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07 February 2007


Steven G. Johnson

Marbux makes a convincing argument that the definition of "contradiction" is defined by international treaty, and that it is rather irresponsible for people to keep pulling definitions out of thin air to suit their desires.

In particular, in keeping with your reference to "economically a poor yardstick", the underlying definition seems to be that ISO is not supposed to prepare or adopt standards that would pose an unnecessary barrier to international trade.

The key word here is unnecessary — if there is a reasonable technical rationale for having overlapping standards, then there is not necessarily a problem.

The problem with Ecma 376 (OOXML), however, is that no one seems to have given any plausible reason why it is infeasible to use OpenDocument format (ODF), and simply propose extensions to ODF for any missing functionality. Every time an OOXML proponent suggests that it is needed for "backward compatibility" because ODF does not support feature X, we should be asking why it would be such a problem to add X to ODF.

Absent such a justification, it seems hard to deny that multiple incompatible formats competing for the same market (as opposed to multiple competing implementations of the same format) do form a barrier to international trade—they will either cause massive duplication of effort as everyone scrambles to support both formats, or massive incompatibility as the world divides into different "camps". (Yes, in the long run it is certain that one format will win, but Microsoft's overwhelming market power could make the short run last for many years even if it has the losing format.)

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