interoperability between Microsofts binary formats and ODF, in the Oasis OpenDocument Technical Committee.
Oasis, the Organization for the Advancement of Structured Information Standards, is the body that “owns” the Open Document Format specification.
“Their proposal was treated seriously, discussed at great length and voted down by a very wide margin, with even former members of the Foundation voting against it,” he said.
The Foundation, which was formed as a 501(3)(c) nonprofit corporation dedicated to promoting the OpenDocument Format, had been doing just that in 2005 and 2006 along with an energetic group of volunteers, he said.
To read more about how the document format dispute spilled into the open, click here.
“But in recent months their rhetoric became increasingly strident and their energies focused on promoting Da Vinci. This lead to the vast majority of their membership resigning, so that only three members remained: Gary Edwards, Paul Merrill, and Sam Hiser,” Marcich said.
But Gary Edwards, the founding president of the Foundation, does not see it that way. He believes that the Foundation did not move away from ODF, but rather was unable to convince Oasis of certain market requirements that challenged, and ultimately defeated, the successful implementation of ODF in Massachusetts.
“We needed to make some generic interoperability enhancements to ODF to meet the Massachusetts market requirements, which essentially were that ODF be enhanced to be compatible with existing Microsoft documents and interoperable with existing Microsoft Office applications and processes,” he said.
“The long and the short of it is that none of our interoperability enhancements survived the April 2007 Oasis votes. This effectively ended any hope that ODF version 1.2 could be used as a solution anywhere that Microsoft Office workgroups were dominant.”
The bottom line was that ODF was not designed for the conversion of Office documents, applications, and processes, he said. “Sadly, it might be years before we have another chance to bring ODF into that higher level of compatibility—interoperability with existing Microsoft Office documents, applications, and processes that could ease the disruptive cost of transitioning to ODF,” Edwards said.
Page 2: Why the ODF Shuttered its Doors
Why the ODF Shuttered
He also pointed out that the Massachusetts market requirements will continue to pose a problem for the implementation of ODF wherever Microsoft Office workgroups dominate day-to-day business processes.
But Andy Updegrove, a partner with Boston law firm Gesmer Updegrove and editor of the ConsortiumInfo.org standards blog, does not agree with this assessment. “I have no reason to doubt that Gary [Edwards] passionately believes in his approach, but I also have no reason to believe that the many people and vendors that support the existing path are any less determined to make ODF a success,” Updegrove said.
“I would chalk this up to a difference of opinion over approach, and certainly not to a situation where the Foundation wanted to satisfy Massachusetts and the others did not,” he said.
Updegrove also believes that the Foundation was all about its Da Vinci converter and little else. “From everything I can tell, the Foundation was always primarily about a converter, perhaps even from the very beginning, rather than actually promoting ODF as such. The fact that they abandoned ODF entirely once the converter didnt work out would seem to confirm this,” he told eWEEK.
Read more here about why Massachusetts threw its weight behind Office Open XML and the Open Document Format.
Edwards also maintains that changes to Oasis membership rules, which eliminated the 501(c)(3) category and made only employees, rather than volunteers, eligible to be sponsored, helped force the Foundation to shutter its doors.
At its height of activity, the Foundation sponsored 28 active members, but in December 2006, when Edwards went to renew the Foundations Oasis registration, he found that the 501(c)(3) category had been eliminated. However, he was assured that if he registered as a corporation it would not alter or change its 501(c)(3) sponsorship of volunteers.
To read about why Microsoft accused IBM of limiting choice for interoperability and standards, click here.
That was important as, under IRS rules, a 501(c)(3) non profits volunteers are the equivalent of employees, and Oasis rules stated that a corporation could only sponsor employees as participants, he told eWEEK.
But, in late February 2007, Oasis told the Foundation that there were complaints from other members about its “excessive” sponsorship. So, in March 2007, Edwards says he culled all the dead wood, effectively cutting the foundation membership to 15 active members. “I thought we were in compliance at that point,” he said.
But then, in April 2007, Oasis enforced the corporate registration rules, insisting that only Foundation employees could be sponsored as Oasis participants. “Arguments ensued. It was bitter. We lost. This reduced us overnight from 15 very active members to just two employees. There was not much we could do, so the decision was made in April to simply let the Foundation fade off into that long goodnight,” he told eWEEK.
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