ODF versus CDF

There are some news popping on the web about ODF to be substituted by W3C’s Compound Document Formats.

Read them carefully, read other sources too and try to understand first before making judgements.

Entities like OpenDocument Foundation are switching opinions in a quest for some sort of Universal Format, that still doesn’t exist, promoting CDF.

CDF is a W3C specification about mixing various XML idioms in one document. Things like SVG or MathML inside XHTML, etc. It is a good thing and an inevitable consequence of XML per se.

In my opinion, CDF is more suited to be used in web browsers and online. Some of its sub-specifications are still unifinished or incomplete — as CSS3, required for essential things like pagination.

The most irritating statement by OpenDocument Foundation is a chart from their site that says some several bizarre things:

  • OOXML would be compatible with legacy MS formats. If they can explain how a textual XML format can be compatible with a binary-only one I can accept it. Well, I won’t because I know they can’t.
  • CDF would be compatible with legacy MS formats. This is even worse. While a OOXML document may have same structure as its MS legacy binary equivalent, CDF is still completely different, built on top of technologies created for completely different purposes. If even OOXML can’t be compatible, CDF for sure isn’t compatible too. This is just a CDF-overselling incorrect argument.
  • ODF does not have an interoperability framework. What an “interoperability framework” means for people that does not even understand what is compatibility? In the Open Standards era, the proper use of them is already a simple path to interoperability. Want more sophisticated ways? Build tools around these Open Standards and you are done.
  • CDF would be big vendor-independent. That’s OK if W3C wants to stay independent. But CDF will go nowhere if no big vendor adopts it. And to be a real viable alternative to ODF it must prove its value to these big vendors.
  • ODF does not converges desktop, server, web and devices. Just one example that kills this argument is Google Docs. They are making a good (server) job letting (web) users upload, edit, maintain and download ODF documents. Google Docs is starting to be available for mobile devices too.

There are some people playing with CDF, mostly developers. Nice articles can be found in IBM developerWorks about it.

A successful format also needs user friendly software that implements it, cause I don’t expect my mother to write rich CDF docs in Notepad. That’s were the importance of OpenOffice.org (and all its derivatives) appear to help the ODF ecosystem.

So yes, use CDF to make great standards-oriented web pages, instead of proprietary Flash or Silverlight. But to say that CDF can be a universal format for office applications and documents is to overload the technology a little bit.

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