Apple’s Leopard understands ODF

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Apple released the newest incarnation of it’s operating system, Leopard. While many news sites cover the shiny improvements most of them fail to mention that Apple made a small but important step towards open standards: Leopard will be able to read OASIS’ ODF.

For unknown reasons Apple is battling at two fronts at the same time: while it tries to get some market share from Windows it at the same time does everything to hold down open standards of any form. This includes network protocols, audio and video formats, document file formats and so on. Apple’s programs all have their own formats and only support some other really wide spread de-facto-standards – if at all. In this behaviour – which sometimes even take a ridiculous form – Apple is worse than Microsoft.

However, Apple made now a first, tiny step towards Open Standards in the document format area: with Leopard Apple will be able to at least view ODF files:

UNIX® Certification
Mac OS X is now a fully certified UNIX operating system, conforming to both the Single UNIX Specification (SUSv3) and POSIX 1003.1. Deploy Leopard in environments that demand full UNIX conformance and enjoy expanded support for open standards popular in the UNIX community such as the OASIS Open Document Format (ODF) or ECMA’s Office XML.

The fact however that Apple mentions ECMA’s Office XML as a UNIX standard is a bit confusing. I wonder if that is on purpose or if someone at Apple’s just wasn’t sure what he/she was talking about. Anyway, it is an improvement and it shows that even Apple cannot stand the pressure.

Of course, Apple could for once try to actually work together with the open parts of the world and drop their strange behaviour, but that is as unlikely as Microsoft dropping their XML format.
But still, this small step shows that even Apple actually *can* grow up in parts. Maybe one of the next versions of Apple’s office suite will come along with a plugin for ODF export or import. The pressure on Microsoft is tough, and if Apple wants to hold it’s share in the education sector it has to change it’s rather childish strategy.

14 thoughts on “Apple’s Leopard understands ODF”

  1. I’d very much like to know how they did it.

    Is this an independent implementation from scratch?

    Or did they port the Microsoft financed, BSD-licensed, ODF-converter?

    Something else?

    Good thing, either way though.

  2. On the one hand to have a strong competitor like Apple against the MS-Regime but on the other hand if you take a closer look closer at Apple I would say that they are even more “Open-Standard-Nazis” than Microsoft is.
    Even with there fairly small market share they push their own formats quite to heavy. I don’t want to know what this will look like when they gain something around 10 or 20% market share.

    This move to ODF might have been a change in their thinking since they found out they are fighting on two fronts and that they can’t do it on their own. So they “conspire” with one of their enemies (the open movement) to fight their REAL enemy Microsoft.

    Even though I hope it will help ODF a little.

  3. It sounds like you think Microsoft’s standards are defacto. Apple originates technical solutions and often cedes them to independent open committees. Apple’s OS comes with many open software integrated into it’s functionality. The website rendering engine in Safari is an Apple improved open software. Microsoft’s strategy is to make their secret technologies standards by default. Look at the years of resistance to sharing such information that they finally lost to the European courts. Your viewpoint appears to be coming from the direction of Redmond.

  4. R. Boylin: I now what Microsoft does and did – but I also now what Apple does and did.
    The Safari core component, WebKit is indeed a fork of KDE’s Open Source web rendering engine KHTML. But it took quite a lot of pressure from KDE and other developers until Apple finally decided to provide their patches in a usable format. Also, while the core of Mac OS is a BSD system the project was once even closed down again not too long ago.
    Both cases share that they were not started by Apple: where it makes sense for Apple it uses foreign free software and, if necessary, keeps it open because it is forced to do it. But it never started something open by itself.

    But this post aimed at exchange standards anyway – and there Apple is even worse than MS. Apple didn’t even try to support the other Office formats while MS works at this for several months now (not that I like the way how they work at it, but they do).
    Also, while Zeroconf is a standard Apple keeps iTunes closed down so that other applications can’t talk to newer versions.

  5. Even if Apple does not win hearts on the open source front, it’s hard to deny that the combination of OS and pre-loaded software is functional and well-integrated. The only program that ever crashes on my Mac laptop is MS Office! For that alone I have become a true Mac convert and hope to switch completely from Office to other more useful Mac-natural programs in the near future. Unfortunately the various Mac Open Office versions have thus far been as bad as MS Office in my experience. But regardless, I love the fact that I simply do not have to keep re-booting the OS and restarting programs on this machine. It’s good for morale as well as productivity!

  6. I agree with notfromaroundhere it is a boon to productivity NOT to have one’s computer crash. I too get frustrated at the bugs M$ places in software (if you don’t fix ’em, then you have them there for a reason).

    I am pushing towards standardizing on iWork. At $79 per CPU it is a bargain. Especially since most users just need Pages—which is at an acceptable level today. If Keynote is any indication then Pages and Numbers will improve dramatically over the next couple of years.

  7. @notfromaroundhere: Of course stability is nice and useful – but proprietary exchange formats don’t help anyone in the long term. And in they long term they also have a very negative impact on your productivity and user experience.

    And if Mac gains a market share of 70, 80 % do you really think it will stay that innovative and stable as long as there is no competition?

  8. short question:
    which file format does appel’s word processor (don’t know the extact name: something with iXXX?)
    bye joni

  9. Apple’s word processor is called Pages. It’s included as part of the $79 iWork suite. It’s default save format is to a ‘package’ with a .pages extension. Open the packages contents and it’s simply .pdfs, .jpgs, and XML files. Nothing ‘proprietary’ or hidden there. Seems it would be pretty simple to read/write that format in another application.

    Other Save/Export options are Word, PDF, RTF and Text. Have you even tried to examine the formats offered before concluding they’re proprietary?

  10. Tom, if a fromat is proprietary or not has little to do with it’s basic structure.
    The question is if the XML based file format is described and documented or not. Microsoft’s XML based formats is documented by several thousand pages and there are still many information missing.

    So, without a full description it is not clear what can be stored and what not, and where the parts belong to. While it might be easier to analyze a XML based file it is still quite hard in case of such complex file types – and can still be proprietary.
    Especially in case of text file types it is important to not cover most of the file type definitions but all of it.

  11. While Apple can indeed sometimes be close-fisted with their technologies, you should give credit where credit is due. Here are just a few of the Open standards that Apple has either created or embraced over the years:

    – TextEdit and Apple’s other apps have always supported RTF (and of course Text!) as well as Microsoft’s ever-changing Word document formats.
    – PDF (PDF is a full citizen in Mac OS X from every app able to create PDFs thru the print architecture and most reading that format thru to DisplayPDF being the technology used for rendering the screen)
    – MP3 always a full citizen in QuickTime and the OS (unlike MS’s early refusal to support MP3 ripping in Windows Media Player and attempting to push protected wma files even adding DRM to music you ripped yourself)
    – MPEG-4 the ISO standard not MS’s nasty twisted version which came out of their failed attempt at getting Windows Media ratified as the new MPEG-4 standard (Apple instead won and QuickTime was made the basis for MPEG-4)
    – AVC H.264 (part of MPEG-4 and used on HD DVD and Blu-Ray, Satellite TV, AVCHD etc)
    – AAC (the audio part of MPEG-4. Only Fairplay DRM used on a portion of the iTunes catalog is proprietary and Apple is doing away with DRM as fast as the record Labels will allow)
    – Open Calendar Caldev standard (Apple’s iCal is fully compliant if not being the Torchbearer of the standard, unlike Exchange)
    – Bonjour (nee Rendezvous or ZerConf based in large part by work from Apple and released to the world)
    – Firewire IEEE 1394 (invented by Apple and used by all DV video cameras etc)
    – KHTML (Webkit – don’t discount that Apple did listen)
    – Jabber protocol and AOL in iChat
    – Java (always a native standard install though Apple needs to keep it up to date better)
    – Apache 1.x and now 2.0 built-in even to Mac OS X client
    – SSH built-in again even to OS X client (Windows Server 2007 still refuses to support SSH)
    – VNC built-in to OS X client
    – Full POSIX compliance with Leopard (how much more standard could you ask for!) Leopard is an Open Brand UNIX 03 Registered Product, conforming to the SUSv3 and POSIX 1003.1 specifications for the C API, Shell Utilities, and Threads.

    These are just a few that come to mind so don’t go and tar Apple too much with that brush – they definitely don’t always deserve it!

    -Mart

  12. Mart, some of the things you’ve pointed out are not standards: MS Word (at least in the non-X versions) is by no means an open standard, it is a de-facto standard, and Bonjour is as alread said just partially opened: external apps cannot talk to iTunes, foe example.

    About the video and audio standards: well, these are pay-as-you-go standards so I have a critical look at them (because not everyone can implement them despite they are called “standards”) – but anyway, while Apple supports these standards no other vendor is allowed to use them together with Apple products afaik. Isn’t iPod still the only player which can play Apple’s iTunes DRM music?

    Nevertheless, thanks for the long list, it definitely sheds a more detailed look at Apple’s efforts.

  13. I’m not sure what you are complaining about with document formats? Apple supports PDF, RTF, text, ODF, Office XML, .doc, .xls, .ppt etc – what other formats do you want them to support?

    On the audio front what formats are you criticising them for not having? If you mean MP3 for example (which they do fully support) licensing costs are in fact more onerous – particularly for streaming compared to AAC.

    It is true that AAC is not as open as say ogg vorbis, but compared to MP3 or WMA it is indeed a more “open” (as in unencumbered) standard:

    “In contrast with the MP3 format, which requires royalty payments on distributed content, no licenses or payments are required to be able to stream or distribute content in AAC format. [3] This reason alone makes AAC a much more attractive format for distributing content, particularly streaming content (such as Internet radio).
    A patent license is required for all manufacturers or developers of AAC codecs. AAC requires a patent license, and thus uses proprietary technology. But contrary to popular belief, it is not the property of a single company, having been developed in a standards-making organization.”

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Advanced_Audio_Coding

    Note that MP3 support is also a somewhat risky proposition now:
    “Microsoft has been ordered by a federal jury in San Diego to pay $1.52 billion to Alcatel-Lucent, for allegedly infringing on their patent technologies related to MP3 compression.
    The compression technology used in MP3 files was co-developed by the German technology firm Fraunhofer and the former Bell Laboratories. Fraunhofer was the first group to release an MP3 encoder, l3enc, in 1994. Microsoft claims that they licensed the technology from Fraunhofer for $16 million before they ever shipped MP3 playback support in Windows. Bell Labs was spun off by parent company AT&T into Lucent Technologies back in 1995, and it was acquired by competitor Alcatel in a merger in April 2006. While the rest of the industry assumed that obtaining a license from Fraunhofer was all that was needed to legally implement MP3 technology, it seems that Alcatel thinks
    otherwise.”
    http://arstechnica.com/news.ars/post/20070222-8910.html

    Lots of other MP3 players support AAC including Microsoft’s Zune, Sony, the latest model Creative Zens, etc.

    Only AAC music with Fairplay DRM is restricted to playback on Apple devices – only an average of 23 songs on your average iPod have Fairplay which Apple specifically allowed to be bypassed in a variety of ways (eg burning a CD) or downloading to an unlimited number of iPods & iPhones, an option Microsoft and the Muisc Labels never even entertained until Apple forced their hand. DRM itself is something as I have said Apple has been working to eliminate since they first announced the Music store (see Steve Jobs Rolling Stones interview at the time). 2 million DRM-free tracks are now available on iTunes for the same 99c price as the DRM stuff.

    As far as video is concerned, 3GPP (mobile phone flavour of MPEG-4) supported, MPEG-1 – supported, MPEG-2 – DVD playback built-into every copy of OS X unlike Windows, AVI – supported (though more exotic flavours of AVI, WMV and ASF are supported by the free Quicktime plug-in from Flip4Mac) and DivX and Xvid Quicktime plugins are freely available from the Perian collection.

    You are within your righs to criticise Apple for not opening up some of its tech like iTunes but I am left wondering how you can justify your statement that Apple “does everything to hold down open standards of any form. This includes network protocols, audio and video formats, document file formats and so on”.

    I also wonder how you can state that Apple is worse than Microsoft when MS most definitely does not actively support PDF, MPEG-4, AVC, AAC (in WMP), Bonjour/ZeroConf, SSH, VNC, UNIX compliance, Apache, Jabber, AIM, CalDav, is antagonistic to Java, creates Silverlight to attack Flash, and does everything possible to keep its proprietary formats pre-eminent etc etc…

    I’m just after a bit of balance. 🙂

    -Mart

  14. @Martin: Apple’s Mac OS supports ODF just with the newest release which is only some days old. And this does not include Apple’s iWork suite btw., there is no ODF support included in any version afaik.
    And I highlighted the fact that Apple included ODF support with this release for the first time, please keep that in mind!

    About Audio and Video, the reasonable thing would be to add Ogg Vorbis (and maybe even Theora). Ogg Vorbis is today even supported on numerous portable audio players (iBeat, iRiver, IAudio, Samsung, etc.) and there are no licence costs at all. Additionally it is used in such important and very well known projects like Wikipedia. There is simply no reason to not include support for it.
    However, in this regard Apple is just like MS Windows.

    Other codecs of course freely available as plugins for Quicktime – but that is true for all operating systems and their backends. Most people who could dowload codecs use VLC ayway.

    But to understand my point of view it might help to be a bit more clear on what I mean with “open standard”: when I write about the lack of support of open standards in my blog I focus on support for standards which are open in the sense that everyone – not only these with money – can implement. Most video standards are not covered by that definition.

    Other things, like Unix support and PF are also covered by Microsoft’s products (SFU and Office’s PDF support), although some of the software has to be installed manually (but the software is provided and integrated by Microsoft).
    Other things, like Java, don’t look as good as you point them out – Apple’s Java support is quite poor.

    Still, some of the things you mentioned were new to me (Jabber support in iChat, shipped VNC client) and it is good that you brought them up.
    I also had a second thought about the topic and another thing came to my mind: Apple is a strong supporter of the OpenGL development (reports about that can even be found in this blog) and puts quite some efforts into the development process.

    But in the end Apple is still a company which is just slowly opening up to the external pressure – and is sometimes even slower than MS. That in addition with Apple’s strange efforts to hold down external development for Apple products (like iTunes, iPhone, etc.) leaves me with a bad – or, let’s say ambivalent – feeling.

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