Emerging markets reject OOXML

Johannesburg, 04 Apr 2008

Emerging market leaders - China, Brazil, India and SA - were among those who voted against the recognition of Microsoft's Office Open XML (OOXML) file formats as an international standard.

The International Standards Organisation (ISO) ratified OOXML on Wednesday, having received the 75% majority required to have it recognised. Open source communities across the world have kicked back with disapproval.

According to a document circulated to standards bodies involved in the voting process, the majority of votes opposing the ratification of OOXML were emerging market participants, SA among them.

Andrew Rens, fellow at the Shuttleworth Foundation, says emerging markets showed strong leadership by sticking to their decision to vote against the ratification of the standard. He worked closely with the South African Bureau of Standards (SABS) in the analysis and discussions around accepting OOXML. SABS declined to comment on the process.

Rens is concerned that the entire process was speculative and calls for a reform of the ISO recognition system. "China, India, Brazil and SA represent the bulk of the world's population. It speaks volumes when the majority reject a standard and yet it is still recognised."

The emerging markets all have national IT industries that are open and not as highly influenced by the few large multinationals the established markets are relying on, he says. "This allowed the emerging market standards bodies to have the standard tested and analysed by experienced and independent specialists and not be dominated."

Colonial kindness

World Wide Worx MD Arthur Goldstuck adds that open source communities have a strong and influential presence in emerging markets, which may have swayed the decision. "For example, in SA, the open source community has been shown strong support by high profile players like government."

Emerging markets are also more sensitive to large dominant corporates like Microsoft. "Emerging markets who voted against the standard may be responding to the colonial approach of Microsoft."

Meanwhile, Microsoft is pleased with the ratification of its standard. "The outcome from the ISO represents global approval of our format. The world has scrutinised it and accepted is as worthwhile," says Microsoft SA platform manager, Paulo Ferreira.

Microsoft is confident OOXML will be well accepted globally. "Already we are seeing a good following for the standard. iPhone supports it, and the next Open Office version shipping with Ubuntu will also support it."

Ferreira says OOXML will provide a new option and opportunity for all, no matter what platform they will be working from. "We understand that the world's technology is not heterogeneous, that there are mixed environments. We are pleased to be able to offer the opportunity to provide an interoperability strategy."

He says Microsoft has committed to supporting and documenting the support it provides for the standard. "Ultimately, the industry will benefit from this. It has not been done in isolation, but as part of a bigger set of interoperability ideals."


The Shuttleworth Foundation remains sceptical. "It will be interesting to see if the format will be maintained. I suspect it will become a white elephant. But time will tell whether or not OOXML can stand up against ODF," says Rens.

Ubuntu will support OOXML, however, primarily to maintain the concept of openness and interoperability, he says.

"For the open source community in SA, it is not about squeezing the competitive advantage out of the situation. It is about providing users with what they need and true interoperability."

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