OOXML decision two sleeps away

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OOXML decision two sleeps away

With less than two days to go before the International Standards Organization (ISO) decides on whether or not to approve Microsoft’s Office Open XML (OOXML), lovers and haters of the format are intensifying their arguments for a last hurrah.

On Saturday 29 March, the Geneva organisation will collate votes from 41 countries to determine if OOXML will replace the Open Document Format as an international standard.

For OOXML to be approved, at least two thirds of the participating countries need to have voted in favour of the format, and no more than one quarter of the total number of votes can be negative.

As things stand, numbers are not looking good for Microsoft. 18 countries have voted in favour of OOXML, and 14 countries have voted against it. Nine countries, including Australia, have chosen to abstain from the vote.

Open Source consultant Jeff Waugh was a member of the OOXML working group advising Standards Australia in the process of coming to an Australian position for ISO.

“I am hoping that Standards Australia, and ultimately the world (through ISO) will vote no to OOXML being accepted as a standard at this point in time,” he told iTnews this afternoon.

“In time, I think a lot of soul-searching and outreach on Microsoft's part might make the fruitful standardization of OOXML a possibility. But for now, it is too much, too fast, and none of it for the right reasons,” he said.

Waugh said that the ISO’s Fast Track process not provided decision makers with enough time to consider the specification, especially in view of the many changes Microsoft has introduced.

Microsoft’s proposal to make OOXML an international standard has been met with the objections of industry heavyweights including IBM and Sun, who have said that the format is too deeply entrenched in proprietary technology.

Waugh agrees, saying that the standardization of OOXML will have a negative impact on Australian technologists.

“If OOXML is accepted by ISO now, it is likely to further entrench Microsoft's monopoly position, and have a stultifying effect on the growing market of truly open collaboration and productivity tools,” he said.

“It is also likely to inflict undue burden on Australian Government, business and software developers.”

Meanwhile, Microsoft claims that it is committed to keeping OOXML an open format. According to Microsoft's OOXML senior product manager Doug Mahugh, the specification has been designed to support the needs of the various existing document formats.

The complexity of OOXML is expected to give it an advantage over the current standard, Open Document Format (ODF), Mahugh said, noting the support of ODF editor Patrick Durusau for the OOXML format.

“This particular specification is unusual in that it’s an attempt to capture everything that is in this huge body of existing documents that we’ve created,” he told iTnews.

“ODF is very elegant but it doesn’t have nearly the breadth of functionality that OOXML offers because of its allowance for all these existing Office documents.”

“I know he’s [Patrick Durusau] very much a fan of both formats,” Mahugh said.

“There is sometimes an attempt to paint this as an ‘either’, ‘or’ thing. There are people who are fans of both and frankly there are people who are opposed to both. In Patrick’s case he sees them [ODF and OOXML] serving different needs.”

If Microsoft receives the votes it needs to make OOXML an ISO standard, Mahugh said Microsoft would immediately begin to rollout the format its existing suite of Office products.

Although he declined to lay out any potential timeline for such an implementation, Mahugh did not expect a long wait in achieving a full rollout.

Meanwhile, in the lead up to Saturday’s announcement, Microsoft seems content in leaving the fate of OOXML in the hands of the gods.

“We feel like that at this point in the process, we don’t want to speculate on how things would turn out and don’t want to say anything that might influence the decision now,” Mahugh said.

“Having said that, we’re just sticking to thinking positive at this point.”

“We’re publicly committed to supporting the ISO IEC version through our products. From our point of view here in Redmond, the next step will be to determine how we will support the new revised specification in all our products that support XML format.”
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