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Julien Chable

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OpenDocument : the inevitable illusion

image What’s make ODF so much famous these last months ? Obviously the war against the “Microsoft – not anymore – Office Open XML file format”. For those thinking that OpenXML is just bad and never try to read the specs, and more importantly to use or implement it : did you wonder why Microsoft elaborate such a document file format ? No ? You just think that’s because Microsoft still want to dominate the world and use it again its fair monopole in the office market to make more money ? You wanted so much ODF that now you’ll have ODF in Office (and for a lot of activists, I’m sure you won’t even try to use a single copy of Office 2007/14 even with the ODF support, what a shame). You think this is for the best, that you save the humankind against the Microsoft tyranny ? And maybe you think that you can be a local hero by saving your country to buy Office licenses ? (obviously it’s a crap) However, do you really know the ODF file format, I mean more that : it’s ‘open’, it’s free (Free ?) and it’s zip and XML ?

An Illusion or Mirage

If you are one of those who think about a document format – like ODF, Open XML, etc - by thinking of only wordprocessing documents (this is usually the first and only picture that raise in people’s mind when thinking about Open XML), you are a victim of the great illusion. And you also make the assumption that you can describe three fully feature file formats in less than 700 pages with only a superficial description of the XML schema. I know it’s beautiful to think this way, but it’s too beautiful to be real.

This is the ‘ODF real illusion’ (I especially recommend you Inevitable Illusion by Massimo Piatelli to better understand this point) because, if you’re really thinking this way, you just never implement an office file format, or you already have strong knowledge in this area, or the format is simple AND quite poor. Why the ‘and’ in the last assumption, because advanced feature are always – more than 95% – complex to describe in a file format : do you naturally know how to specify a master in a presentation file format (with a 3 level style inheritance : from the master, the slide layout and the shape style) ? How to describe a dynamic crossed table or a 3-D chart in a spreadsheet ? How to set a cell value and know the impact of the modification in the formula calculation cycle based on the specifications ? If you still think that less than 700 pages are sufficient in regard to the complexity of the three office file format description (wordprocessing, spreadsheet and presentation) and inside mechanisms, either you’re dreaming or you are a genuine genius.

Technically it appears that the so 'open' ODF is a good competitor for the next generation file format war (the upcoming “e-document era”) however the functional aspects that normally make ODF a good format for companies and gouvernments is just a mirage that the ODF propaganda don’t stop to spread. Why ? Just keep reading. Don’t mislead, I also love this format.

OpenOffice forever or not

If you just need to add some paragraphs with simple style in a document, fine, you don’t even have the need to read the  specs ! Just open OOo Writer, write some stuff, save it and unzip the final document to retrieve the content.xml file and finally open it in your favorite XML software. You will be able to understand quickly how to generate more paragraphs without even reading one page of the specs. This method is called reverse engineering and is not a best practise nor a guarantee to use the standard itself ; unfortunately this is the method use by a large majority of developers to implement a standard and especially ODF (Open XML, PDF, etc have the same fate).

As a user of the first version of the (yes the very buggy v1.0 … I apologize to my friends to have forced you to use this great but completely unusable version), just because I didn’t like the way of using Microsoft Office XP/2003 daily as a word processor software. Nevertheless think two or three times before adopting this so hype OpenOffice. The format is technically simple (but who cares about this point except a few developers) with a great popularity rating but be aware of :

  • You have a complete Microsoft documents corpus : you can’t translate your document without losses (if you have print oriented document … too bad),
  • You want to add metada : you can’t, hopefully the version 1.2 will bring this possibility,
  • You need accessibility features (gouvernment are the primary target) : wait for the next release,
  • You want to digitally sign your document : this feature will be implemented as part of ODF 1.2 (granularity of this feature ? For example, Open XML allow to sign only a subset of the parts : to sign only the content parts but not the style parts – header, footer, style, etc),
  • You use the dynamic crossed table in Excel : NOT supported in ODF even the latest version. You need this powerful analysis feature, you definitely won’t have it,
  • You want to create or translate Formula : only the latest ODF version – the upcoming 1.2 - defines something but you won’t have a perfect cross format interoperability,
  • You need the databinding feature (aka Custom XML) of Open XML : you WON’T have it with ODF,
  • You have working Excel documents with complex macros : you have to learn and rebuild ALL your macros,
  • You use SharePoint and other products build on top of Office : you know the answer !

As a developer, you know XML, XML Schema, XPath, XSLT, etc but do you know RNG (Relax NG), the OASIS’s XML validation language ? Until the release of ODF, I wasn’t even aware of it ! OASIS standardized ODF and RelaxNG, so don’t ask why the ODF file format is specified in RelaxNG instead of the commonly use XML Schema. RelaxNG is more advanced compare to XML Schema, fine but if you don’t have – or few - developers and tools to work with, it’s more difficult. Did ODF represent a chance for OASIS to force people to use their own XML description language ?

This post could be 1 kilometer long so I’ll stop the craps now and simply announce my new post series named ‘stop the craps about ODF and Open XML, and see what’s really inside !’. So stay tune if you want to know how and when to use either ODF or Open XML !

Ce post vous a plu ? Ajoutez le dans vos favoris pour ne pas perdre de temps à le retrouver le jour où vous en aurez besoin :
Posted: mardi 5 août 2008 09:15 par neodante
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