Microsoft's OOXML 'choice' argument squashed

Microsoft claims that Australia will benefit from "greater choice" if local standards bodies vote this week to accept the Office Open XML format as an ISO standard.

Microsoft claims that Australia will benefit from "greater choice" if local standards bodies vote this week to accept the Office Open XML format as an ISO standard.

If Microsoft's OOXML is accepted, it will be on par with the Google and Sun-supported Open Document Format (ODF) standard, which was accepted by the ISO in November 2006. The ISO's member nations, which includes Australia, need to respond to the submission by 2 September.

In a video interview this week, Redmond-based group project manager of Microsoft Office, Gray Knowlton, told ZDNet Australia: "We want to turn this into a standard because people can get out of this environment of being locked into a proprietary format -- they have a little bit more choice about how they choose to approach an archival or document management solution."

However some critics believe that if Office Open XML is accepted by the ISO it might not lead to more choice, but the potential for lock-in to Microsoft 's format.

Georg Greve, president of the Free Software Foundation Europe said that Microsoft is pursuing a "classic vendor lock-in strategy".

"The absolute nightmare scenario is that Microsoft says, 'Update your licences, or we'll turn off your access.' Access to governmental data will completely depend on the existence of Microsoft," he told Reuters.

Other arguments against accepting OOXML were aired earlier this month when the International Committee for Information Technology Standards (INCITS) rejected Microsoft's submission -- a crucial step for OOXML's acceptance in the US, in particular by government departments.

The US Department of Defense this month was one of seven members to reject Microsoft's submission to the INCITS while the Department of Homeland Security backed it.

Microsoft needed just one more vote to succeed; Intel, HP, EMC and Apple voted in favour of OOXML, while Sun's allies, such as Oracle and IBM, lined up against it. Sun had not cast its vote.

Besides vendor lock-in, the DoD rejected OOXML on the basis that binary information in the standard may cause "security concerns" and backwards compatibility issues when third-parties that use non-OpenOfficeXML compatible products, implement document management solutions at government agencies.

However Knowlton dismissed this argument as theoretical.

"We haven't yet encountered a situation where people would buy a product based on the document format it supports, " he said. "Open XML is deigned to carry forward the information that exists in the billions of binary files that have been created previously into an open environment. "

The National Archives of Australia, which outlines archiving standards for Australian government departments, declined to comment on the matter when contacted by ZDNet Australia.

Meanwhile, the Germany Institute for Standardisation recently voted in favour of the OOXML standard while others such as Brazil and India have rejected it.

IBM Linux advisor Avi Alkalay, a member of the Brazilian technical group that studied the OOXML specification, called OOXML incomplete and criticised it for embedding proprietary hooks and failing to offer a real long term document format.

Alistair Tegart, program manager of Standards Australia said in a statement that attempts to formulate a position on the submission in Australia were initially met with a mild response by industry and academics, however it has since received submissions from over 100 interested parties.