Back from the Ecma meetings

I just back back from Brussels and the first meeting of Ecma’s TC45; it was an awesome start and I’m extremely excited about the work we have ahead of us. The initial draft of the standard was submitted by Apple, Barclays Capital, BP, the British Library, Essilor, Intel Corporation, Microsoft, NextPage Inc., Statoil ASA and Toshiba. This is going to be a really good group of folks to work with and from what I can tell the number of people participating will continue to grow. You can already see that it’s a really great mix of participants, some that will be implementers of the format, and others who will be customers of the formats. This is key, as it will be important to get feedback from a number of different sides.

If you’d like to take a look at the initial draft, it’s here: Open XML Formats/

There is a ton of upfront material (some of which is just typical standardization stuff), and also a few introductory chapters that give good overviews of the formats. Then you get into the reference sections that drill into the documentation of each element and type. Unfortunately, there are some bugs in the TOC calculation so the page numbers are wrong, but the links should still work. As you can see, this is going to be some really large documentation as one of the main goals of the formats was to be backwards compatible with all of the existing Word, PowerPoint, and Excel documents out there. We want to make sure that you don’t lose anything, and that the average end user (who doesn’t care about XML) isn’t impacted.

The meeting was an extremely valuable first step. We had a couple hard copies of the initial draft as well, and here’s a picture of Jean Paoli (middle) presenting one of those hard copies (it took 2 binders for one copy) to Jan van den Beld (left) who is the secretary general of Ecma International. You’ll also notice Adam Farquhar who is the head of e-Architecture for the British Library is seated on the right. He’ll serve as the vice-chairman will be a huge asset for ensuring that these formats are well documented and can be accessed 100’s of years from now:

Also, while I was over in Europe, there was another meeting in Massachusetts to discuss the document formats. As you know, there has been a lot of press around Massachusetts position on document formats over the past few months, and I was pretty sure that they would be really happy with our latest moves to standardize the Open XML formats as well as shifting to a new approach with licensing the formats. It looks like I was right… Peter Quinn, Massachusetts’ CIO, said that our latest move will probably meet the state’s demandsEven Douglas W. Johnson from Sun said that  ”There’s no doubt about it, they are more open than they were before.” Here are a couple articles that talk about the meeting:

You can see that IBM (and Sun to a lesser extent) is still pushing pretty hard against the Open XML formats; which is understandable given their investments in OpenDocument. Hopefully they’ll eventually see that this is a good move for everyone though, as this means they will be free to implement the Open XML formats if that’s what their customers want just like we are free to implement OpenDocument if that’s what our customers want. That’s really what this all comes down to; it’s important to let the market decide. I think they get that too, but they’ll probably continue to push back for a little while longer. I think the next step they will take will probably be to try and poke holes in the technical details, now that they’re fight about the “openness” has been resolved. Since the formats are so big there are bound to be areas that are a bit confusing (that’s why we’re doing this huge documentation and standardization effort in the first place), so we’ll probably hear some complaints about that at first. We’ll have to see how much noise is made though and more importantly how productive it really is, as in the end it’s the customer that’s hurt if there is additional confusion or delay caused.

I’ll try to get caught up on all the comments and e-mails folks have been sending, but it might take a little time. I’m still feeling a bit disoriented due to the jet-lag. I used to have no problem with it when I was a kid. I grew up most of my life overseas (Iceland, Guam, and Okinawa) and we’d often come back to visit family in the US where I’d have no problem with the jet-lag. Now it seems to take me out for a couple days (the drinks to pass the time on the flight don’t help either I’m sure).


Comments (30)

  1. scot says:


    Will Access get the XML treatment eventually ?

  2. orcmid says:

    I’ve been skimming bits of the submission draft and I see much to like in the approach.

    The proposed conformance definition is clearly the sort of thing necessary to provide confidence in document interchange, and it would be great for it to hold up. (I remember the floor=ceiling wars in the early years of COBOL and your approach looks very responsible.)

    Without taking any position on the technical merits and throwing over legacy to design for the ages (I can’t believe that Dan Bricklin said that at, I think there’s a lot of solid professional work here and it may serve as a model for many other future efforts.

  3. AC says:

    "That’s really what this all comes down to; it’s important to let the market decide."

    Well, that’s fair and dandy if we had a free market, but Microsoft has a monopoly when it comes to Office applications. So the average consumer has a choice, go with Microsoft and not lose all their current documents which no other program can decode correctly, or go with another product. That’s vendor lock in right there, nothing free about it.

    If you really want customers to decide, then implement ODF as well and let them do that. At the very least you should produce an public tool (say BSD license) available in many platforms (say in java or perl and no other dependencies) that can convert all your old document formats in either your new format or in ODF. Do that and we’ll know that you want a free market to decide.

  4. omz says:

    "That’s really what this all comes down to; it’s important to let the market decide."

    with my respect to Brian opinion, this:

    seems much a pressure than a "let the market decide" attitude

  5. BrianJones says:

    AC, I’m sorry but I just don’t see how that’s a reasonable request.

    If you are building a software product, the way to determine what features you should build is to look at what your customers are asking for, as well as what you think they will benefit from, and build those. You are suggesting that we first build all the possible features and then look at what they use. This would be a fairly inefficient way to build a product.

    There are plenty of alternatives to Microsoft Office, some of them are even free. With this new approach to our file formats, those applications can now freely build in support for the Microsoft formats. We’ve just opened up the market and anyone can enter it. To be honest, that’s already been the case somewhat given that most of the competitors out there already had the ability to read and write the legacy binary formats. Now it’s even easier though as the new XML formats are being standardized. What’s the problem? 🙂

    omz – I admit that some of the directions were influenced by the Mass. decisions, but that was just one piece. We were equally influenced by all the other feedback we received over the past several months (including the people posting here on my blog). The move to open the formats was started a long time ago though and I think a lot of people have forgotten that. We really thought back with Office 2003 that the WordprocessingML format in combination with the royalty-free licenses was fully open and interoperable. That’s why when we announced the new default XML formats for Office 12, we went with the same approach. Some folks disagreed (including Mass.), so we’ve worked hard over the last half year trying to better understand what was required to help satisfy folks needs. I think we’ve made a lot of progress and are now in a really good spot for everyone.


  6. BrianJones says:

    Scot – It’s hard to say what we’ll do in future versions of Office, since we’re still working on Office 12. You can see though that we’re definitely moving more towards these open XML formats, so we’ll have to see what that means for the other Office applications.

    orcmid – I agree. 🙂


  7. scot says:


    Not including Access file format in this process would seem to give OO a competitive advantage as a suite in any direct comparisons for Openess.

  8. Greg Strockbine says:

    "let the market decide" – I feel like a lot of the market has decided that they don’t want to use a Microsoft product and it feels to me like Microsoft is using it’s monopolized weight to make sure that is not a choice.

  9. BrianJones says:

    Greg, there are already today over 300,000 3rd party developers currently building on top of the XML functionality in Office 2003. Don’t mistake some vocal folks in the blogging community as representing the market.


  10. AB says:


    It’s nice to see that the Schema in this new document matches what Excel 2006 is saving to the file. The Schema that was released in August ( has many, *many* errors in it. Will an updated version of the Schema be released? The HTML version of the documentation is much easier to navigate.


  11. BrianJones says:

    AB, we’re working on getting an HTML version and updated XSDs posted soon. It’s taking a little while because we were instead working on the .pdf document, but we’ll try to get it out soon.


  12. Alex says:


    Nice to see the specification in a readable format, even though it is 1900 pages long :o)

    Now, a quick question – a while ago, you were mentioning that because OpenDocument only referenced formulas as strings that it basically didn’t support formulas (since two implementations would need to agree what those strings meant). Could you point me to the page in the Microsoft XML specification where it lays out the specification for formulas, please?


  13. BrianJones says:

    Hey Alex, I’m glad you like it. 🙂

    My comments about the formulas in OpenDocument was in reference to a post from Tim Bray that pointed out that the equation semantics weren’t defined in the OpenDocument spec. Currently, we haven’t started documenting the <f> element, which you can find in section The current proposal is to use a string, and for the semantics to be the same as what you use in Excel directly. Most likely we would keep it as an xsd:string datatype, and then rely on really clear documentation on how it works and what the semantics are. In it’s current state though, there isn’t a lot of information; remember this is just the first draft of the documentation.


  14. Wesley Parish says:

    After a decade which showed just how badly Microsoft had developed ActiveX and positioned it, so that it has been the "Malware’s Little Helper", Microsoft is going to incorporate it into Office OpenXML?

    Isn’t that taking "Open" a little too ummm, "seriously"?

  15. Yuki says:

    rofl YOU have opened the market? YOU?? Doing what? Releasing you kernel code and developing it in the open? Releasing source code for fundamental tools like a compiler? Building over free and open standards? YOU didn’t do anything. It’s not YOU who opened the market. GNU/Linux did, the OSS movement. Now you’re trying to catch up to that movement because nobody buys your lies anymore.

  16. Mark Baird says:

    Unfortunately, wordML is a dump of the binary. Any bugs in the binary are going to show up in the XML. For example you can get a run of text where no font is defined in the wordML and the HTML.

    This is unfortunate because you only discover these things when they happen which is why we will be adopting wordML slowly.

  17. Two weeks ago we had the second face to face meeting for Ecma TC-45. For those of you unfamiliar with…

  18. mark says:

    **YOU have opened the market? YOU?? Doing what? **

    Precisely the point.

    Microsoft could actually open up the market by including support for OpenDocument in Office12, (just as they argue that others can support so-called ‘Open XML’ formats … that aren’t really open at all since they can embed the old Office binary formats).

    But supporting OpenDocument (and truly opening up the market) is **PRECISELY** what Microsoft will avoid doing like the plague.

    Actions speak far louder than words, Microsoft. If you truly want to open up the market, then support OpenDocument, and truly let your customers decide. If you did that, the vast majority of the market would readily opt for Microsoft’s Office product, because without doubt it would be the best product.

    Speaking as a customer, not having any support for OpenDocument format makes Microsoft’s Office12 product is next-to-useless.

  19. Electron says:

    > so we’ve worked hard over the last

    > half year trying to better understand

    > what was required to help satisfy

    > folks needs.

    That is so obviously just marketing bullshit. There already IS an interoperability standard. It uses a file format called Open Document.

    The specifications for OD have been published for quite some time now, and all persons, and software development corporations such as Microsoft, are free to implement it completely and royalty-free on any platform they want.

    Microsoft has been advised that its customers want interoperability. If it wants its software used then it will need to implement ODF – the ISO office documents interoperability standard.

    The bottom line, of course, is that Microsoft does not genuinely want interoperability between any software products other than its own because it does not want people using any Office productivity software other than its own.

    And, of course, we haven’t mentioned that Microsoft wants to retain exclusive control of the file format and it cannot do this by using ODF as the default file format.

    All this is so plainly evident.

    Microsoft needs to learn how to play fair, and to play cleanly. The biggest question is: Is Microsoft actually capable of genuinely playing a clean game on a level playing field?

    alas, the evidence: CP/M, DR-DOS, Netscape, all the deliberate changes to Windows Networking to break Samba, all the multiple changes to the binary DOC file format that were done in a non backwards-compatible way, Microsoft’s refusal to use ODF even tho’ it participated in the development of that standard. That list could go on!

  20. As Doug mentions here, there is a brief video where a few of us were talking last week about the creation…

  21. &lt;i&gt;12/15/05, Brussels, Belgium.&lt;/i&gt;  Apple, Barclays Capital, BP, the British Library, Essilor, Intel Corporation, Microsoft, NextPage Inc., Statoil ASA and Toshiba join together to form TC45, the Ecma technical committee that will draft

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  23. A comment was posted today that had a lot of thought put into it and rather than just replying to it…

  24. It’s finally official. Today the Ecma General Assembly voted almost unanimously to approve the Office

  25. I’ve talked a lot about the value of "Custom Schema" support in Office. Anytime I give talks on the file

  26. I hope everyone had a great new year. Sorry I’ve taken so much time off from blogging. I was pretty busy