ECMA move is standard fare from Microsoft

ECMA move is standard fare from Microsoft

Summary: In taking the Office 12 file format to ECMA so it can be called a standard, Microsoft will be hoping to derail the OpenDocument bandwagon; it's just standard manoeuvring that we have seen before

TOPICS: IT Employment

One of the reasons that the Department of Justice was so keen to split Microsoft into several Baby Bills was the advantage that the company's Office suite division was seen to have over its rivals. Because the Office team worked so closely with the operating system team, it was argued, they were able to implement features that appeared in each new version of Windows before the competition even knew about them. Sometimes, these features remained undocumented for the outside world, and the competition, which had to languor without the advantage of owning a monopoly operating system, never got to know about them at all.

Microsoft may arguably have pioneered many features of the modern office application suite, but its rise to such a dominant position in the market was also certainly helped by those tactics which ensured it was always able to keep one step ahead of its competition.

Today, the battle has turned to document formats. Throughout the 90s Microsoft had plenty of company in the practice of using proprietary document formats. Now, many organisations are growing increasingly aware of the risks posed by using proprietary file formats; the fact they really do not have full control at all over data stored in a proprietary file format, all rights to which are owned by another company.

Massachusetts has grabbed both the headlines and Microsoft's attention with its new focus on the OpenDocument format, which could be enough to force a mass switch to For a company whose file formats are so entrenched that government departments only deal with suppliers who also use Microsoft Office, this is anathema. Microsoft's reaction? To take its own XML file format down the standards route, via ECMA. This may make it a standard, but it will be a standard that is protected by Microsoft-owned patents, a standard that has no other notable industry backing, and a standard that continues to give Microsoft first-mover advantage. If Microsoft really cared about standards, it would introduce its own file format to a properly open standards process, or even get involved with OpenDocument.

That may yet happen. In the meantime, the biggest mistake we could make is to think that Microsoft's approach to ECMA will render OpenDocument obsolete. It won't. OpenDocument has forced Microsoft to come this far and can push it further yet.

Topic: IT Employment

Kick off your day with ZDNet's daily email newsletter. It's the freshest tech news and opinion, served hot. Get it.


Log in or register to join the discussion
  • Can't trust Microsoft on this one. There are too many variables and too many subtle ways they can pollute their supposed future "open standard" to continue tilting things in their own favor.

    I'd give it at least 1 - 2 years of implementation (by others) before risking my own data in their new formats. This is more time than I need to feel comfortable with ODF, because it was developed by a consortium of several companies and has been thoroughly reviewed for patent encumbrances and other issues, as well as being closely based on a format that's been in common use for about five years already.

    This long delay could have a strategic impact on MS' new formats. My hope is that they'll be stillborn--why do we need another when ODF is here, is implemented in multiple software packages, and can be trusted to be truly open? If MS takes a beating here, it will be bad for them but much better for the competitive market overall, and for users like me and you.
  • Couldn't agree more. Give it 5 years and they will be claiming it was MS innovation and patenting it as if it was them that first thought of the idea of open XML document formats for office apps. Stealing other people's ideas is fine, but try stealing one of theirs and see what happens.

    There is only one standard necessary. MS's standard has no technical advantages over OD is years behiond and not implemented yet in any mainstream software. It is very similar to OD and essentially different for the sake of being different. Its about time the technological dictator was given a very clear message from the customers. Don't buy this attempt at subverting open standards. Don't trust a company that has shown time and time again that it is untrustworthy.
  • I guess end users have had enough of incompatible formats across versions from MS. The trivial "upgrade" of a version format has happened in most of the Office releases since Word 1 - and end users have had enough or engineered incompatibility