Microsoft makes last-gasp OOXML push

Summary:With a critical ISO vote on the ratification of Office Open XML looming, the company maintains it has the industry's best interests at heart

…in a series on document-processing technologies. "I think too many people are confusing open standards with open source. And too many people think that what's bad for Microsoft is good for the industry."

Microsoft also used the opportunity to defend itself against accusations that the company "bought votes" in an attempt to have OOXML approved as an open standard.

Robertson said Microsoft has been on an evolutionary path to move to XML-based documents for about 10 years. Thus, OOXML was far more than a "knee-jerk response" to the success of ODF within various government departments around the globe.

Users and partners had demanded, Robertson said, that Microsoft make its new XML format transparent. It was the wish of the European Commission, he added, for Microsoft to hand over control of the specification to the community through a standardisation process of its choice.

Microsoft chose the European standards body, Ecma, Robertson said, because it has a "very high standing in the community". The 50-year-old organisation has worked on standards for such technologies as CD-ROM and the C# programming language.

It is certainly not unusual to then take an Ecma-approved standard through to the ISO, Robertson said: "Ecma takes 90 percent of its formats through to the ISO process."

It also isn't unusual, Robertson continued, for a standard that has already been approved by a respected body to go through ISO's "fast-track" process, which halves the amount of time national standards bodies have to assess its merits.

Jean Paoli, Microsoft's senior director of XML technologies and a member of the Ecma TC45 committee charged with administrating the OOXML standard, said that TC45 has a wide base of participants, including Intel and Apple and representatives from users such as BP, Barclays Capital and the British Library.

Paoli said that the TC45 group has worked every day since the failed September vote to rectify the standard according to the 3,255 critical comments made by national standards bodies.

Once duplications were removed, there were only 1,000 unique comments, Paoli said, the majority being editorial (for example, grammatical) mistakes and the rest being bugs he attributed to Microsoft's legacy of attempting backwards compatibility.

"There are some things in the standard that were expressed simply because we needed to move legacy documents to XML," Paoli said.

"We are preparing the future, but also migrating binary documents. Anybody that works on Wall Street would want whatever is in an Excel spreadsheet in an XLX spreadsheet. We cannot just go and change the spreadsheet used by the financial community. We need to give them a migration path to this new world of XML. We're talking about billions of documents," Paoli said.

Paoli stated that the industry, to some degree, has voted already. Apple is including OOXML as an option in its Leopard operating system, as is Adobe in InDesign and Novell in Suse Open Office. Several Linux flavours are only a few steps behind.

"It obviously works," Paoli said. "Apple, Novell, Turbolinux and Google can all do it. For somebody like Apple to bake the format into their operating system natively — it says a lot."

Brett Winterford travelled to Redmond as a guest of Microsoft.

Topics: Tech Industry

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