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ODF Split: Good Riddance or Good Grief?

A couple of weeks ago, I spoke with Sam Hiser, vice president of the OpenDocument Foundation, a small group dedicated to advancing the industry standard OpenDocument Format specification. At the time, Hiser's group had very publicly and emphatically split from the ODF working group, complaining that the XML-based spec was hamstrung by Sun Microsystems and other organizations unwilling to shape ODF into a true, universal file format.

Hiser, foundation president Gary Edwards and technical expert Paul Marbux are about all there ever was to the OpenDocument Foundation. This was a small but vocal clutch of technologists, who seemed determined to give as good as they got in the standards-making arena. But they might have got more than they bargained for, when they left the ODF working group.

Today, the OpenDocument Foundation is done. Closed. Shuttered. There's nothing left of it on the Web but blog echoes and 404 errors.

Talk to Simon Phipps, Sun's chief open source officer, and you'll hear him call Hiser and Edwards' group "a shell that consists of just three people" and that they "got out of their depth in OASIS," the standards-making body for ODF. Phipps contends the group picked up and left when things didn't go the way they wanted.

What they wanted, Hiser said, is for ODF to go further than to just be the XML-based object model for the OpenOffice suite. Hiser said his group was urging ODF to take on the tough interoperability issues posed by function-rich applications like Microsoft Office, and to arm the ODF spec with tools for at least managing and preserving the bits produced by them.

That may come in ODF version 1.2 or 1.3, said Phipps. But it's not going to happen now.

The upshot of all this is that nothing has really changed in the ODF process. There doesn't seem to be a grand split or splintering of the spec. And the ODF community will no doubt fight tooth and nail against a scheduled February vote to approve Microsoft Office Open XML as an ISO standard.

What are your thoughts on the OpenDocument Foundation decision to publicly split from the ODF community? Did they do a good thing by perhaps calling attention to an important flank in the XML file format fight, or did they only succeed in adding misplaced FUD to the ODF spec? E-mail me at [email protected].

Posted by Michael Desmond on 11/14/2007 at 1:15 PM

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