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XML Office Taste Test?

The Groklaw article seems to have sparked—or at least coincided with—some debate about the technical details of ODF vs. MS XML. One example of that debate is here. As I said in a comment there, I contributed to that article because I was tired of the “but OpenDocument is a nice little format, but not good enough for our needs” argument I keep hearing out of Redmond. I believe it perfectly possible to argue not only that ODF is equal to MS’s format, but superior.

I suppose in considering technical merit you have to have some benchmarks. Top among mine is how easy each format is to transform using standard XML tools like XSLT.

Here might be a good test:

Choose ten random programmers who claim to have XSLT skills. Confirm that at least some of them would consider their skills to be modest; XSLT beginners if you will.

Now, give them 48 hours to write two stylesheets for each format. One that converts from the format to XHTML, and another that converts from that XHTML back to the format. The document in question would be non-trivial; including a variety of different paragraph types, inline styling, footnotes, sections, and images.

Now, compare the quality of results.

My contention is that ODF would win this challenge by a significant margin. Put simply, you will end up with more consistent and better results.

BTW, Dorothea Salo makes a good point that we failed to address: the issue of overlapping tags and well-formedness. Am not sure how big a practical problem it is with Word’s XML.

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