Sun Limiting ODF Capabilities?

By Michael Flanakin @ 8:09 AM :: 2716 Views :: Open Source/Standards :: Digg it!

There's a lot flying around the web about the document format debate. In one corner, we have Sun pushing Open Document Format (ODF) Mobile-ready link and in the other we have Microsoft pushing Open XML Mobile-ready link. If that wasn't enough, the de facto standard, the old binary Word DOC format, is nipping at both competitors' heels with interop demands coming from every direction. Of course, interop is more about tools than file formats, but apparently that line isn't as cleanly drawn as we might like. As you might imagine, this was a top priority for Microsoft as the Open XML format was designed, so migration between formats (at least in Office) is 100%. ODF on the other hand is a whole other story; and this sounds like more than just a tooling issue.

Sun is a key driver of the ODF specification and even oversees the committee that approves the spec. Gee, I don't see any conflict of interest there. I'm not the only one. The Open Document Foundation's Mobile-ready link founding president, Gary Edwards, recently noted that Sun is opposed to adding any features not already implemented in Open Office Mobile-ready link, the core of Sun's own  Star Office. Gee, that doesn't sound controlling. No "standard" should be limited to one single application's boundaries when so many others exist and provide a greater deal of functionality. Therein lies the key problem with ODF and the main reason Microsoft had to create Open XML: ODF doesn't support any mechanism for extensions. Maybe its creators didn't fully understand the problem they needed to solve, but I'd argue that extensibility should be an absolute must-have on any wide-reaching solution; especially a standard! This is the key differentiator between the 2 formats. Simple enough to fix, right? Apparently, not. Of course, it's looking more like Sun push-back than a technical blockage. The Foundation pushed a plug-in proposal, but without Sun's buy-in, it won't be going anywhere. According to Edwards, "Sun has successfully blocked or otherwise neutralized all efforts to improve ODF interop with Microsoft documents." Are you starting to see the pieces fit together, too?

Perhaps the best option lies within another of Edwards' comments: "What's really needed is a standards process not controlled by big vendors with big applications and big market share appetites." I couldn't agree with this more. It's obvious Sun is trying to take advantage of their position and try to wedge Microsoft out of the game. Unfortunately for them, this could backfire. As the de facto standard, anything less than full support may be detrimental to adoption. The real truth is that Sun isn't only slowing adoption with their choices, but also limiting functionality. I see this as the biggest problem with ODF and Sun's stance. However, the need for a truly independent standards body is much bigger. Until that happens, I'll have to put my support behind the more functional Open XML standard, which seems to be more focused on what end users truly need -- and not just what Microsoft thinks, which is what ODF is about. Think about it. What would you choose?