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I thought about calling this post Rick Jelliffe sells out, but then I would have had to explain that I was joking. Joking. Got it?

In this post, Rick considers whether to take some money to fix up the Wikipedia entry on Microsoft’s Open Office XML format.

Me, I think that the arguments about standards are entertaining, but I’m interested in a broader point of view. We need working implementations of the standards too. Take this statement from the page comparing the formats:

OpenDocument is similar to XHTML, while MS XML is not. OpenDocument uses mixed content and marks styles in a similar way. This makes it easier to transform data accurately between OpenDocument and XHTML, and also simplifies the reuse of existing skills.

Even at the standards level parts of this paragraph are dubious, but when you look at the implementations they’re definitely suss. OpenDocument has a very different list model and quite a different table model to XHTML. And what matters to me and my colleagues is how the major application implementing ODF behaves. With tables, the behaviour is appalling. OpenOffice.org implements some kinds of cell-merges in tables using sub-tables. This means that to correctly transform from ODF to XHTML the transforming application has to correctly understand every detail of the table rending, so it can work out which cells are supposed to line up with each other. The bug list for OOo seems to contain multiple overlapping issues around this area, but it’s not at all clear to outsiders when the thing will be fixed. It’s the application that is at fault, but what good is a Standard if there is no working implementation?

The ICE team have a list of dos and don’ts that give you ‘safe’ tables across Word and OpenOffice.org. Sad, but necessary. They’re not in the Tips and tricks document, yet.

I’ve covered lists here, all too often, as regular readers will know. For those of you have not been hanging on every word, the hierarchical model in ODF does not allow the kind of free form mixing and matching of nested content that XHTML allows. If anything the flat OOXML approach is closer to XHTML, although neither of them are really anything like it.

For us its not about the standards, it’s about practicalities of implementing stuff on top of them.

What I expect to happen is that Word will eventually do an 90% job of reading and writing ODF and OpenOffice.org will do an 86.5% job of reading and writing OOXML, and users who stick to the 60% of the overlap that maps to XHTML sensibly, and use styles, will prosper. Meanwhile people like Rick working to make the Standards as clear as possible and to skewer some of the FUD are my heroes. The comments look interesting.

[I wrote and posted this at the airport in LA, been up for 26+ hours with only a few minutes of shut-eye, trying to stay awake for another 6 or so hours and then magically synchronize to San Antonio time, sans jetlag in time for the OR07 conference tomorrow.]


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