On the eve of ISO's notorious BRM week in Geneva (when national standards bodies try to find reasons to pass Microsoft's format, OOXML, as an international standard like ODF v1.0), we are visited by a strange call for truce from the ODF side's Patrick Durusau -- Sun's employed editor of the OASIS ODF v1.2 (and friend of the erstwhile interop player & my very own, the once and ever, OpenDocument Foundation, the Foundation having joined the august company of Disgruntled OASIS ODF TC Alumnae including Arbortext, Boeing, Corel, Speedlegal, Stellent|BEA|Oracle & others who tired of beating their heads against Jonathan Schwartz's erected brick wall).
Perhaps the most telling part is that Patrick chose to publish his letter in Adobe's PDF fixed file format, so thoroughly has the ODF v OOXML debate deteriorated into distraction from the main point -- which was and still is interoperability ... or rather the lack of it: the inability of word-processors of different vendors, vintages and varieties to open, read and edit files with business-process-level fidelity ... like e-mail and web pages. (The need is for a true interchange format -- what we've called a Universal Document Format for editable documents. Peter Seebach gets right to the point in "OOXML: What's the big deal?" | IBM Developerworks | 19 Feb 2008)
PDF is the real winner here.
At least we have that: a great & useful, open-enough & archive-able fixed document format with aesthetic document layout-presentation nous. This alongside the other news that Blue-ray has won out definitively against HD DVD in the hi-def video medium war. There's reassurance in at least some finality -- somewhere.
Not so lucky are we here in the document format war -- where all conclusions are certain to be inconclusive and the uncertainty has a 50-percent chance of carrying the years 2008 AND 2009.
Patrick's letter, among other things, is a loser's cry for help (with CV attached) because even the EU-sponsored harmonization directive on ISO to work with the German standards body, DIN, parented by the Fraunhoffer braintrust to report on the harmonization potential of ODF & OOXML is proving a waste of time, the directive likely about to produce the conclusion that merging ODF & OOXML is a technical impossibility even if the sponsoring applications -- OpenOffice.org & Microsoft Office -- are harmonized too (a commercial impossibility given how tightly Microsoft, Sun & IBM covet the office application market shares).
The calls for civility, patience, calm & restraint appeal nicely to all parties at this point, tired of personal attacks, misdirection, mud-slinging, character assassination, vitriol & pointless emotionalism. The calls appeal to Microsoft most of all, which moves forward in its new phase of dominance of the web with a brilliant ramp of the truly brilliant & actually innovative Office 2007 product suite -- which implants a version anyway of the OOXML format which is the questionable case before ISO.
Eyes and ears with any interest in new balance in software markets must now ignore everything on the table in the Document Format War as it is being dished today, must look ahead -- skate to the puck (as Gary Edwards says) -- to documents and the Internet.
Here, the only place to look is the W3C. But given the high stakes in owning formats, there's a real risk that the argy-bargy visited by the vendors upon us in the ODF-OOXML Cycle (2005 - 2008) will encumber, subsume & overwhelm the W3C in future days.
Let's hope not, for documents ought to be open & free if we are to have data-sovereignty and if basic applications are ever going to work for us(ers).