Office XML Gets a Big Thumbs Up

by Preston Gralla

A little-noticed item is big news for Microsoft: The The International Organization for Standardization (ISO) is putting Microsoft Office 2007's Open XML format on a fast track to become an ISO standard. This may not sound like much, but big money is involved.

5 Comments

Simon Hibbs
2007-03-14 12:18:50
We're talking about exerting pressure on national governments, not even Microsoft has that kind of clout.


I think this is an excellent development. Sure OpenXML is ugly, but if that makes Microsoft's solution less palatable or useful down the line, at least the market will be able to decide what to do about it without the straightjacket of it being a proprietary format.

William
2007-03-14 13:36:06
Mr. Gralla,


OOXML isn't just Word, and it is a long way from being standardized by the ISO. The standard has passed the first of several bars, and there is a vibrant debate about the standard's ultimate prospects.


Word supports ODF, the ISO standard XML document format. OpenOffice.org may have been an early adopter of the ODF format, but it is far from the only product that does so.


If OOXML gets standardized, the existence of ODF is far from moot, because OOXML may not be legally implementable by anyone else but MS, because of underlying patents, trademarks and copyrights.


I think that we are already seeing widespread use of ODF and many organizations are enabling or enacting legislation to spread that use even further. North America is likely going to be the slowest to adopt the existing standard, but North America is not the world.


Mr. Hibbs,


Microsoft can and routinely does exert influence national governments. It's called lobbying, and they have some very good lobbies throughout the world. Influencing governments is easy. The only thing easier than influencing a democratic government is influencing a dictatorship. You have only to look at the settlement given to Microsoft after Bush came to office in 2000 to see that lobbying works beautifully.

Rick Jelliffe
2007-03-16 18:03:52
Preston: On what primary evidence do you base that it is "pretty obvious...somehow or other Microsoft applied behind the scenes muscle to get its standard onto the fast track?" Why say this slur if there is no evidence?


To get onto a fast-track at ISO you


1) Get a standard from one of the various boutique standards bodies that are allowed to submit to ISO fast-track (notably OASIS and Ecma)


2) Get them or a national body to submit it for fast-tracking


3) Follow the procedures, provide information as it comes up, signal whether you are willing to allow your spec to be altered in the ways that the ISO national bodies may require in order to get a yes vote (e.g. Sun wasn't preprared ultimately to change things for Java and so left the ISO procedures and formed JCP)


4) Submit to the final national body ballots.


The procedure is public and pretty straightforward, and no under-handedness is involved. It is the same procedure followed by OASIS for ODF, basically. You are being swept up in some kind of conspiracy theory, whose intent is to blacken ISO in a fanatical desire to blacken OpenXML.


But your procedural details are wrong in any case, as are most of the press reports. (ComputerWorld is about the only source that regularly gets things right.) OpenXML has been on the ISO Fast-Track process since late last year. This process has a succession of stages, all leading up to the ballot by national standards bodies on the Final Draft Internation Spec, which may be in January 2008 give or take. Fast, in ISO terms, means pre-existing external specs get around a year scrutiny rather than the one to three years that brand new specs get.


What has happened is that the first stage of this multiple stage process is a minor administrative review where in the first 30 days national bodies can flag any concerns about certain issues. Now this, in effect, gives about 1 week of review time, so there is no way that this is intended to be used for any kind of comprehensive review: its just a chance to get particular issues (relating to whether the proposed spec actually contradicts existing ISO specifications) on the table so that matters can be dealt with early.


Now there are various people who think that being pro-ODF entails being anti-OpenXML. I don't see it myself (which is one reason I don't have a problem working on the Wikipedia entry, for example), because it is up to regulators to choose which formats will serve anti-trust purposes, not ISO. ISO just makes libraries of specifications that are "voluntary standards", not laws.


One vocal group of these inflated the purpose of the administrative period and claimed that any old problem potentially counted as a "contradiction" that would be relevant at that stage. Several national bodies faithfuly passed on this information (as is appropriate) but most did not actually endorse that these necessarily were showstopping contradictions. In the ISO procedure, Ecma then provides a response, and the ISO secretariat checked that the response on matters relevant to contradiction was plausible, has not found any reason not to let this proceed on its course. (Which is that there are now 5 months to find problems and sort through issues, then about 4 to 5 months to address problems and suggest fixes and create the Final Draft and then a month or two to vote on the FDIS.)


So instead of saying "Oh, actually we were over-enthusiastic about what happens during the adminstrative review period" we are seeing various bribery and "muscle" claims, all without a shred of evidence.

MadClown
2007-03-16 22:47:41
"but North America is not the world."
This is just too funny. Incase you didn't know this but North America is the center of the world. We start all the trends. We are the standard in the world. Countries follow our lead. We hold all the cards. Yes BUSH sucks ass!! But the great thing about this country is that if we don't like someone enough they get kicked out or they just run there course and someone new takes over. Its just the way things are.
Simon
2007-03-20 00:29:30
We're talking about exerting pressure on national governments, not even Microsoft has that kind of clout.
I think this is an excellent development. Sure OpenXML is ugly, but if that makes Microsoft's solution less palatable or useful down the line, at least the market will be able to decide what to do about it without the straightjacket of it being a proprietary form