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December 8, 2006

Ecma approves Microsoft’s Office Open XML document standard

Posted by David Hunter at 4:20 PM ET.

You may recall that Microsoft rather urgently decided to make the new document formats for Office 2007 a published standard after complaints from governments and other organizations who were casting covetous glances at the OpenDocument Format open standard and the products that use it. Well, the first step in that process was completed yesterday when ”Ecma International approved Office Open XML Formats as an Ecma standard and voted to submit the new standards to the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) for consideration as an ISO standard through the fast-track process.” The ISO process is expected to take about nine months.

Stupefyingly, the standard is more than 6,000 pages long including all the supporting notes which rather gives credence to IBM VP Bob Sutor’s characterization of Open XML as a “one way specification:” 

Fully and correctly implementing Open XML will require the cloning of a large portion of Microsoft’s product.

So therefore I conclude that while Microsoft may end up supporting most of Open XML (and we’ll have to see the final products to see how much and how correctly), other products will likely only end up supporting a subset.

That means that other products and software, in practice, will NOT be able to understand arbitrary Open XML that might be thrown at them. There is just too much. Therefore they will only create a bit that they need and send that off. Send it off to whom? The only software that might understand it, namely Microsoft Office.

So this is how I see this playing out: Open XML will be nearly fully read and written by Microsoft products, but only written in subset form by other software. This means that data in Open XML form will be largely sucked into the Microsoft ecosystem but very little will escape for full and practical use elsewhere.

Needless to say, IBM voted “No” at Ecma. Of course, no matter how unusable Open XML is as a standard, the real test is whether the balky customers buy the premise and there has already been a hopeful sign for Microsoft in that regard.

Filed under Coopetition, IBM, Microsoft, ODF, OOXML, Office, Office 2007, Standards

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