by Kyle McNabb.

Do we need an open file format standard? ABSOLUTELY! We’ve published in the past why enterprises need an open file format standard to address longevity concerns. And I believe having an open file format will lead to greater innovation. Just imagine the new tools and applications that can be developed knowing that the mountains of information captured and stored in documents, spreadsheets, presentations, and other office documents could be accessed and manipulated through supported and adopted standard means.

Following the ongoing debate between ISO/IEC standard 26300:2006 Open Document Format (ODF), and Ecma 376 standard OOXML has been nothing if not entertaining — just check out this Google search for some interesting results on OOXML. But one thing’s clear, the main parties debating the merits of OOXML as an ISO standard, the INCITS V1 group (such as IBM, Microsoft, Sun & by default, can’t be completely objective. Here’s a full list of the INCITS V1 membership.

  • IBM has a vested interest NOT seeing OOXML adopted as an ISO standard. Why? IBM’s latest collaboration platform, IBM Lotus, and IBM Lotus Notes 8 includes word processing, spreadsheet, and presentation software relying on ODF. IBM would love to see ODF exist as the most widely adopted open file format standard: It benefits their go-to-market initiatives for IBM Lotus, especially in developing countries that don’t have the Microsoft legacy that the US or Western Europe has.
  • Microsoft Office 2007 needs OOXML. Microsoft’s made lots of noise regarding why OOXML was developed in response to customer demand, and why it should be an ISO standard. And Microsoft NEEDS to have support for an open file format standard to participate, and lead, in the growing Web 2.0/Office 2.0 needs of the market. OOXML as an ISO standard makes their job easier in keeping up with the ever changing needs of the market — such as office productivity as-a-service, or embedding office productivity apps like word processing into a business process like customer correspondence from a sales proposal or insurance claims process.
  • Without ODF as the leading standard, Sun and have little to stand on. 2.2, and Sun’s commercial version in the StarOffice 8 Suite, focus on imitating Microsoft Office with ODF support as a primary differentiator. OOXML as an ISO standard would practically kill the primary differentiator and Sun have with Microsoft Office.

If these parties can’t be objective, they should at least provide full disclosure. Wouldn’t it be nice to know what everyone stands to gain, or lose, pending the outcome of this initiative?

  • Don’t assume what’s best for IBM, Microsoft, Sun, or other vendor is best for you. I’m definitely not technical enough to provide good insight into the merits of one file format vs. another. However I know many of you are! And I’ve heard from some of you that perhaps technology vendors — especially those with a vested interest in a possible standard — should not participate in these types of initiatives. Well, I’ll take the snowball’s chances in hell over vendors not participating in current and future tech standards initiatives. But YOU can get involved, and should. Recently, my colleagues Randy Heffner and Michael Goulde published a great piece on revisiting IT standards, noting that many of you — especially those in EA roles — are the guardians of IT standards. And I think you’re in the best position, overall, to help determine what’s right for your company and you shouldn’t just leave it to technology vendors that have vested interests in any one outcome. Get involved, bring the voice of the customer into these initiatives!

Interesting links to blogs and sites about ODF and OOXML, plus the need for open standards: