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Commentary: ISO should kick OOXML off the standards bus

By Russell Ossendryver on January 26, 2008 (2:00:00 PM)

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ECMA, the international IT standards association, recently published its responses to comments of the ISO National Bodies in response to Microsoft's Office Open XML application for ISO standardization (the actual 2,293-page response is closed to the public). The ECMA proposals will be discussed at a Ballot Resolution Meeting (BRM) in Geneva after which the National Bodies may reconsider their original vote. Microsoft's responses make clear that within one year, it will have four different OOXML specifications to implement and interoperate with, and each of those specs will be closed. Under no circumstances should such a flawed specification become an international standard.

The main specification is OOXML 1.0 (i.e. ECMA 376 today). There are no specs available for the three additional ones, but they have been summarized by French developer Stephane Rodriguez in comments to a key issues like intellectual property rights, contradictions with other standards, and similar policies raised by National Bodies as objections to OOXML as an ISO standard. Both Microsoft representatives and ECMA are avoiding a discussion on these policy objections to OOXML. Microsoft wants this approval process to be "left to the experts" and asserts that the discussion should be only technical in nature. Confusing the process by deprecating some parts of OOXML functionality is part of the avoidance. And Microsoft still has not disclosed the migration mapping tables for OOXML, even though OOXML is a migration format! It has also raised more smokescreens in the form of vague allusions to future release information about some older, binary formats for competitors. In particular, the ambiguities in regard to the intellectual property rights involved is such that no FOSS developer, and few proprietary software developers, would care to become involved with mapping documents in binary format (.doc, .xml, .ppt) to the Office Open XML format

Microsoft is still subject to the terms of the injunction in the US federal anti-trust case, which requires the company to disclose certain middleware API specs, yet it has not released the specs for the intermediary file formats used by the Office native file support APIs -- more walled gardens.

Features such as the Microsoft Office OOXML file format with DRM, Sharepoint tags, passwords, reliance on Devmode (a method Windows uses for handling information about printer or display settings), GUID (a proprietary Microsoft Windows and .Net implementation of the UUID standard for applications to coordinate and identify resources within an operating system), migration tags, VBA macros, and other hidden system dependencies effectively prevent competing applications and even other operating systems from achieving full interoperability, while at the same time tying OOXML files to a Microsoft environment.

Here are some further examples of the dependency on Microsoft software: The "Disable Features Not Supported by Target Browser" feature is designed to optimize for various version of Internet Explorer and disregards Internet Explorer's main competitors, Mozilla Firefox and Opera. The "Disable Features Incompatible with Earlier Word Processing Formats" feature explicitly states that OOXML only considers the needs of Word 97 through 2003. This has every appearance of a ploy to keep control over all the old documents in legacy formats, newly created documents, and those that might be funneled through Microsoft Office's own custom XML format. The fact that so many features in Office 2007 are not in the ECMA spec means that competitors have no chance properly use data locked up like that. In particular, the deprecated parts with the hidden Microsoft properties will always be a permanent feature in the files Microsoft Office creates. These undocumented extensions and hidden APIs appear to be an ongoing scheme to maintain and extend their monopoly. Again, more walled gardens, not open standards.

Objections are economic, not technical

But the whole point of gaining ISO status is economic and not just technical. ISO is first and foremost about lowering unnecessary obstacles to international trade and creating even playing fields so competition can thrive. Microsoft OOXML would raise obstacles to trade by giving ISO status to only one vendor's Office productivity suite -- Microsoft Office. A 37-page report on OOXML and Open Document Format by The Burton Group highlighted this. It states, "Realistically, it's also extremely unlikely another vendor will attempt to exploit OOXML in order to produce a comprehensively competitive alternative to Microsoft Office, given the considerable resources that would be required to do so and the economies of scale that would need to be achieved in order to make the endeavor sustainably profitable."

The mere fact that a company is a de facto monopoly and offers many fragmented document formats does not entitle that company to a carte blanche right to an ISO standard simply because it dumps these formats into XML. The ISO National Bodies must not give Microsoft the ticket to dominate an industry with a file format.

Ideally, an ISO standard should represent a single international solution that can be applied by all countries. Global relevance then is the characteristic of an ISO standard through which "it can be used/implemented as broadly as possible by affected industries and other stakeholders in markets around the world." ISO standards have historically been developed using a multinational and multi-stakeholder approach, where open procedures give transparency and the principle of consensus is applied.

That has not been the case with OOXML. The ISO approval of a vendor-dependent specification that benefits only one company would run counter to the ISO goal of "one standard, one test, and one conformity assessment procedure accepted everywhere." The adoption of OOXML in this way would effectively extend Microsoft's exclusive rights to the format as a standard, and to the conversion of its old, outdated binary formats to XML. By preventing OOXML from being used by the market, Microsoft prevents interoperability with all other office suites, and OOXML becomes unimplementable and dependent on the Microsoft Windows operating system.

Further, all this smoke and noise distracts from the existence of an approved ISO standard for office documents, the industry-backed Open Document Format, which has been the recognized standard since May 2006.

In Geneva, the bus system works on the honor system and so does ISO. You buy a ticket and get on. You can also get on without a ticket. OOXML has gotten on the bus without a ticket one too many times. OOXML is an erroneous, unreviewed spec. It has never been implemented, it is not interoperable with the established ISO/IEC 26300 for office documents, and is more of an internal technical spec than something that is designed to become an international standard. It's time for an inspector to get on the bus in Geneva and throw OOXML off.

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on Commentary: ISO should kick OOXML off the standards bus

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Priceless

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 69.248.159.33] on January 26, 2008 05:21 PM
Very well said--let's hope the message gets through.

But the item below the article was my favorite part, where it says:

Sponsored links:
• Best deals: Standards

Now I wonder who might be in the market to buy a standard--and who is selling them?

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Commentary: ISO should kick OOXML off the standards bus

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 72.160.188.22] on January 26, 2008 05:48 PM
The whole idea of this exercise is to have a set of user file formats that folks can be free to use on any computer, with any software. Microsoft is determined to use file formats as a way to make its own software indispensable especially in business. To say that Microsoft software is not required to compute is a big step toward user data freedom. It is alright to have priority file formats, many softwares have them, but these should not overwrite or be included in the set of formats that are free from manipulation and control of a single vendor. MS has no intention to share, co-operate or expose itself to the open source world, it's dealings with Linux folks have proved that. The ISO should hold their ground.

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You're right, but Microsoft probably has this all sewn up

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 82.192.250.149] on January 26, 2008 10:23 PM
Of course OOXML is so far from what an international standard ought to be that its rejection should be automatic. But this is Microsoft, with a billion-dollar budget for corruption and sleazy maneuvers. I think that ISO will adopt OOXML as a standard at the February meeting.

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Re: You're right, but Microsoft probably has this all sewn up

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 200.41.1.187] on February 08, 2008 03:14 PM
OOXML can not be adopted as ISO in February. After the BRM in february the countries has 30 days to change its vote. This will end aprox on April 1st.

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Commentary: ISO should kick OOXML off the standards bus

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 202.160.118.227] on January 27, 2008 01:45 AM
Sharepoint tags? You mean smarttags?

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Microsoft Explains OOXML

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 130.88.234.125] on January 27, 2008 03:04 AM
Microsoft's Doug Mahugh said it best (about OOMXL): “It’s a Simple Matter of [Microsoft’s] Commercial Interests!“

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Re: Microsoft Explains OOXML

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 69.248.159.33] on January 27, 2008 10:54 PM
Not only MS' interests, but also hundreds of VARs and millions of users that have no interest in life outside the MS theme park. Even if ISO dumps OOXML, as it should, OOXML will have a long reach as the de facto standard.

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Commentary: ISO should kick OOXML off the standards bus

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 64.230.62.176] on January 27, 2008 03:11 AM

Commentary: ISO should kick OOXML off the standards bus

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 69.121.128.211] on January 27, 2008 03:52 PM
A Stephane Rodriguez comment published here: http://www.noooxml.org/forum/t-35292/wishful-spinning: The XML proposed in OOXML is not a general purpose language for Office documents. The whole point of XML is to design it in such a way that it interoperates with applications out there, including those which don’t exist yet. Therefore that XML should be designed in such a way, and those in the trenches should be able to find clues about that. Problem : there is no such clue, because it’s really a poor XML. A good example I like to come up with is that there is a gazillion ways to describe text formattings (no less than 6 for Excel spreadsheets alone). Microsoft designed a bad XML that puts the burden on implementors who will spend their time on those details rather than productive time bridging it with applications across platforms. That’s why it should be rejected : it does not really benefit anyone except Microsoft. And even that remains (Microsoft is the sole benefitor) to be seen : from my own personal experience of Office file formats, it appears that nothing in OOXML will help create the next big things coming for Office (those that I see coming given what the workplace is moving towards).

Another thing that should be reminded is that having to spend so much time on details because OOXML is poorly designed is just the tip of the iceberg. The reality is that we already have two OOXML variants, and two more are coming when Office 2009 ships.
- OOXML 1.0 (i.e. ECMA 376 today)
- Office 2007 (i.e. OOXML 1.0 + all undocumented bits + all fixes)
- OOXML 1.1 (whatever is the outcome of Feb’s BRM)
- Office 2009 (OOXML 1.1 + undocumented bits).
Implementors will have to implement all 4 or will be unable to open an arbitrary document based on this thing called “OOXML”.
Among undocumented bits : macros, macro bindings, DRM, encryption, sharepoint metadata, …

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Commentary: ISO should kick OOXML off the standards bus

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 166.179.25.65] on January 27, 2008 09:23 PM
I'm not agreeing or disagreeing with your conclusions, but let's make sure we stay straight on the underlying facts ... the statement 'Microsoft ... asserts that the discussion should be only technical in nature' is wrong. This is an ISO/IEC requirement limiting the scope of the discussion at the Geneva BRM. The purpose of the BRM is to attempt to arrive at a final text for the Draft International Standard for the consideration of voting bodies, hence the requirement to confine the discussion to its technical points. Whether or not there are concerns about (e.g.) IP issues, or compatibility with other Standards - or indeed the standardization process in this case - may be taken into account by the voting members of ISO's JTC1 committee in the 30-day period after the BRM, to determine their final vote to accept or reject the DIS as an ISO Standard. And for that matter, Microsoft has no right to assert *anything about the process - the DIS is a proposal to ISO by Ecma International to adopt Ecma-376 (an Ecma Standard) as an ISO Standard. Sure, there may be strong views out there on the relationship between Ecma and Microsoft but I'm not going there.

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Commentary: ISO should kick OOXML off the standards bus

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 71.157.171.186] on January 27, 2008 11:04 PM
totally agree

microsoft could care less about open standards

anybody who knows anything about IT will direct their customers towards ODF which is an approved format and they will always be able to get THEIR data and actually have a choice of what application they would like to use.

Isn't about time we put an end to this industry abuse by microsoft and start addressing customers rights and needs instead of shoving unwanted features and applications down their throats.

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Commentary: ISO should kick OOXML off the standards bus

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 125.63.155.67] on January 28, 2008 10:08 AM
Best thing we can do is roll out as many Linux distros with OO.org and tell as many friends about the Windows compatible OO version.

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Commentary: ISO should kick OOXML off the standards bus

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 130.236.134.164] on January 28, 2008 02:27 PM
For those interested in 2,300 pages of followup to the 6,000 pages of DIS29500, the full document with all the ECMA comments is published here, and probably on quite a few other places on the Web as well:

http://staffwww.itn.liu.se/~stegu/OOXML/DIS29500-2008-002.pdf

I see no statement in the document proper requiring non-disclosure, and I did not sign any agreement before receiving it, so I choose to redistribute it freely.

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Commentary: ISO should kick OOXML off the standards bus

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 89.48.143.200] on January 30, 2008 01:53 PM
8,300 pages in total, poor ISO delegations. Hope Microsoft pays you well.

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Commentary: ISO should kick OOXML off the standards bus

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 199.79.10.117] on January 31, 2008 03:58 PM
Why don't we just save the world a lot of time and twisting? Make Microsoft the only standard software and admit that competition is a fantasy. I thought that the object of a "standard" was to provide open guidance that everybody was actually supposed to have access to and use.

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Re: Commentary: ISO should kick OOXML off the standards bus

Posted by: Joe Barr on January 31, 2008 05:21 PM
Why don't we just save the world a lot of time and twisting? Make Microsoft the only standard software and admit that competition is a fantasy. I thought that the object of a "standard" was to provide open guidance that everybody was actually supposed to have access to and use.

Wouldn't it be better to nuke Redmond? Sure, maybe another malignant monopoly might rise to take its place, but maybe it would produce mediocre software. That would be a big improvement.

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Re: Joe Barr on Nuking Redmond

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 121.7.188.179] on February 03, 2008 06:45 AM
Microsoft have already taken appropriate safeguards; why do you think every Windows since 2000 has been such crap? Besides the NSA backdoor, there also exists code to determine whether a system is in the command-and-control loop for WMDs, and if so, to monitor any tasking assignments for mention of west-central Washington State. If any are detected, their tasking orders are stealthily changed to 1600 Amphitheatre Parkway in Mountain View, CA.

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