January 17, 2008 8:24 AM PST

Report fuels OpenOffice vs. OOXML debate

OpenOffice.org has dismissed an analyst report from Burton Group which claims that Microsoft's Office Open XML document format is preferable to the OpenDocument Format.

The latest generation of document standards is generally based on Extensible Markup Language (XML), a set of rules created by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) to make it easier to share structured data.

The two most prominent examples of XML-based document standards are the OpenDocument Format (ODF), favored by free or low-cost office-productivity suites such as OpenOffice.org, and Microsoft's Office Open XML (OOXML) format, which is central to Office 2007.

In late 2006, OOXML was given the green light by the membership-based Ecma International standards organization. However, it has yet to be ratified by the International Organization for Standardization (ISO), and its semi-successful passage through various nations' standards committees has been marred by accusations of voting irregularities. ODF, by contrast, has had ISO certification since 2006.

In a report titled "What's Up, .DOC?," issued on Friday, U.S.-based Burton Group recommended that large enterprises and corporations avoid ODF in favor of OOXML, largely because of its compatibility with legacy Microsoft formats.

"Government agencies and other organizations seeking to use a free, non-Microsoft productivity suite will be happy to use ODF, the file format behind OpenOffice.org," reads the report. "On the other hand, libraries and large businesses, faced with storing and using years of Microsoft Office legacy documents, will prefer OOXML, as OOXML can more faithfully re-create the look and metadata (such as spreadsheet formulas) stored in Microsoft's binary file formats."

"In short, because OOXML is more ecosystem- and application-oriented than ODF, most vendors and enterprises will see it as more useful than ODF," the report added. "In terms of productivity application model concerns, ODF is primarily focused on content and presentation domains, and it is far less useful for scenarios requiring advanced structure and behavior capabilities."

Referring to the ISO vote-rigging allegations, the report suggested that those "disruptions" might cause the ISO to revise its procedures, "so, in some respects, the OOXML episode will produce some useful stimulus/response improvements within ISO."

Counterarguments at the ready
OpenOffice.org's marketing chief for Europe, John McCreesh, questioned the Burton Group report's value, claiming it "contained no new research and was just the result of some analyst sitting down and speculating."

"It's interesting compared with the Becta report that came out last week," McCreesh told ZDNet UK on Wednesday, referring to a report by the British Educational Communications and Technnology Agency that warned schools against deploying Windows Vista and Office 2007. "Becta commissioned independent research and came to a completely different conclusion. (The Burton Group report) says more about the author's personal prejudices than any objective, research-based conclusions."

McCreesh insisted that ODF was suitable for use in large organizations, suggesting it was "based as far as possible on open standards."

"If a large enterprise is 100 percent committed to Microsoft products, they should stick with it, (but) given the competitive world we live in I don't know how long that position is sustainable," he added.

However, the elements of the Burton Group report that have caused the greatest outrage among the open-standards community have been those questioning the independence of ODF from its progenitor, Sun Microsystems. "ODF's evolution will likely be slow and complex, in part because of the fact that OpenOffice.org, the primary implementation of ODF, is arguably still, in some respects, controlled by Sun," reads one section of the report.

McCreesh denied that Sun, whose StarOffice productivity suite forms the basis of OpenOffice.org, has any undue influence over its spin-off. "The OpenOffice.org community consists of thousands of volunteers," he said. "They cannot be cajoled by Sun or anybody else into doing things they don't want to do. Sun does not enjoy the happy monopoly position that Microsoft does. The process ODF went through was open from the start."

Burton Group also attracted controversy in August 2007 when it warned businesses against the use of Google Apps, another free software competitor to Microsoft Office.

David Meyer of ZDNet UK reported from London.

See more CNET content tagged:
OpenDocument Format, OpenOffice.org, XML, enterprise, Microsoft Office

17 comments

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Hidden Agendas and Such
I love how this is playing out and I feel the need to point out one of the most obvious, yet overlooked, aspects of this skirmish:

Whereas Microsoft NEEDED to buy the support in order to get a Yes vote in the ISO, and in turn 'bought' votes and attempted to ensure controlled attendance so only those that were 'bought' could sit in on the voting session, ODF required no such interference whatsoever. ODF lobbied outside of the ISO circle and got ratification based on its merits. ODF had never interfered with the process in any way, shape, or form.

That, and the fact that Burton got the control of formats wrong: Sun isn't in control of ODF and in fact let it go to grow on its own. That's how much faith they have in the format. Microsoft, on the other hand, has decided it was in MSOOXML's best interest that it stay in control of evolution of the format:

<a class="jive-link-external" href="http://www.groklaw.net/article.php?story=20071206131310362" target="_newWindow">http://www.groklaw.net/article.php?story=20071206131310362</a>

I think interference by Microsoft, or any other corporation, submitting a proposed standard should immediately be disqualified from submitting standards for 10 years and their proposed standards submission forcibly withdrawn with prejudice.
Posted by `WarpKat (275 comments )
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No, Not So Soon!
That "an analyst report from Burton Group (which) claims that Microsoft's Office Open XML document format is preferable to the OpenDocument Format..." Read the subject line and here is why this has to be so:

"Re: Concerning the issues with 1-2-3 that are talked about in the documentation you gave me, most of the issues are related to converting files between older and newer versions of product and converting documents between Lotus and Microsoft. Anytime a file is saved backwards or saved with an older file format than the format the file was created under, such as saving a 1-2-3 , 97 file for Windows 95 into a WK1 format for DOS, then naturally we are expected to loose certain features due to technology and features that are present now that were not present 8 - 10 years ago. Similarly, if we try to convert a file from Lotus into Excel or Excel into Lotus, due to differences in the products not every feature will be converted perfectly with the file filters that are available. Both Lotus and Microsoft create similar spreadsheet programs; however, there are several differences in both programs and these differences will remain to distinguish the products apart. We do try to design conversion filters that will allow as much of the file formats as possible to be exchanged and converted without disrupting the actual file design and format.

In one of your letters you made mention of the @IRR and @ERR functions in the 1-2-3 product. By design the @IRR (notably "absent" in Open Office) will calculate the Internal Rate of Return; where the @ERR is used in conjunction with other formulas, posted was an "ERR" showing an error was received in the calculations. As far as I can see in the program I cannot find an @ERR function that will allow us to calculate an Economic Rate of Return"

As an example, try completing a project evaluation requiring international considerations (Project Ranking...) and see how badly the "ERR" ACHILLES HEELS with which "Microsoft's Excel" is afflicted
hurts. :-( :-$ !
Posted by Commander_Spock (3123 comments )
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...
Why do you exist?
Posted by `WarpKat (275 comments )
Link Flag
Your right,
there isn't a ERR function in Excel other than to denote an error. I do believe, though, you can create your own. Given that you know the formula and the numbers to input. This link should help.
<a class="jive-link-external" href="http://www.allbusiness.com/personal-finance/investing/1035174-1.html" target="_newWindow">http://www.allbusiness.com/personal-finance/investing/1035174-1.html</a>
It was, in the least, very informative to me. Who knew. Anyway, hope this helps. Good luck.
Posted by suyts (824 comments )
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Biased?
I am trying to remember the last time that the Burton group didn't say that a Microsoft product was less then the best thing out there. Microsoft makes some good products, but OOXML is not one of them. We don't even use it in our business, a fortune 500 company, because of IT recommendations. All of this really makes me ignore everything that the Burton group says. To me they are no better then Microsoft coming out saying that OOXML is better then ODF.
Posted by mknopp (28 comments )
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Interesting,
I read the story a few days earlier, and decided to check the study. The link took me to their website, but in order to view their study, I had to do that "sign up" procedure. I did. I couldn't find any reference to the funding. (Which is what I was looking for.) If MS had ordered the study, then it would indeed call into question the validity of the study itself. Today, I got a call from the Burton group. A nice lady, "Michelle" I think, was on the other end of the line. Apparently, the study was self-funded as is all of their studies. Oddly enough, she stated that "Sun is a client" of the Burton group.
So, whether you agree with the conclusion or not, the study seems to be unbiased. Perhaps, it is your IT dept. that is biased. Believe it or not, that does exist in IT depts. worldwide. Sad though.
Posted by suyts (824 comments )
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