Microsoft makes last-gasp OOXML push

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

TOPICS: Tech Industry

Weeks away from a crucial International Organization for Standardization vote in Geneva on the ratification of Microsoft's proposed Office Open XML standard, the software giant is engaged in a last-ditch campaign to convince the wider industry that its endeavours are in the best interests of users.

After its first attempt to have Office Open XML (OOXML) approved as an International Organization for Standardization (ISO) standard failed in September, the software giant has spared no expense to ensure that it succeeds at the ballot resolution meeting in February. Microsoft has hosted four conference calls a week with national standards bodies, and recently invited international press to a conference close to its Redmond, Washington headquarters to set the record straight on the OOXML issue.

A stream of Microsoft executives consecutively took to the floor at the press conference to defend the company against its growing army of critics.

Several themes were reiterated.

The first was debunking the notion that there is no need for a second XML standard in the market. Advocates of the OpenDocument Format (ODF), an ISO-approved open standard XML file format developed by a consortium led by IBM and Sun, have argued that a second standard is "redundant".

Microsoft said that there is nothing wrong with having multiple file formats. The company cannot adopt ODF in its own Office suite, it said, because it cannot migrate the legacy of billions of documents in older Microsoft formats onto it. But it does allow users to export their file in ODF format.

"Any investment we make in the future of information work has to take into account what has been done in the past," said Microsoft Office project manager Gray Knowlton. "It's very important when migrating to open file formats that we take older documents into account."

"ODF was designed to omit the functionality of existing documents," Knowlton said. "We, on the other hand, cannot start from scratch. Our customers would never accept that."

It was also argued, on several fronts, that OOXML is a superior standard to ODF.

"Many customers tell us that ODF doesn't meet their needs," said Tom Robertson, general manager of interoperability and standards at Microsoft. "It doesn't provide backwards compatibility, nor does it reflect the rich feature set of Office 2007."

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

Peter O'Kelly, Burton Group

Present at the briefing was Burton Group research director Peter O'Kelly, who, in the week prior, had authored a report that recommended enterprise users adopt OOXML in preference to ODF.

O'Kelly described ODF as "simplistic", while OOXML was described as "more powerful and expressive".

The Microsoft alternative, O'Kelly said, scores points for its ability to incorporate custom schemas, its wider variety of table options and its spreadsheet formula language.

"It is not that there is anything wrong with, it's just that, in large organisations, the types of things you are working with are more akin to what [Microsoft] Office can handle," O'Kelly said. "ODF is a fine open-source offering and it's a capable product but, put it side by side with the things you can do with Office 2007, and it's a very different user experience. There are things you might take for granted within Office that simply aren't there."

O'Kelly said he was "unpleasantly surprised" at the vitriol directed at his research organisation since he backed Microsoft's argument.

"This is not a Microsoft-sponsored report," O'Kelly said. "We don't do any sponsored writing at all — no white papers."

Further, he said that it was "coincidental" that the report was released three working days before Microsoft's press briefing and only a few weeks away from the crucial vote.

"We didn't mean to pick a fight," O'Kelly said, claiming that the OOXML report was one of three…

Topic: Tech Industry

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  • Microsoft makes last-gasp OOXML push

    Make no mistake, this is a huge deal for Microsoft, and I think they will have OOXML approved. Not because it is a better choice than ODF, but because Microsoft usually gets what it wants. The main problem is backward compatibility, as many governments have old documents and there is a need to be able to access all documents with one program. They may have to bribe, or threaten, but they will get it their way.
  • Not really...

    ODF is a document format, by no stretch of the imagination does it "provide backward compatibility" as implied by the Microsoft representative. Think PDF, another published standard, does it provide backward compatibility for reading old Microsoft doc files? No, of course not, it's a format and as such can opened up in Adobe Reader, OpenOffice and numerous other applications.

    Organizations, particularly governmental ones, should standardize on published document formats for several reasons. Number one being that multiple applications can correctly read and write these documents allowing for wide range of pricing/support structures and competitive bidding in the market place.

    If they were to use a proprietary format, not only would they lock themselves in but also force third parties dealing with them to get themselves locked in too. Because of this, the vendor can charge ridiculous amounts for retail copies while potentially giving the government and super-large companies big discounts to discourage them from migrating.

    All this is why it's such a big deal for Microsoft and why everything they put out is be a moving target when it comes to being compatible or interoperable, including their MS-OOXML pseudo-standard.

    Read the ODF alliance's response to this Burton Group's report:
  • File Formats - MS v OpenOffice

    For older versions of MS formats Microsoft made the National Archives (UK) use Vista running Windows Virtual PC running Windows 3.11 running Office 95 (which all require licences per machine). After blocking older file formats in Office 2003, they obviously think that this costly, unstable option is acceptable.

    Open Office Writer opens and saves in the following formats:

    OpenDocument (ODT), Open Office (SXW), MS Word 6.0/95/97/2000/XP/2003 XML, HTML, RTF, TXT, AportisDoc (Palm), DocBook, Pocket Word (PSW).

    Open Office Spreadsheet opens and saves in the following formats:

    OpenDocument (ODS), OpenOffice (SXC), MS Excel 5/95/97/2000/XP/2003 XML, Data Interchange Format, dBASE (DBF), StarCalc 3/4/5, SYLK, CSV, HTML, Pocket Excel (PXL).

    More than enough for most people, and it's free (and so is Sun's Star Office now thanks to Google).
  • Confusion

    "I think too many people are confusing open standards with open source." (Peter O'Kelly, Burton Group)

    "ODF is a fine open-source offering and it's a capable product but, put it side by side with the things you can do with Office 2007, and it's a very different user experience." (Peter O'Kelly, Burton Group)

    Of course, ODF is an open standard, not an open source offering. But these are merely details...