Ongoing support for IS 29500 (Open XML)

We're a couple weeks away from the final decision on whether DIS 29500 will become IS 29500 and if ISO will take on the stewardship of the Open XML formats. We already had a good preview of the type of work we can achieve within the SC34 group over the past 14 months. Those same sorts of improvements that we saw during the review period, and well as the BRM will continue as we enter the next stage where SC34 will establish the plans for maintenance going forward. Maintenance is going to involve a number of activities, including continual improvement and evolution, as well as clarifications and corrections. The maintenance of Open XML will obviously be a bit different from what you see in ODF, where OASIS has decided to maintain full control for now. Open XML's maintenance plans will be decided by SC34, and while Ecma has expressed some opinions on how it would like to be involved, ultimately it is going to be up to SC34 to decide.

A common question I've seen lately is whether or not Microsoft will support the updated standard if it is approved by ISO. Should DIS 29500 become an IS, then we will indeed update our products to support the new spec. This was made clear in Chris Capossela's open letter released yesterday (

As a result of global feedback and consideration, the Open XML standard under consideration by ISO/IEC has been significantly improved. Microsoft has been afforded a wonderful opportunity as a result of this process. We've listened to the global community and learned a lot, and we are committed to supporting the Open XML specification that is approved by ISO/IEC in our products.

Chris then goes on to talk about our support for the process overall and the maintenance going forward:

Pledging our support
Above and beyond our own implementation, however, I wish to make it clear that to enable broader adoption of the format – including for use by our current and future competitors - we have made our commitment to Open XML unambiguous, and as such have made (through our Open Specification Promise) irrevocable, royalty-free patent commitments to all developers to implement the formats.

We submitted the original Open XML specification to Ecma International for consideration in 2005 because we wanted to respond to our public and private sector customers' requests that we turn over control of the specification to the community. Ecma International's further development of the specification for more than a year, and its adoption of Open XML as an Ecma International Standard (Ecma 376) in December 2006 was a realization of that goal. Now, the global community has the opportunity to take control of the future of the specification by ratifying Ecma 376 as an ISO/IEC standard. We know that it will be in good hands when this happens based on the tremendous work and improvements that have been made to the specification during the ISO/IEC process over the past 14 months. We are committed to the healthy maintenance of the standard once ratification takes place so that it will continue to be useful and relevant to the rapidly growing number of implementers and users around the world.

We have listened to our customers and the community and are proud of the work that has been done on the Open XML formats. We believe that these formats deliver unique value to the industry and users will benefit from it being in the hands of the global community as an ISO/IEC standard.



Comments (34)
  1. Rob Brown says:

    Brian, this *stinks*.

    You’re trying very hard to do good work here. How do you feel about your fellow employees dragging you through the mud like this? (And yes, I believe that you, Chris Caposella, Steve Ballmer, and everyone else in your organisation are sullied by this sort of shenanigan)

  2. says:

    Hey Rob,

    I’ll ask around and find out what’s going on. It’s the first I’ve heard, so I can’t really comment beyond that.

    Obviously folks should always avoid any personal attacks, but we’ve seen people go too far at times on both sides, as there is a lot of emotion involved in these discussions.


  3. nksingh says:


    Is there any information about what the slur actually was?  If it was only a statement that Holloway is predisposed to anti-OOXML views which lead to unfair criticism of the standard, then I wouldn’t see it as a ‘bad slur,’ unless it’s inaccurate.  

    On another note, as far as I can tell, the guy’s name is not Matthew Holloway.  It’s Matthew Cruikshank.  Yay for accuracy in claiming offence to a perceived slight!

  4. Rob Brown says:


    I’ve also heard the Holloway/Cruikshank story, but I have no more information to offer. The Standards NZ letter refers to Holloway though. I’m sure it will become clear in time.

    I’m objecting not so much to the slur, but the fact that there has been surreptitious attacks on people’s integrity. There will always be active lobbying in a process like this, but I would (naively?) hope that it would remain focused on issues rather than personalities. Or at least if criticising someone, do it with their knowledge so they have a chance to respond.

    By the way, I’m not on an anti-Microsoft crusade here. I’d be just as horrified if this behaviour came from any other party in this process.

  5. nksingh says:


    Why go for surreptitious?  There have been open attacks on people’s integrity since the very start of this process.  What do you think Groklaw is, other than a website with a primary purpose of attacking people’s integrity?

    I’m not saying this is all a bad thing, either.  There’s a benefit to calling out cases where someone is acting in an unethical, duplicitous, or biased manner.  Reputation has an important social function.  One shouldn’t defame a person by making unjust and untrue accusations, and there has to be some acceptance that a person can change, but within these parameters what’s the problem with calling a spade ‘a spade?’

  6. Rob Brown says:

    Hi nksingh,

    Well, I don’t disagree with calling people out for behaving badly, but I do think that doing it in private e-mails behind people’s backs is seriously subverting the process. If you don’t have a problem with it, I respect your opinion πŸ™‚

    – Again, perhaps naivety on my part, but I’d prefer the OOXML decision to be based on NB’s perceptions of their country’s needs, rather than whispered insinuations and PR fluff.

    – I don’t think that "bias" is a bad thing at all. Brian Jones is biased, I’m biased, you probably are too. As long as everyone’s open about it and can still communicate, there’s no issue.

    – Perhaps I’m particularly sensitive to this particular drama because it’s in my back yard (I’m a New Zealander).

  7. hAl says:

    It is good that Microsoft pledges support for a future version of Office Open XML that includes the improvements that were contributed by the ISO/SEC standardization process.

    Could you as give an indication how long it would be before improved ISO/SEC version can be supported by MS Office ?

    Would that be for instance in a service pack release which could still be a while away or could that be happening faster ?

  8. Anonymous Coward says:

    Talking about slurring, see this example from two years back…

  9. Andre says:

    /* What do you think Groklaw is, other than a website with a primary purpose of attacking people’s integrity? */

    Wasn’t it an attack on the integrity of Jan Van den Belt to hire him for CompTIA? It’s like a cancer researcher hired by the tobacco lobby. Was it necessary to take CompTIA?

    Wasn’t it an attack on the intergrity of the international standard process to submit an immature specifiction through the fast-track? Why did your company refuse to resolve the bugs earlier?

  10. mike says:

    so is this sort of like IE, VBA and Windows Media support on Mac? Microsoft is not to be trusted with this, three strikes and you’re out, right?

    In the end, the company needs to protect the bottom line (shareholder will demand this) so why help your competitors? Only non-profit or services based companies can promise open standards support  and be believable. Microsoft sadly can not be trusted with this.

  11. mike says:

    To back up my previous comment I have this quote from Bill Gates some years ago:

    "One thing we have got to change in our strategy – allowing Office documents to be rendered very well by other peoples browsers is one of the most destructive things we could do to the company.

    We have to stop putting any effort into this and make sure that Office documents very well depends on PROPRIETARY IE capabilities."


    Now why should I trust this senior vice president you link to?

    Does he (and do you) work for Microsoft? Do you have shareholders? Have they bought part of your company so your company can invest their money? Do they expect and/or demand a return on investment? Does that equal maximizing profits? Is that end met most easily by the effective monopoly? Has Microsoft been in legal trouble wrt to their monopoly and behaviors in the marketplace before? Does Microsoft have a track record of dropping support for their products on non-Windows platforms? Are Microsoft employees shareholders or at least ‘optionholders’? No go back to question one, and the circle is complete…

    Answers are yes all the way down and around. So therefore I don’t think any one who has a stake in this can trust Microsoft (nor to be honest about their intentions.

    Thanks for not filtering out my comment!

  12. Alex says:

    @mike: 1998? It is 2008 now, things change πŸ™‚

  13. Alex says:

    Rob Weir must work for Microsoft – he would be invaluable as a spec reviewer πŸ™‚

    I’m now patiently awaiting his review of ODF 1.0 ISO spec.

  14. Mike says:


    What has changed? Do you think Microsoft is willing to give up their monopoly (‘cash cow’)? Do you really believe they will make it easy for the world to switch over to alternative office software by developing a truly open and free document spec that everyone (Microsoft included) can and will implement? And how will they explain to shareholder (and employees) the drop in sales once a huge part of the world realises that they do not need Microsoft Office applications anymore?

    Nothing has changed wrt to this very issue under discussion, it’s common sense. Please do this simple homework assigment: was Microsoft recently fined (and if so, by how much) for anti competitive behavior in the market place?

    Now do you see the picture clearly? There were NO WMD’s, just as Microsoft is not in the business of losing money by giving the world their proprietary stuff on a silver platter. And I don’t expect them to, I just expect them not to be dishonest about it, but they can’t.

    They have to prevent losing huge government and other contracts by offering an ISO approved document format, anything really. Implementation of this format can be as (and is) hard (or even impossible) as needed to prevent the competition from moving into the market (free or cheaper office software).

  15. mike says:

    "I’m now patiently awaiting his review of ODF 1.0 ISO spec."

    Why don’t you do it yourself?

  16. Rob Brown says:

    @mike: I’m with Alex, that comment really has reached its use-by date. If comments lived forever, we’d still be laughing about Bill Gates saying that 640kB should be enough for anyone, or Linus Torvalds saying Linux would only ever run on 386 machines with AT hard disks πŸ˜‰

    If you want evidence of anti-competitive behaviour, there are better and more recent examples. That’s why, if OOXML becomes an ISO standard, we need a watertight maintenance plan that allows outside influence and is binding on Microsoft.

    @Alex – Rob Weir apparently has a very low boredom threshold! Personally, I think that the number of defects he’s finding *is* significant in showing that OOXML is immature and not ready for standardisation, but I know lots of people disagree with me.

  17. Alex says:

    @mike: I said Rob Weir is a good reviewer, I did not say I am – I am not.

    As for "what changed" – Microsoft makes money from developing platforms. Interoperability is essential in this business. It did not start after ODF standardization. You could request Office binary formats documentation from Microsoft essentially forever. Microsoft worked on Office file formats based markup languages since before 1998, first on HTML-based, then on XML-based, now on OOXML with OPC/XML.

    @Rob: I wonder if his incessant energy has anything to do with his paycheck πŸ™‚

  18. says:

    If Rob spent as much time working on his format (he’s the ODF chair), then ISO would have seen a much better version of ODF come along by now. ODF has a ton of defects, and unfortunately the TC has gone pretty dead over the past several months because the main contributors are busy trying to block Open XML.



    Do you really believe that file I/O is the most difficult piece of software development? That’s a very naive view. It’s not difficult to implement Open XML, it’s difficult to implement all the functionality that Open XML is capable of representing. So if you want to support everything in an Open XML file, then you have a bit of work to do, but most folks using Open XML aren’t trying to build 100% of the functionality, just a subset. Open XML is much easier for these applications to work with than the previous binary formats were.

    What do you think is more difficult, for Open Office to build pivot table functionality that is as powerful as Excel’s, or for them to read and write the pivot table settings to disk using either ODF (assuming you extended it), or Open XML? File I/O is not the difficult piece, and file formats are not the reason the Microsoft Office is better than Open Office.

    We don’t need for the file formats to serve as some type of compete play. We’ll compete on features and functionality. The only thing we need is a format that let’s us persist all that functionality. The binary formats were capable of doing it, and now Open XML is. ODF is not.


  19. Rob Brown says:

    You go Brian! That’s the most impassioned post I’ve seen from you in quite a while πŸ™‚

    You Microsoft guys are making a lot of noise about the lack of progress on ODF, but ODF 1.2 is ready to go and is pretty much just waiting for the process. Standards-setting is slow! Just look at this "fast track" – 18 months or so? In a year or two, if OOXML is adopted by ISO, you’ll be making the same statement to your customers who are complaining about the lack of progress on changes to DIS29500.

    We can agree that Microsoft Office is, by pretty much any measure that I can name, the "best" office suite around. Even so, I don’t use it at home. Why? Well, OpenOffice is amply "good enough" for me, I don’t like the price of Office, and there’s an idealogical issue or two.

    Pivot tables, likewise, are a great and (currently) unique feature of Excel. They’re also a great example of where the crossover between OOXML and ODF gets messy.

    You see, pivot tables are *totally* representable in ODF, using custom extensions. And an argument can be made that they *should* be, because they are vendor-specific and outside the "core" of what an industry-wide spreadsheet format really needs to store. Making them an extension within the file format would make it more straightforward for applications that don’t implement that functionality, to isolate and preserve or ignore the related markup. By making pivot tables part of the standard markup, it becomes much more difficult for other applications to handle them. Which could well be what Microsoft intends.

    Again, we come back to the co-operation thing. Microsoft complains that features it wanted added to ODF were rejected by OASIS. We all know that OpenOffice-related changes to OOXML were rejected by Microsoft/Ecma (font weights, for example). It seems that Microsoft, IBM, Sun, and probably many other players are all going to have to change their attitudes before this file format thing brings any benefits to customers.

  20. BluesClues says:

    Rob, what are you talking about?

    Pivot tables are not "what an industry-wide spreadsheet format really needs to store?" What industry is that exactly? In the one I am aware of pivot tables are the king of spreadsheet features and one of the reasons is not taking off.

    And reversing your argument, why does OOXML needs to include font weights if they can be easily implemented with extensions?

  21. Rob Brown says:

    Hi BluesClues,

    I did say "…an argument can be made that…" pivot tables "…are vendor-specific and…". Of course, an argument can also be made that they *are* core functionality and need to be in the base markup. The question would be whether they are a really generic spreadsheet function, or a value-added application feature. But this is getting off the track a bit, I was just responding to Brian’s comment that ODF couldn’t represent pivot tables.

    Of course my argument can be reversed! Any format needs to have a useful set of core features, and be extensible to allow for future growth and competition through product differentiation; and I think both OOXML and ODF provide those, in differing ways. So boiling my argument right down, why do we need two formats at all? Any document can be represented in either format, with varying extensions.

    …which gets back to my point, which is: we have two divergent formats, which is not optimal for the customer, because of an unfortunate unwillingness to co-operate. Both Microsoft and IBM have said "I didn’t contribute to their standard because they didn’t play nice". And they continue to say it. And as long as they continue to say it, harmonisation is not going to be possible.

  22. Jake says:

    Regarding Malaysia, they’ve made some decision on this front:

    That is, ODF and OO.o will be used, MS Office will be installed by the end of 2008.

    Now let’s just hope that OO.o’s support for OOXML will rock so that Malaysian are also able to enjoy it πŸ™‚

  23. Alex says:

    @Rob: you need to read Brian’s blog more πŸ™‚ ODF was not designed from the start to be compatible with Office binary formats. It was also not designed with performance in mind. These two problems cannot be worked around with extensions, not unless you turn ODF into a "fat" format that includes both legacy ODF and OOXML inside one container.

  24. Christian says:

    Brian, I LOVED your response to Mike! That was the most clearly expressed argument for OpenXML ever and it is really THE base for arguing against the attacks from ODF.

    I wish you would often have expressed this so clearly and in the main posts instead of talking around the subject but not really mentioning it.

    You should post this as a new blog entry, I’d love to see Rob Weirds try to go against it, I’m sure that fool would try to.

    The ODF-camp wants to drag Office down in this Office97-camp where all the good stuff in Office has to be disabled to support their old format!

  25. Dave S says:

    Pivot tables are a great way for Excel users to avoid having to learn to use a database.

    This is much like the way tables are included in Word and Powerpoint with differing functionality than is in Excel – a primarily table-based application. In Word 2007 one can have both a table and a spreadsheet in the same document. That won’t be confusing.

    @Rob B. – there are at least 5 formats. ISO ODF, MS-Office Binary, MS-Office 2003 XML, MS-Office 2007 XML, ECMA MSO-XML. That number will be six if ISO approves MSO-XML Fast Track.

  26. Dave S. says:

    @Brian "It’s not difficult to implement Open XML, it’s difficult to implement all the functionality that Open XML"

    OK – I give. How is it possible to implement a format without an application?

    @Christian – Brian’s response to Mike was about file i/o vs software development, a topic Mike did not raise. It was not a clearly expressed argument for OpenXML, but a weak attempt at a putdown.

  27. says:

    Dave S.,

    I think you’re still a bit confused here.

    1) There are far more than 5 formats… there is HTML, RTF, UOF, ODF, PDF, DocBook, Doc, Office 2003 XML, Office 2007 XML (which is the same as ecma XML), etc.

    With the adoption of ISO XML, then Microsoft products will move to focus on that, and Doc, 2003 XML will hopefully quickly go away.

    2) I still think you’re missing the point on features vs. formats a bit. This is a file format standard. It is not a feature set standard. When you build an application you decide what features you want to build. A file format standard does not force to to implement any features… you build features based on what your customers want. Your customers may ask you to implement all features that can be represented by a particular format, but that’s still an issue between you and your customers. All the file format does is give you a way of persisting your feature set to disk when a file is saved. Nothing more. So really the key thing is that you want a file format that is capable of representing your features. Ideally your features set is a sub set of what the format allows, but if it isn’t the format should be extensible in the ways you need.

    3) I really don’t understand why you think my statements were an attempt to put someone down… I think most people have really taken this to a level that’s a bit overblown. OpenXML is not a way for Office to get an unfair advantage. It’s a way to move out of the binary formats and into an open world. ODF just can’t do that… it’s pretty simple.


  28. Dave S. says:

    @Brian, "That’s a very naive view." Is that a putdown or a fact? Try the phrase at your next staff meeting, perhaps with your supervisor. I’m pretty sure he’ll take it as an accurate assessment and give congratulations on your insight.

    Back to the topic – I remember the good old days of IGES. A CAD vendor would claim they implemented the IGES standard, but all they did was support lines and circles. Another would use only splines for everything. What the customer wanted from the Initial Graphics Exchange Standard was to exchange info between applications.

    Subsets are not implementations of a standard, they are implementations of a sub-standard.

    In the case of MSO-XML, the MS position appears that all of the new foramt is required to persist all the various nuances of prior MS-binary formats so that the information contained in the MSO-XML format compliant files can be displayed with full fidelity to the old. In order for that to happen one must be prepared to create features that accurately reproduce the operations and appearance the originator of the file respectivly had and saw.

    Again, a slap at the non-topic of ODF.

  29. Mike says:

    My comment still stands, a truly open and easy to implement format implies competition for Microsoft Office applications. Please explain how that will make Microsoft more money? If my company switches to Google Docs or Open Office because it is no longer an issue to send and receive Microsoft Office files (something that keeps us from switching to Open Office), you just lost money.

    I’m not really sure how you want to counter argue that, but please try as nobody has been succesfull yet. I think you know why, it can’t be denied, it’s simple fact. But please feel free to dress your arguments up in irrelevant banter about pivot tables πŸ˜‰

  30. Mike says:

    My comment still stands, a truly open and easy to implement format implies competition for Microsoft Office applications. Please explain how that will make Microsoft more money? If my company switches to Google Docs or Open Office because it is no longer an issue to send and receive Microsoft Office files (something that keeps us from switching to Open Office), you just lost money.

    I’m not really sure how you want to counter argue that, but please try as nobody has been succesfull yet. I think you know why, it can’t be denied, it’s simple fact. But please feel free to dress your arguments up in irrelevant banter about pivot tables πŸ˜‰

  31. says:

    Mike, you need to read through my previous blog posts and I lay this out pretty clearly.

    In our mind, most of our customers will not move to other products because we offer the best Office suite. No one comes close in terms of usability, features, etc. (that’s our opinion and it’s what drives our decisions).

    The data inside of the files we create is extremely valuable. By opening that data up and allowing other solutions to operate on the data, the value of those documents increases dramatically (orders of magnitude). This increase in the value of documents increases the value of the applications that work with these documents. It grows the marketplace, so that even if our share of the pie stays the same percentage-wise (or even decreases slightly), overall there is more pie, so we win.


  32. I’m sure many folks have seen the news by now that Open XML has been approved as an ISO/IEC standard

  33. Après le vote final de la procédure de normalisation pour le projet DIS 29500 Office Open XML, les National

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