Microsoft admits to standards ignorance pre-OOXML

The company has admitted it had no experience or specific personnel dedicated to software standards prior to getting OOXML approved by the ISO
Written by Andrew Donoghue, Contributor

Microsoft has admitted that, despite being one of the dominant names in IT for over 30 years, it had little or no experience or expertise around software standards until the company was mid-way through the process of getting Office Open XML approved by the International Organization for Standardization.

Speaking at a panel debate, at a Red Hat conference in Boston, entitled 'The OOXML battle: Who really won?', Microsoft national technology officer Stuart McKee admitted that the company had no specific department or individuals focused solely on standards prior to beginning the process of fast-tracking Office Open XML (OOXML) to become officially recognised by the International Organization for Standardization (ISO).

"We found ourselves so far down the path of the standardisation process with no knowledge. We don't have a standards office. We didn't have a standards department in the company," said McKee. "I think the one thing that we would acknowledge and that we were frustrated with is that, by the time we realised what was going on and the competitive environment that was underway, we were late and there was a lot of catch-up."

The comments came partly in response to a question concerning whether the company regretted actions reportedly taken to try and encourage partners and allies to join national standards bodies in the run-up to voting around OOXML.

According to the Free Software Foundation, standards bodies in Sweden, Germany, Portugal, the Netherlands and the US were all influenced by Microsoft during the voting process.

"Membership of the Swiss body saw a surprising growth before the vote, while in Sweden a very similar thing happened; suddenly the room was overcrowded with Microsoft partners," Free Software Foundation Europe president Georg Greve told ZDNet.co.uk in August 2007. "Microsoft stuffed the ballot boxes in Sweden; the room was crammed with Microsoft 'yes' men. Special interest groups were formed in Germany to speed up the process."

However, McKee said Microsoft did not regret any of its actions during the voting process and claimed the company was merely trying to catch up with a process that it had very little experience of.

"I think the thing is that Microsoft was really, really late to this game," he said. "It was very difficult to enter into conversations around the world where the debate had already been framed."

Microsoft's OOXML specification was initially approved as a standard by ISO in April this year. However, the process has now been stalled after four countries — South Africa, Brazil, Venezuela and India — appealed against the decision, claiming a flawed balloting process.

Despite the difficulties with getting OOXML approved, McKee claimed that Microsoft would be getting involved in two further standards processes in the near future.

"Are we going to develop products that no-one else has and be first to market? Absolutely, and we will continue to do that," he said. "There is a whole conversation coming around high-definition photos and Microsoft is presenting another standard around extensible paper specification that is really more related to PDF, which is going to get Adobe particularly excited."

The reference made to 'extensible paper specification' refers to Microsoft's XML Paper Specification, also known as XPS, which first came to light in 2006 and is included in Vista and Office 2007. Adobe and Microsoft have been involved in a legal tussle around XPS ever since 2006, as the specification is considered a rival to Adobe's PDF format.

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