Former ODF Leaders Turn Hopes to Compound Document Format

Former OpenDocument Foundation leaders believe the CDF can neutralize Microsoft Office format dominance.

Editor's Note:This is the third in a series of articles that examine why the ODF Foundation closed down.

The leaders of the recently shuttered OpenDocument Foundation have moved their attention and efforts away from the Open Document Format and towards the W3C's Compound Document Format, which they believe will be able to neutralize Microsoft Office by repurposing those documents.

"Our thinking was that a Web platform conversion of existing Microsoft Office documents, applications, and processes might be of some use," Gary Edwards, the founding president of the Foundation, told eWEEK.

"Hey, it's hard to simply give up and watch Microsoft successfully transition 550 million desktops to Office Open XML, Exchange, SharePoint and the rest of the Microsoft stack without a challenge. What we found was that the world of W3C CDF technologies had evolved," he said.

Edwards and his colleagues feel that Da Vinci,a plug-in for providing interoperability between ODF and Microsoft's binary formats, has a good conversion process, capable of hitting the high fidelity mark required by Microsoft Office workgroups.


Why did the ODF Foundation shutter its doors? Click here to read more.

So the problem was not conversion fidelity, but rather mapping to ODF, Edwards said, noting that while full approval of the key W3C CDF technology desktop and mobile profiles awaits, "we were able to test the 130 Massachusetts documents as well as the CleverAge documents. By September of 2007 we knew Microsoft Office could be neutralized and repurposed using CDF WICD Full,a compound document profile based on XHTML, CSS, SVG and DOM, as the mapping target," he said.

While Edwards acknowledges that this is a Web platform conversion of Microsoft Office documents and not a desktop application to desktop application exchange, he nevertheless believes the Web platform transition is still valuable.

"It must be noted that Office Open XML was developed to be useful as both a legacy desktop office suite format as well as a format that is ready for the cloud and a Web platform. The only hitch is that this is a format specific to the Microsoft cloud, stack, and Web platform. So we saw an Office to CDF conversion as being valuable to applications and cloud services competing against Exchange, SharePoint and the rest of the Microsoft stack," he said.


To read more about how the Open Document Format is thriving, click here.

But the ability to convert ODF to CDF, and to connect ODF-ready applications into the non-Microsoft cloud, was also critical to the success of this strategy. "So we thought that maybe we could convert Office documents to CDF, and convert ODF documents to CDF, thereby providing end-users with a highly interoperable exchange of information at the Web platform layer, currently something that is unheard of," Edwards told eWEEK.

For his part Jason Matusow, the director of corporate standards for Microsoft, based in Redmond, Wash., encourages this sort of activity, telling eWEEK that there are no barriers for third parties to create bridges between ODF and its Open XML formats.

Page 2: Former ODF Leaders Turn Hopes to Compound Document Format

"We firmly believe that customers' choice of applications that offer value and solve business problems is the most important issue in the document format discussion. We don't think a one-size-fits-all approach serves our customers' needs. The OpenDocument Foundation's move to support CDF underscores our point," he said.

Some customers will want to work with ODF, others with Open XML, and still others with PDF or any of a dozen other document formats. "We will remain focused on innovation of our Office suite, and a significant part of that strategy is based on open, standardized document formats," Matusow said.

Although attempts to find interoperability between OpenOffice ODF and Office Open XML had failed, Edwards was excited that end user documents from both camps could be converted to CDF, delivering a cloud level experience based on highly interoperable exchange and collaboration.


"We were excited at the possibilities. On Thursday, Nov. 8, with the entire ODF community calling for our heads and turning on CDF as a perceived threat to ODF, we conferenced with IBM, Edwards said. They had concerns about possible damage to CDF and wanted to talk. We had dealt with IBM's Doug Heintzman throughout the Massachusetts ordeal and beyond," he said.

During that discussion, Heintzman outlined IBM's strategy of Web-centric cloud computing, where Lotus Symphony desktop documents are converted on the fly to an appropriate CDF profile, and then zoomed into the IBM cloud of Web platform applications and services, he said.


Read more here about how the document format dispute spilled into the open.

What Edwards and his colleagues took away from that discussion was the importance of the W3C CDF technologies to the IBM Cloud—Lotus Symphony desktop strategy as, once ODF desktop documents were converted to a CDF profile, many of the current ODF interoperability problems disappeared at that higher level, making Lotus Symphony an excellent desktop bridge into the cloud.

"Since we saw the same thing, and with a clear understanding of each others purpose and intentions in place, what to do next was rather obvious: we would leave the ODF to CDF profile conversion to IBM, and focus on our challenge of converting Microsoft Office documents to the same CDF profiles," he said.

IBM would continue its push to commoditize the desktop productivity space with Lotus Symphony,while transitioning existing business processes into the highly interoperable collaborative IBM cloud. "We would attack the Exchange/SharePoint hub from our 'neutralize and repurpose' Microsoft Office approach. The Foundation was shut down the next day," he said.


Click here to read more about why Barak Obama has voiced support for universally accessible formats.

But, while IBM spokesman Ari Fishkind told eWEEK that Edwards' characterization of the discussions with Heintzman and the specific inferences he took away from those were inaccurate, he declined to elaborate or comment further.


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