Everyone talks about Open Source software, but outside the geekiest media there is little discussion of open standards.

Jonathan Schwartz’s column in News.com last week makes the excellent point that open standards are a bigger threat to Microsoft than open source.

Open standards make it possible for anyone to play on a platform, without using any particular software or paying licensing fees. Open standards like HTTP and HTML (and TCP/IP!) built the Web. RSS is one of the engines driving the blogging phenomenon. Open standards produce network effects for software.

Open standards are certainly more important to online publishers than open source, because its the standards that determine whether all those bits can be understood by people. If Microsoft (or Adobe or Macromedia or whoever) owns the file format, your content has no inaccessible unless you play by their rules.

Microsoft is struggling with open standards right now, trying to figure out how to move its Office documents to XML while keeping its own proprietary lock your information. It’s no surprise that Microsoft is bringing XML to Office slowly.

It makes you wonder why publishers are thinking about making PDF the standard for digital edtitions, and the publishing industry is looking to make PDF a standard for archiving.

Paging Nicholson Baker !