I’m sure many folks have seen the news by now that Open XML has been approved as an ISO/IEC standard (IS 29500). Based on the numbers I’ve seen, looking at the P member countries there are now 24 who vote “yes”, and only 8 vote “no”. This puts the P member approval at 75% easily passing the 2/3 majority needed. Of the overall votes (both O and P members combined) 61 countries votes “yes” and only 10 voted “no” which puts the overall approval at 86% (so only 14% no). This puts us well below the minimum bar of no more than 25% voting “no”. So on both criteria, Open XML now easily passes, which is a great indication of the general positive feelings amongst the national bodies of the progress made over the past 6 months.
Now that the voting over, it’s time to move forward and start to work together in the ongoing development of these document format standards. There has been a lot of energy focused on the review period over the past year or two, and we need to use that same energy to move us forward. There is still a lot of work to do in order to make it even easier for developers to build solutions using these standardized technologies (new tools; test suites; labs; etc.). We also need to continue looking beyond traditional documents and identify the important innovations that will be necessary for the documents of the future. I may have been a bit premature last year when I declared the file format wars over. It was a couple days after we saw that Open Office was going to have Open XML support, and I thought at that point folks would start to move on to the more collaborative and mutually beneficial investments. Well, I was a bit premature I think, but now a year removed from my initial statements, I think we’ve reached the milestone that really will help put a lot of the
tension to rest. Open XML has been approved as an ISO standard, and we can now switch our energy back to the technical work that will continue to drive things forward. As we move into the next stages I’m excited to see the energy and knowledge that will be brought to the table as we begin to innovate and move both Open XML and ODF forward as important internationally standardized file formats.
Large numbers of implementations already support Open XML
Open XML has already been developed on numerous platforms, by hundreds (if not thousands) of different implementers. The approval of Open XML as an ISO standard gives those implementers a stable platform on which to build their tools and solutions. We’ve already committed in Microsoft that we will work on updating our products so that they support the ISO version of Open XML, and I’m sure we’ll see others make similar updates to their solutions.
Choice in file formats will always be important
I know you’ve heard me mention numerous times that choice in file formats is an important thing. Whether it’s XHTML, PDF, ODF, UOF, DAISY, DocBook, NLM, RTF, .doc, or Open XML, folks have needs that drive the file format they choose. Last year we sponsored a translator project that gave people the ability to read and write ODF files from Microsoft Office. Last month we announced that we would update the Office product so that the ODF translators could natively plug into Office and give people the same options they get from the other file formats. People will be able to set ODF as the default format in Office if that’s what they want by simply installing the translators and then changing their settings. There will be people that take this option, just as there may be others who decide to switch over to the old binary formats as their default for the time being. I believe the vast majority of folks will use Open XML as their default format, but ultimately that’s just my opinion. What’s important is that everyone has the ability to decide.
The future of documents, and the ongoing development of IS 29500
I have to admit that what I’m most excited about is that we can now start to move beyond the basic discussions of file formats as they relate to what are essentially digital typewriters, and start to move into the future of document content. The custom schema support in Open XML is really just the starting point of semantic documents, and it takes a small step in the new voyage we need to help convince the rest of the world to take. For far too long, we’ve focused simply on how to present document content. How it’s formatted, where page breaks are, and what styles are used. We’ve only begun to scratch the surface though in terms of the actual semantics behind the documents people create. There are brilliant folks out there who’ve been doing a lot of thinking around the semantic web, and how to really tie together all the important information that affects our lives. The next challenge is to really identify how you get the average document author to write content that is semantically structured. Most folks don’t yet see the advantage in structuring their documents, so it’s important to find ways of providing immediate benefit to those that take the time (or use the right software). There are a number of experts in this area on SC34, so it’s very fitting that many of the same people that have helped contribute to this area will also participate in the future developments of Open XML. In ISO it’s called “maintenance” but I think that term sounds a bit limiting to folks. It’s not “maintenance” in the way that you maintain your car so that it runs properly. Of course some of the work will be around corrections and general improvements, but a lot of the maintenance work will be innovative and forward thinking. We need to continue to move document formats forward, and I couldn’t think of a better group to take on that responsibility.