Brazil votes against Microsoft OOXML 'standard'

The bid to fast track Office Open XML as an ISO-certified standard has received a setback, with ISO member Brazil casting a 'No' vote.
Written by Tom Espiner, Contributor

The bid to fast track Office Open XML as an ISO-certified standard has received a setback, with ISO member Brazil casting a 'No' vote.

Microsoft is pushing for the Office Open XML (OOXML) document standard to be fast tracked for ISO accreditation. However, the Brazilian Technical Standards Organisation (ABNT), which is one of the 55 members of the ISO committee that decides whether standards should receive accreditation, last Tuesday voted against OOXML.

"After a very difficult and inconclusive meeting in ABNT (Brazilian Technical Standards Organisation) office last Tuesday, the standards process director had to analyse the audio recording of all the meeting, review some facts, review again all 63+2 comments produced by the technical group about the ECMA specification, and conclude that a 'No' for OOXML is the correct position for Brazil in ISO fast track process," wrote Avi Alkalay, a member of ABNT, and an open standards and Linux advisor at IBM Brazil, in a blog post.

Microsoft and IBM have clashed more than once over the issue of the standards they respectively support. Microsoft favours OOXML, which was originally developed in-house at Microsoft.

Microsoft wants OOXML to be accepted as an ISO standard. It insists that OOXML, having gained certification from standards organisation Ecma International, is now an Ecma concern, and no longer a proprietary standard.

Microsoft is one of the major technology players that participate in Ecma, along with IBM. However, IBM uses and favours OpenDocument Format (ODF), an ISO-certified, open-source standard. The ODF Alliance and many in the open-source community argue that OOXML is proprietary.

'Proprietary hooks'
IBM Linux advisor Avi Alkalay, a member of the Brazilian technical group that studied the OOXML specification, said that there were a number of problems with OOXML, including compatibility and the length of the standard. Alkalay accused the format of containing "clear proprietary hooks".

"It is unbelievable how ECMA (same guys that put together the JavaScript standard!) can think that a wannabe spec like OOXML is ready for submission. It is incomplete (does not provide mappings with legacy standards, since compatibility is OOXML goal), too long (6000+ pages), fully tied to a single product, uses deprecated substandards, promotes bad practices (embedded binary objects), has clear proprietary hooks (like "formatAsWord95" XML tags), reinvents the wheel all around (date and colour formats etc), and most of all does not have a standards-grade look and feel required for a universal and (virtually) eternal document format (doesn't have to be perfect, but can't be that imperfect)," wrote Alkalay in a blog post.

Alkalay added that Brazil would adopt the ODF standard as an open standard instead.

"In parallel, ABNT is turning the OpenDocument Format into a national standard and will adopt and promote as it is: a truly open, universal and independent format for digital documents," said Alkalay.

Microsoft had not specifically responded to Alkalay's assertions at the time of writing, but did say that the German DIN (Deutsche Institut für Normung) standards body had voted in favour of ISO certifying the standard.

"The DIN technical committee, the NIA 34, voted on the specification submitted by Ecma International with a clear majority on the formal recommendation to 'approve, with comments'," said a Microsoft spokesperson.

While Germany has given OOXML the thumbs up, India has voted against fast tracking OOXML for ISO certification. The US INCITS standards body has not yet finished its voting process, but is expected to abstain. China has already voted against Microsoft, while Malaysia, Denmark and Switzerland are supporting the software giant, according to the India Times.

Microsoft has been accused by members of the open-source community of attempting to force OOXML through ISO meetings. Rob Weir of IBM said that an "important factor" in the INCITS voting process was the number of members new to the V1 committee who were Microsoft business partners, while Groklaw said that some in the open-source community had accused Microsoft of "ballot-stuffing" in Portugal and Italy.

Tom Espiner from ZDNet UK reported from London.

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