Microsoft: OOXML free from proprietary hooks

As national votes on OOXML loom, Microsoft is attempting to persuade potential adopters they will not be locked into a proprietary file format

As various nations prepare to vote on whether Microsoft's Office Open XML becomes an ISO standard, the software giant is attempting to downplay fears that adopters will be hooked into the company's technology.

Microsoft has come under attack recently from organisations such as the Free Software Foundation, which claims the Office Open XML (OOXML) specification includes "plenty" of proprietary code.

Earlier this week, the president of the Free Software Foundation Europe (FSFE), Georg Greve, said: "We've found plenty of proprietary material in OOXML so far. Governments could get locked into formats where they don't have control over the data. OOXML is dependent on implementations by Microsoft, so to use OOXML is essentially betting on the continued existence of Microsoft. Governments would also be dependent on Microsoft in a political sense."

However, Gray Knowlton, Redmond-based group project manager of Microsoft Office, said that the company is hoping OOXML will become a standard precisely to lose any proprietary hooks.

"It's a very popular thing to say that Microsoft owns or controls parts of these specifications — the entire purpose of taking this format into a standards-based environment is to avoid this; it is precisely to ensure that people have the ability to read and write documents in this format, free from encumbrance of something Microsoft would own. We want to move into a standards-based environment for the documents format because so much of the heritage and the history and the records of every country in the world are wrapped up in the documents that are created by our products that have used the binary file formats of Microsoft Office in the past," said Knowlton.

Knowlton also claimed that Microsoft wants to offer users a choice.

"We want to move this into a standard because people can get out of this environment of being locked into a proprietary file format; they have a little bit more choice about how they would choose to approach an archival or document-management solution or other things that are involved," he said.

Greve also described the OOXML specification as "extremely bad" because of rounding errors.

"As a technical specification, OOXML is extremely bad. Rounding errors are not normal in modern applications. If I was a financial organisation, or a governmental organisation that deals with finances, I'd be concerned about rounding errors," said Greve.