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February 7, 2007

OpenDocument vs. Open XML feud heats up

Posted by David Hunter at 8:42 PM ET.

It seems like nothing gets the juices flowing like a battle over office document standards. The first shots in the latest flare-up since late January’s Microsoft Wikipedia editing controversy were fired yesterday as Texas, Minnesota eye move to ODF:

Texas and Minnesota may become the second and third U.S. states to adopt ODF (Open Document Format for XML) as the standard file format for government documents instead of the file format that Microsoft uses in its Office 2007 software suite.

Two separate bills up for legislative consideration in each state propose to mandate the use of an open, XML-based file format that is “interoperable among diverse internal and external platforms and applications; fully published and available royalty-free; implemented by multiple vendors; and controlled by an open industry organization with a well-defined inclusive process for evolution of the standard,” according to the Minnesota House of Representatives bill, which can be found here.

The Texas bill, which can be found here, uses similar wording to describe the file format the states intend to support.

Though the bills do not specifically name ODF as the document format under consideration, the explanation of what each state wants to move to seems to fit the standard.

And that interpretation is confirmed by the bills’ authors. But what about Microsoft Office Open XML (OOXML, the format of Office 2007), which Microsoft has gone to so much trouble to standardize to head off just this sort of thing? Last we heard it was on the fast track to ISO approval, but it seems to have hit something large and messy on the tracks:

Well the results are in, and an unprecedented nineteen countries have responded during the contradictions phase – most or all lodging formal contradictions with Joint Technical Committee 1 (JTC), the ISO/IEC body that is managing the Fast Track process under which OOXML (now Ecma 476) has been submitted.  This may not only be the largest number of countries that have ever submitted contradictions in the ISO/IEC process, but nineteen responses is greater than the total number of national bodies that often bother to vote on a proposed standard at all. 

When it is recalled that any national body responding would first have had to wade through the entire 6,039 pages of the specification itself, and then compose, debate and approve its response in only 30 days, this result is nothing less than astonishing.  Truly, I think that this demonstrates the degree to which the world has come to appreciate the importance of ensuring the long-term accessibility of its historical record, as well as the inadvisability of entrusting that heritage to a single vendor or software program.

All in all, not a very auspicious start for OOXML.  And not one that augers well for a very fast Fast Track experience.  It will be interesting to see how Microsoft deals with this slap in the face.  One possibility would be to push the national bodies more aggressively than ever to vote for adoption.  Another might be to withdraw the specification and prepare a less controversial submission, that is responsive to the many early objections offered, even before the opportunity has been offered to submit technical objections, as compared to contradictions with existing ISO/IEC standards and rules.

There are many more ISO process details by following the link. Meanwhile, Microsoft has scented some skunks in the woodpile:

Tom Robertson, general manager for interoperability and standards at Microsoft, told eWEEK that there is a competitive situation in the marketplace, with ODF supporters actively trying to stop even the consideration of Open XML as a standard under the ISO’s rules. “This is a pure competitive play on the part of ODF supporters like IBM,” he said.

Of course, in the past Microsoft hasn’t been shy about playing a few political cards too. Meanwhile, the skirmishing continues on the weblogs of the various parties:

In this corner, we have Bob Sutor, Vice President of Standards and Open Source for IBM. He’s joined by Massachusetts attorney Andy Updegrove, who is with technology law firm Gesmer Updegrove LLP. And in this corner, we’ve got Jason Matusow, Microsoft’s director of corporate standards strategy. And his assistant, Doug Mahugh, Microsoft Open XML Tech Evangelist.

Gosh, this is nearly as exciting as the Superbowl and it goes on all year round!

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

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