OOXML standard is published

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The International Organisation for Standardisation (ISO) has published the specification for a Microsoft-created file format, which has kept industry in a controversial debate for over a year.

Microsoft welcomed the publication, saying: “We have consistently said we believe users should have the freedom to choose the format that best meets their needs.”

Paulo Ferreira, Microsoft SA platform strategy manager, says: “The formal publication of IS 29500 - Office Open XML (OOXML) represents nearly two years of collaboration and participation of technical experts and national body members around the world.”

He adds the publication will finally allow maintenance and evolution of the standard to begin. “Microsoft will continue to actively and positively support this effort.”

The 7 228-page document can now be purchased from the ISO, for $285.

Microsoft says it remains committed to continuing to work in an open and collaborative manner with standards bodies and the industry as a whole to enhance interoperability.

Competition not standardisation

OOXML ratification timeline

August 2007: Microsoft's initial request to have Open XML fast-tracked to standardisation is rejected.

2 April 2008: In a second fast-track attempt, OOXML is ratified through the fast-track process by the International Organisation of Standardisation. Emerging market leaders China, Brazil, India and SA, which were among those that voted against the recognition of Microsoft's Office OOXML, voice heavy criticism.
April 2008: Throughout the month, ISO processes are criticised and several irregularities in national standards bodies are revealed. Angry protests in Norway and Germany, where technical committees were overridden in the voting process. France also reports irregularities. Countries across the world call for a revision of the ISO standardisation process.
18 April 2008: Open Document Format (ODF) is approved by the South African Bureau of Standards as national standard. Government supports the move. Open source groups in SA challenge Microsoft to support ODF and drop OOXML.
22 May 2008: Microsoft announces it will support ODF among several other document standards. Industry greets the announcement with optimistic scepticism.
End May/beginning June: SA becomes the first country to appeal the ratification of OOXML. SA is challenging the validity of the process used to fast-track the ratification of Microsoft's open document format, Open XML (OOXML). Venezuela, India and Brazil join in the appeal process.
7 October 2008: Appeals are rejected.

OOXML was first ratified by the ISO in March, after Microsoft appealed to have the standard pass through a fast-tracking process. The ratification was met by highly controversial arguments by the open source communities, which also criticised the ISO and called for a change in the body's processes.

In April, SA became the first country to appeal the widely criticised process to fast-track OOXML as an international document standard. India, Brazil and Venezuela joined SA to successfully prevent the standard being fully ratified. However, these appeals were dismissed.

Many industry players are convinced Microsoft does not yet support the OOXML standard; however, Ferreira says it is substantially supported in Office 2007.

“Microsoft is committed to taking additional steps to support it in our next major release of Office, code-named Office 14,” he adds.

However, Shuttleworth Foundation fellow Andrew Rens remains unconvinced it has been implemented at all. “The standard that is being used in Office 2007 is the original specification submitted to ECMA. Throughout the process to get the standard ratified, it has changed significantly,” adds Rens.

ECMA is the international, private (membership-based) standards organisation for information and communication systems which supports the ISO.

According to Rens, the process followed by the ISO has placed it in a “very interesting position”. He says the traditional process was to have the standards implemented in the market and battle on that front for supremacy, before it was drawn into the ISO for standardisation.

“The opposite has happened in this case. This is an untried standard and its publication will put the ISO in a new position. Competing untried standards will now approach the ISO to choose which ones to ratify, rather than proving its worth in the marketplace,” he explains.

This effectively makes the ISO a competition regulator rather than a standards body. However, Rens is more concerned about the credibility of standards that are now ratified by the ISO.

“Governments used ISO standards because they could be sure they were tested and robust. Now, governments will need to make decisions based on their own knowledge, because new standards through the ISO may not be tested.”

Incoming support

Microsoft remains convinced OOXML is in the consumer's best interest and the standard forms part of its ongoing interoperability strategy.

The company says it reflects its commitment to users' freedom of choice. “We have strongly supported the development of Open XML-ODF translators on Office users can today use this translation technology to work with ODF-based documents,” says Ferreira.

He adds that Microsoft recently announced, as part of its “Interoperability Principles”, some changes to Office that will make it easier for developers to have other formats (including ODF, UOF and others) appear in the drop-down menu of available formats and permit users to select them as their default format.

The company will support ODF 1.1 in its Office 2007 Service Pack 2, which Ferreira says will be available in the first half of next year.

* Is OOXML ratification the right move? Give us your opinion via our feedback facility.

Related stories:
ISO's MS decision sparks dissent

ISO dismisses OOXML appeal

SA appeals ISO's decision

ODF is SA's national standard

Candice Jones
ITWeb online telecoms editor

Candice Jones is an online telecoms editor with a focus on telecoms. She loves line speeds that go up and call rates that go down.

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