User Needs

Who needs two ISO document standards?

Our Petition says:

1. There is already a standard ISO26300 named Open Document Format (ODF): a dual standard adds costs, uncertainty and confusion to industry, government and citizens;

Phantom user requirements

A central counter-argument is that OOXML and ODF serve different purposes and different user needs: But what are these user requirements? And where are these users?

ECMA responses 2.1.3

OpenXML meets user requirements that are distinct from those of ODF and of significant material importance to corporations and government organizations worldwide.

However, neither was explained what these distinct user requirements are nor did these users show up. The allegation that ODF and OOXML serve different purposes does not hold.

It's not a bug, it's a feature

The ECMA document is quite blunt about the broken design of OOXML which is a central ECMA argument for two office document formats.

First, while both formats share the high-level goal, to represent documents, presentations, and spreadsheets in XML, their low-level goals differ fundamentally. OpenXML is designed to represent the existing corpus of documents faithfully, even if that means preserving idiosyncrasies that one might not choose given the luxury of starting from a clean slate. In the ODF design, compatibility with and preservation of existing Office documents were not goals. Each set of goals is valuable; sacrificing either at the expense of the other may not be in the best interest of users."

Still no one explained the purpose underlying "backwards compatibility" of a file format which means that the file format preserves support for unspecified deprecated components such as VML. While software has to be backwards compatible (support or convert earlier versions of the format) why should a file format preserve the idiocrasies of former non-standardized file formats? OpenXML mistakes the convenience of software-internal runtime representation of the document for an interoperable document (exchange) format. ISO standards are only about the latter. The only advantage of that "backwards compatibility" lies in the specific internals of a single vendor application which translates into a burden for competitors.

Therefore OOXML was not designed for interoperability. Yet, design goals are not the same as user needs. All those aspects covering "backwards compatibility" are not fully specified by ECMA-376. For this reason an ISO OOXML standard would be an unfair advantage for Microsoft. That unfair advantage and the broken design (ODF is human designed; OOXML looks machine designed) are now claimed to be the essential benefits of a double ISO standard.

Cultural diversity matters

ECMA fast-track responses 2.1.3:

"Differences between OpenXML and ODF are somewhat analogous to natural language differences, in the sense that it is possible to translate from one to the other, but differences exist in context and manner of expression. Just as natural language dictionaries can come in any size and level of detail, depending on how fully they capture unique subtleties and detail of meaning, file format specifications can also vary tremendously in size. The very detailed descriptions for OpenXML were included to ensure that stringent real-world requirements on capturing legacy content could be met consistently by many vendors on many platforms."

Serve your master

Michael Meeks, Novell preaches 'realism' and underestimates the power of standard bodies to just says "no way":

[the standard document format]…it should be ODF. In an ideal world… yes, a single file format that was a superset of features and so on would be ideal, but it is very difficult to even conceive of that happening. There is just such a lot of vested business interest in this sphere. It is just very difficult to do anything technical.

Source: 2007-09-27 ZDNET Interview