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Former OpenDocument advocates bolt for W3C standard

The document format sagas continue as ODF gets competition from the W3C's Compound Document Formats.

When it comes to document standards, it seems that one is never quite good enough.

Adding a twist to a high-stakes conflict over document formats, some advocates for OpenDocument, or ODF, are abandoning the standard in favor of the World Wide Web Consortium's Compound Document Formats standard.

The reason? Technical limitations in sharing ODF files with Microsoft Office applications.

"We can't meet our market requirements with OpenDocument," said Gary Edwards who started the OpenDocument Foundation last year. "The truth is OpenDocument was never designed to meet market requirements."

Edwards and his colleagues started a project early last year to build a plug-in that would convert between Microsoft's Office document formats and ODF. It was in response to a request for proposals from the state of Massachusetts which mandated the use of ODF.

He started the OpenDocument Foundation in order to get open-source project representation at OASIS, the standards body developing ODF.

Through his work trying to develop that plug-in, Edwards ran into a number of technical problems maintaining "fidelity" of documents when exchanging between Office formats and ODF.

As a result, his group has now set its sites on building a converter between Office and the WC3's Compound Document Formats (CDF), which is still in development. Early implementations of CDF have been designed for reading documents on mobile phones.

"The thing you notice about CDF right away is that you are not working in the confines of how OpenOffice implements lists and tables. ODF directly reflects how OpenOffice does things," Edwards said.

His comments echo what Microsoft executives have long said about ODF--that it's specific to OpenOffice, an open-source desktop application suite backed by Microsoft rivals IBM, Sun Microsystems, and Novell.

Jason Matusow, Microsoft's director of corporate standards, said that the decision by Edwards and his colleague Sam Hiser to pursue CDF reflects how numerous document formats are emerging for different purposes. In another example, the national standards bodies of China are advocating a format called Unified Office Format (UOF).

"All of this seems to make the point stronger than ever that when you are speaking about document formats, you are really speaking about an adjunct technology to the applications which are the real 'solutions' in this discussion," Matusow wrote in his blog.

Hiser said that the Open Document Foundation's position is controversial among advocates of ODF who, in general, want a viable alternative toMicrosoft's Office Open XML or a single standard in ODF.

"We feel that if one ignores the 1/2-odd billion desktops out there (with Microsoft Office), then one is not solving anyone's particular pain-points. We kind of like your company's old Embrace & Extend concept," Hiser wrote in the comments of Matusow's blog.

Edwards argued that CDF is better suited than ODF for Web-resident documents from Web 2.0 and other hosted application providers.

"OpenDocument is not an Internet-ready file format. There are lots of reasons why this is not the case. To me, we've been fighting to bring Open Document to the Internet and it means changing the basic charter," he said. "With CDF, it can be done but it's got to have the big vendors supporting it."