Free Market vs the OOXML

Ever since Open Document Format was standardized by ISO and Microsoft started pushing its own “open” format a significant portion of the Free Software community has been buzzing about how bloated, not really open and ultimately redundant Microsoft’s format is and moreover how Microsoft is using various “dirty tricks” to get its format approved as an open standard. I have to say I wasn’t among the many vocal on this issue and that the whole process of standardization, like much of other legal mumbo jumbo is both beyond my interest and skill.

However, certain thoughts and views I’ve adopted recently make me compelled to say something about the adoption of OOXML relative to ODF with regards to ISO standardization. Due to numerous signs showing how corruptible the process of standardization can be and especially if ISO finally decides to adopt OOXML as the standard despite these concerns, ISO may very well lose a chunk of respect as a standards body. Be that as it may, I wonder how much does ISO really matter here or at least just how much *should* it really matter anyway.

Regardless of whether a particular file format is recognized as a standard, if it is used commonly enough it will be a de-facto standard, a market standard. So even if OOXML becomes a formally approved and recognized standard, as long as laws do not mandate its use in one way or another, if enough people ignore it, it will be a dud. Conversely, if the market recognizes and largely uses ODF as the format of choice it will still be ODF that matters, and all this hoopla over OOXML might end up being over what basically amounts to a piece of paper (or a large block of paper, whatever these bureaucrats need to fill out in order to declare a standard).

And speaking of governments mandating use of a formally recognized standard, being already standardized ODF is at no particular disadvantage here. Furthermore, should the market accept ODF to a large enough extent compared to OOXML governments may be compelled to, even if they mandate anything, choose ODF.

So my proposal is quite simple in words, but will require a significant amount of both advocacy AND good marketing effort to pull out. The proposal is to keep fighting for the ultimate win of ODF in the market regardless of what ISO decides about it. If their format is approved, Microsoft will surely use that fact in their own marketing. However, if we can point out how corrupt the process leading to their approval was and furthermore reject the ISO decision as valid and then proceed to bypass it through market forces, advertising ODF as the true open format and all the advantages that come with that, being approved by ISO might not turn out to be such a compelling point.

Supporting open standards does not equate to supporting standards for which ISO said are standards. It means supporting technologies which were designed to be fully interoperable, compatible and transparently documented so as to be fitting for use by a large number of people without forming a situation of lock-in to a particular company. An open standard is a technology whose inner workings are completely transparent and whose use does not constitute dependance on any particular product or company, and which is commonly used in the market.

ODF is all that, except that there is still work to be done on the last part. OOXML on the other hand is not all that, and wont be no matter what stamp ISO puts on it. This will be just as true today as it will be after monday’s ISO decision.

This might sound like stating the obvious. Of course we’ll continue pushing ODF regardless of what ISO decides. However, if we can just declare en masse that we do not recognize ISO’s decision on OOXML (should it approve) and not let the market get the false message that their approval would send about OOXML, Microsoft may just find that all their effort spent on getting themselves stamped by ISO wasn’t counting for much. And that’s exactly what I am hoping for. Use the market to devalue the ISO’s decision and therefore disarm Microsoft’s OOXML campaign.

For non-regular visitors the author of the above and this blog, is the founder and maintainer of Libervis Network (which includes and and a member of GNU/Linux Matters. I am a technology enthusiast and a freedom advocate.


This entry was posted on Sunday, March 30th, 2008 at 6:58 am and is filed under Blog. You can follow any responses to this entry through this RSS 2.0 feed. You're welcome to leave a response, or a trackback from your own site.