Message to Denmark: Dual Format Standards Are Bad
By webmink on May 18, 2007
I gave an interview at JavaOne which seems to be causing a stir because of the way it's being spun in translation in Denmark. The spin seems to be suggesting that I think it's OK to have a dual standard in a country for document formats, both ODF (the open format used by multiple applications including Microsoft Office1) and OOXML (Microsoft's Office 12 file format).
To be clear, I do not believe that. It's clearly Microsoft's strategy to socialise that idea but it's not an ideal outcome. Having a single, baseline standard for document files is clearly preferable, and because of its complexity and the way it unfairly advantages Microsoft's existing products, OOXML is clearly a very poor choice for a national standard. Thus I would always advocate having a single standard and making that standard ODF. It's good for Norway and others, so why not for Denmark too?
Will that happen in Denmark? Well, the amount of pressure Microsoft is bringing to bear on the Danish government by funding lobbying, media activity, astroturfing and more, I am worried that the legislators will cave and have a dual standard. That may sound pragmatic but in practice that's a disaster for Denmark. Because of the existing market power of the monopolist2, Denmark's history, culture and due process will end up in a format that can only be faithfully rendered with Microsoft products3.
My comments were meant to indicate that fear, and any version of them stating I support a dual standard in Denmark or any other place is incorrect. The best future for computer-maintained documents is ODF4 and I recommend Denmark follow the trend and standardise on it.
- Via Sun's free ODF plug-in, although it ought to be a built-in feature of Office if Microsoft are serious about interoperability.
- The Rambøll report already indicates the scale of the lock-in the country faces - it's assumptions of continued use of MS products are what pushed the cost up for alternatives. It seems to me that suggesting writing this monopoly into the law makes the situation worse, not better.
- We can already see how impossibly hard OOXML is to implement, from the poor quality of the (partial) translators that people have built and the repeated delays of Microsoft's own Mac implementation. I said more in the audio interview on this subject.
- Probably with an allowance for added-feature namespaces layered over it to allow products like MS Office to have proprietary features. Having ODF as a baseline does not preclude inclusion of either backward-compatibility capabilities or added-feature support, it just sets an interoperability baseline that does not assume the perpetuation of Microsoft's monopoly.