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Altova's Alexander Falk Discusses OOXML and ODF

Last week, I wrote about the recent Burton Group report that provided an overview of the Office Open XML (OOXML) and OpenDocument Format (ODF) file format specifications. The report, which is aimed at an enterprise readership, concludes that OOXML enjoys a number of critical advantages over ODF, in large part because it maps aggressively to the existing features and functions provided by current and past versions of Microsoft Office. You can find a synopsis of the report here.

One familiar name that came up in the course of talking to Burton Group Research Director Peter O'Kelly about the report he authored was that of Alexander Falk. Falk is CEO of Altova, a leading provider of XML tools and utilities. I had spoken with Falk several months ago in the course of reporting an earlier story for RDN, and figured now was probably a good time to catch up with him again.

Here's a quick Q&A that offers Falk's informed takes on the benefits of the XML transition, prospects for ODF going forward and why it may already be entirely too late to stop Microsoft's OOXML spec.

Redmond Developer News: You mentioned in our previous talk that Altova has had plenty of inquiries about OOXML support, but none at all for ODF. Does that remain the case today? What kind of interest in ODF are you seeing from your customers and the broader industry?
Alexander Falk: That is still largely the case. In terms of actual customer inquiries regarding need for ODF, we have not seen any interest from our customers. What we did start to see -- although very rarely -- are questions from customers who are already using our OOXML features and have read articles about OOXML vs. ODF in the press and want to know if we also plan to add ODF support. But I would categorize those few questions as more out of interest rather than out of need or actual plans to implement, from what I can see.

Do you feel that ISO approval will significantly enhance adoption of OOXML? Or will OOXML use grow regardless of what happens at the end of February?
I see the ISO vote as a non-event. In my opinion, the real-world adoption of OOXML is primarily driven by the ubiquity of Microsoft Office much more than any standards body. However, a positive ISO vote would probably have a positive impact on the rate of adoption, especially in the government sector and possibly in Europe, where Microsoft is still facing some antitrust issues and other up-hill regulatory battles.

The larger-picture challenge of XML-based file formats is the change from an application-based model to a content-based model. Do you have any advice for dev shops as they craft solutions to take advantage of open, XML-based documents and files? Are there any specific challenges or pitfalls ahead?
My advice to dev shops is to start working with OOXML as early as possible. The best way to get started is to get the developers to experiment with OOXML documents, look inside them and understand how they work. This can be done most easily with the OOXML support in XMLSpy.

Altova's royalty-free XML engine, AltovaXML, can also be used by developers to apply XSLT 1.0 or 2.0 transformations or XQuery 1.0 to any OOXML document to reuse and repurpose the data from such documents in an open, standards-based way. The same is true for other open, XML-based document formats and files.

What do the arrival of OOXML and ODF mean for Altova's business? Can you give us a sense of the opportunity and challenges that face your company?
We see the arrival of OOXML and ODF just like any other new XML-based industry standard: a validation of XML as a powerful technology for information exchange and a tremendous opportunity not just for Altova, but for developers in all organizations who need to work with data from a variety of different sources. The fact that office productivity applications now emit XML data is a gigantic opportunity to reuse and repurpose that data and develop a whole new class of applications.

Here at Altova, our focus is on creating the best developer tools for working with all XML data and making our customers' lives easier by introducing productivity enhancements and other cool new features that take advantage of new technologies, and as such we will continue to increase and enhance OOXML support throughout our entire product line.

Do you, as an XML expert, see any scenario by which ODF can gain ground on Microsoft and OOXML? Any suggestions, as it were, for that community to succeed?
No, I really don't see how ODF could win. There may be a place for ODF in the open source community and maybe in some developing countries, where license fees for Microsoft Office could be a barrier to entry, but this is really not a technical question, so XML expertise is not going to provide the answer. The recent Burton Group report very much brings it to the point and shows that ODF may end up coexisting with OOXML, but in a much smaller niche role than the ODF camp would have people believe.

Posted by Michael Desmond on 01/22/2008

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