The OOXML/ODF Storm Hit While I Was Out of Town

January 16, 2008 at 6:29 pm | Posted in Analyst biz, Content Management, Office | 2 Comments

I just got back from a business trip last night to find that a storm had hit.  My house is fine, but my e-mail inbox is wrecked.  The storm was caused by a document recently published by the Burton Group called “What’s Up, .DOC? ODF, OOXML, and the Revolutionary Implications of XML in Productivity Applications”.  A small minority of the comments address technical issues with the document, but the vast majority are mudslinging that call everything from our objectivity to our parental heritage into question.

This document was published in the Collaboration and Content Strategies service at Burton Group.  I am the manager of that service and the analysts (Guy Creese and Peter O’Kelly) that wrote the document are in CCS.  I stand behind the document, Guy and Peter, and Burton Group fully. 

In seeing this reaction to the document I am not entirely surprised.  My blog entry from September called Microsoft Loses Open XML Vote noted that much of the furor about the OOXML vs. ODF battle was not based on technical merit, but politics and techno-religion. That’s how it seems to have played out too.  It seems the majority of the negative comments in the blogosphere were written by people that haven’t read the report and are responding to a simple summary that they read somewhere.  Please folks – this report is free and available on the Burton Group website under “Free Research”

Microsoft had nothing to do with this document other than providing information and vendor review just like IBM, Sun, and others did.  If Microsoft was trying to buy or influence the writing of this document they would have to be pretty annoyed at how balanced it is.  Here is the entire conclusion of the document.  Does this sound like the fiery rhetoric of someone preaching for Microsoft?

The OpenDocument Format (ODF)/Office Open XML (OOXML) debate is part of a significant phase in the evolution of productivity application, with the shift to Extensible Markup Language (XML) file formats displacing traditional binary and proprietary file formats. The stakes are huge, with compelling new opportunities for content management, as well as both opportunities and challenges for software vendors. Organizations will gain important benefits by exploiting opportunities to improve information management and reduce vendor dependencies by shifting to XML file formats.

The articles on this debate like to pick up phrases from within the 37 page document or pro-OOXML recommendations (stripped of nuance of course), but they are doing a disservice to their readers.  Here’s the beginning of the analysis section.  The full doc has a lot more nuance and detail, but this gives the opening “attack”.  Is this a blustery, one-sided viewpoint? 

The recent industry debate about OpenDocument Format (ODF) and Office Open XML (OOXML) often comes down to the blunt question, “Which one will lead?” There are three answers. The first answer is, “It depends on who you are.” {description of applicability by industry given here … The second answer is, “Within the larger market, OOXML will lead,” for three reasons {the three reasons are detailed here} … The third answer is, “In the long run, perhaps neither.” {description of how OOXML and ODF may both be irrelevent as documents become more hypertext oriented}

Someone attacking our vendor independence pointed out a blog post I wrote about our SharePoint workshops.  This person seemed to believe that if we do workshops on SharePoint strategy we profit from SharePoint’s popularity and would therefore sell our soul to perpetuate it.  This isn’t a direct quote – this person was much less eloquent.  This assertion is flatly wrong.  Our workshop points out the flaws of SharePoint as well as the better parts.  It goes through the offerings of competing products from IBM, Oracle, Google, and more and points out where those products are better and where they are worse.  It points out that organizations have been unsuccessful with SharePoint and that if you fit the same profile, you might be better off with something else from another vendor.  If someone leaves that workshop deciding SharePoint isn’t for them, fine – I don’t lose a penny since we don’t do implementation and we offer the same objective advice about whatever other product they choose too.  And if SharePoint starts losing out in popularity to something like IBM’s Quickr/Connections products, then expect to see an IBM workshop from us that points out strategies, high points, and pitfalls there too. 

I have no trouble attacking SharePoint when it’s warranted.  One of the most popular documents I wrote when I was at Meta Group was called “Sharepoint: Why Not”. If anything, I’ve found Burton Group’s independence to be even higher.  We will not write a vendor document for hire (even for the vendor’s own internal use) or accept any money for a document we are writing.  We do present at vendor’s conferences (we are presenting at Lotusphere next week for example) and we do webinars and other events, but we give the same presentation we would at our own Catalyst conference. 

As stated by our vendor independence policy more than 80% of our customers are enterprise customers.  There are no catches hidden there (our split by revenue is approximately the same, we don’t count Microsoft as an enterprise customer, etc.).  We play to our base, and our base is large organizations and enterprises, not vendors. 

For more information, your first resource should be the document itself.  Go to the source and let us know where you agree or disagree.  If you want a summary of resources on the technologies themselves rather than the debate (good for you!) jump to the end of the report  and it links to information on the relevant standards.

  • The document itself can be found here under CCS.
  • Peter O’Kelly postings here and here
  • Posting on our service blog by Guy Creese here


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  1. I have tried several times to access the document (using different email addresses, just to check). With respect, giving you a balanced evaluation isn’t possible if one can’t get to the document, so your assertion of ‘freely available’ is wrong until you fix your access mechanism.

    I wouldn’t go as far as asserting that that failure is deliberate, just that it ain’t working as you appear to assume it works (I tried both IE and Firefox). So, I tried, but no luck.

    As for the rest of your statements, being critical is no evidence of an absence of bias. Probably your easiest question to answer out of the many that have been thrown your way (I know what it feels like 🙂 is this one: why was there nil consultation with the Open Document Foundation?


  2. I tried getting at the doc this morning and it is working for me (I use Mozilla). Maybe the link was incorrect? Try getting to it through navigating – just go to and click on “Free Resources”, then “Research Reports”, then “What’s Up, .DOC?”, then “Download the report”. A few people complained it wasn’t working, so IT may have had to fix something – please try again today. And click on the textual links where possible – an image link may have been wrong.

    While I knew there was a lot of techno-religious fervor around this topic, the extent of it still surprises me. Even the fact that you have to say “I wouldn’t go as far as asserting that that failure is deliberate …” shows that the assertion is well within the realm of possibility that perhaps others would say it. I’ve had many times that links passed along didn’t work and my email asking for clarification never included a statement like “I’m not saying you’re a liar but …”. I’m sure all you’re saying is that it’s likely others might feel that way, not you, but it still shows the degree of animosity and distrust out there.

    Why didn’t we consult the ODF? We talked to Gary Edwards (a co-creator as I understand it), but we felt we had good partisan input from both sides for the draft review (it’s not like the people we talked to at IBM, Novell, and Sun didn’t speak up for ODF). ODF representatives from IBM, Novell, and Sun got to do a full doc review of the draft and we fixed the errors and disagreed on some of the opinions.

    It seems that – separate from the vitriol – there are some rational, technical questions being raised and we’re looking at those. If we’re wrong about something, we’ll correct it. Burton Group is good at releasing updates to documents when needed since we don’t print a lot of paper. \


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