Six thousand pages, one month, no chance...

Weary of cynicism, I've tried to believe that Microsoft's approach to international open document standards really does have the user in mind. I want to believe: there's enough nonsense to worry about without having to worry about gratuitously complex, changing, proprietary standards.

Weary of cynicism, I've tried to believe that Microsoft's approach to international open document standards really does have the user in mind. I want to believe: there's enough nonsense to worry about without having to worry about gratuitously complex, changing, proprietary standards. If Microsoft agrees, as it says it does, and is genuinely on the road to taking that worry away, then by gum I'll be happy never to think about it again. It's hard, though, as the latest update from Groklaw exhaustively demonstrates.

Microsoft is in a bind. Governments worldwide mandate that only internationally agreed open standards are acceptable when creating documents - which for reasons of continuity, freedom of choice, efficiency, access and democratic control is absolutely right (if you don't agree - say so. I'll be fascinated to hear your arguments).

The trouble for Microsoft is that it has traditionally never published its document formats, because its business model includes locking out the competition by keeping secrets. Thus, although there is a perfectly good open document standard that it could adopt tomorrow if it wished, it does not so wish. But it also wants to keep all those government contracts.

Its preferred answer is to create its own open document format - OOXML - which can then be recognised as such by the international standards bodies. However, it does not want this to be something that its competitors can adopt freely.

The answer is to game the system. As part of this, the company has created (by itself, unlike Open Doc) a proposal for OOXML that is six thousand pages long, and then put it into the fast-track approval system with very minimal time for discussion and objection. However (you did read the Groklaw post, right?) even just the month allowed may be far too long for comfort. Already, eager critics have found that the standard contains many references to things -- such as old Microsoft formats -- that are not defined within it. This has two immediate effects: first, someone who wants to use the standard to build a compliant product won't be able to do so. Second, even if they did, Microsoft's pledge not to use patents to limit access to the standard does not cover stuff that's not defined within.

That's just one objection: there are many, many others - with even more are being found all the time. Please, go and read the piece, follow the links and add your eyeballs to the effort. If OOXML is too dangerous to go through as an international standard -- and, as I said, with the best will in the world I can't see it any other way -- then the more examples that can be mustered, the better.

Drop dead date is early February.

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