Open XML – ISO/IEC Standardization


Well, the big news for the day is the discussion about the ISO/IEC standardization of Open XML. A few things to remember as the IBM spin machine kicks into full gear tomorrow:



  1. Ecma 376, Open XML Document Format, is an international standard and was recommended to ISO for ratification.

  2. I believe I noticed Andy Updegrove and Bob Sutor crowing about the 19 submissions.


    • While 19 is a significant amount of activity for an ISO proposed standard, I think they are completely missing the point. This discussion has been going on in dozens of countries around the world. The United States, for example, considered this very carefully and decided there was no contradiction and thus made no submission whatsoever. That does not mean that there won’t be further discussion about Open XML during the technical review process – but that is exactly what the process is designed for.

    • Don’t be misled by the number 19 – we suspect that many of these are either outright statements of support for Open XML or simple statements that there is no contradiction.

  3. Another major factor is that this is simply one step in multi-step process. This is a complex process that gives an opportunity for voting members to raise concerns, and for those concerns to be addressed.  ISO/IEC JTC1 has now closed its contradiction comments period as of Feb. 5, and now has up to 3 months (following the normal and approved  ISO/IEC JTC1 process) to decide when to start the 5 month technical review process and ballot.

Now, the real question is why doesn’t IBM like their customers? At the end of the day, this is an issue of choice. Customers have been very clear with us over the past few years (as have many other vendors including our friends in Armonk) that they wanted to see our Office document formats become more open and standardized. So we did that. (OSP-licensed, Ecma standardized)


 


Governments have been clear that they need the ability to have interoperability between ODF and Open XML. The Open XML Translator is now in production, and delivers interoperability. In fact, we built that to enable ANY ISV to use the technology – not just Microsoft. Novell has already announced (back in December) that they are going to build it into Novell’s OpenOffice. Sounds to me like customers are going to have greater choice.


 


I have attended open source conferences for the past 6 years, and sat on innumerable panels with various executives from IBM. I am really unclear as to the relationship between the rhetoric of openness and increased choice that they have been saying in that arena and how it lines up with the reduction of choice and closing of a participatory process in this arena. The message from IBM standards participants around the world has been consistant: don’t even consider Open XML for ISO/IEC standardization. That is less choice for customers.


 


Could it be that they are putting their business goals ahead of their customers’ needs?


 


 

Comments (12)

  1. I think you’re framing the argument in a disingenuous way. An international "standard" isn’t about choice, it’s about agreement. How many "standards" for measurement would you prefer? What about TVs — would you rather their be several "choices" among broadcast signal "standards" so that you had to own a variety of TVs in order to watch sports on one, movies on another, news on a third? You simply want the current norm — for everyone to fall in line with whatever Microsoft is offering. Problem is, OXML can only be read by Microsoft’s software, that one has to pay for, and for which Microsoft will not share the code contained in its actual spec.

    Instead, the argument is one of control. Governments are finally waking up to the scam that Microsoft has sold them and they’re demanding control over their data, irrespective of the software. ODF provides that, OXML does not and will not. Further, why should taxpayers be forced to prop up Microsoft by forever buying their software and its upgrades, when even Microsoft Office 2007 cannot faithfully read a document created from 1994? The same goes for businesses, and moreover, individuals who want data fidelity over the long term, untethered to a corporation and its endless chase for higher ROI.

    "My" data should not be held hostage by "your" company. Nor should my publicly-funded data via local, state, and federal governments. India, China, Europe, South America, and one by one, states are not buying what Microsoft is selling: lock-in. I want that control, and I don’t want Microsoft to have anything to do with it. ODF provides that because it’s neither vendor nor program-specific. Any program is free to implement ODF as its default format — even Microsoft Office if it wanted to. Calling OXML "open" is like George Bush saying the economy is "great." Microsoft is crying foul, but people are using Vista and Office 2007 as the perfect excuse to jump off the proprietary Microsoft merry-go-round.

  2. I am a bit confused by your message.  From your post, you consider  Office Open XML to be an international standard already.  It is available to customers, ISVs and partners through Office 2007.  So, aside from business goals, what does Microsoft hope to accomplish by ISO certification?  If you don’t want the standard to change, you already have what you said you wanted.  It sounds like Microsoft is also pursuing business goals, not that I blame you for that.  It just hardly seems like Microsoft is any more interested in customer choice than IBM, you just favor a different customer choice.

  3. Charles Duffy says:

    Spinning the argument that Microsoft should use a file format developed as an open standard into a position that Microsoft should have its existing file format (complete with decade-old implementation artifacts) mapped to XML and rubber-stamped into a standard quite thoroughly misses the point.

    A standard developed with customer-centric requirements (suitability to XSL-style translation; avoidance of vendor-specific implementation artifacts; reuse of preexisting international standards; etc) is more likely to fulfill the expectations a customer requesting a standard file format has in mind than one which is developed with conformance to a vendor’s preexisting formats as a foremost priority. If Microsoft is genuinely interested in acting in its customers’ best interests, Microsoft would be offering a better standard than OOXML, or adopting ODF.

    Why doesn’t Microsoft like their customers? Could it be that they are putting their business goals ahead of their customers’ needs?

  4. I think you’re framing the argument in a disingenuous way. An international "standard" isn’t about choice, it’s about agreement. How many "standards" for measurement would you prefer? What about TVs — would you rather their be several "choices" among broadcast signal "standards" so that you had to own a variety of TVs in order to watch sports on one, movies on another, news on a third? You simply want the current norm — for everyone to fall in line with whatever Microsoft is offering. Problem is, OXML can only be read by Microsoft’s software, that one has to pay for, and for which Microsoft will not share the code contained in its actual spec.

    Instead, the argument is one of control. Governments are finally waking up to the scam that Microsoft has sold them and they’re demanding control over their data, irrespective of the software. ODF provides that, OXML does not and will not. Further, why should taxpayers be forced to prop up Microsoft by forever buying their software and its upgrades, when even Microsoft Office 2007 cannot faithfully read a document created from 1994? The same goes for businesses, and moreover, individuals who want data fidelity over the long term, untethered to a corporation and its endless chase for higher ROI.

    "My" data should not be held hostage by "your" company. Nor should my publicly-funded data via local, state, and federal governments. India, China, Europe, South America, and one by one, states are not buying what Microsoft is selling: lock-in. I want that control, and I don’t want Microsoft to have anything to do with it. ODF provides that because it’s neither vendor nor program-specific. Any program is free to implement ODF as its default format — even Microsoft Office if it wanted to. Calling OXML "open" is like George Bush saying the economy is "great." Microsoft is crying foul, but people are using Vista and Office 2007 as the perfect excuse to jump off the proprietary Microsoft merry-go-round.

  5. Glen Turner says:

    It’s perfectly reasonable for contradictions to be raised against proposed standards which define new units like "twips" — how you expected a non-decimal fraction of an inch to be incorporated into an ISO standard with no contradiction being raised beats me.

    No non-US national standards body is going to issue a statement of support for a unit of measurement like that — they’d be a laughing stock. You’re dreaming if you think that all of the 20 are not objections, since the US has not made any response.

  6. Jane Griscti says:

    Hasn’t it struck you that the need for an Open XML/ODF translator is evidence that ODF is widely used and accepted by your customer base? Why force customers to use a translator when you could have just used the existing standard and saved them the hassle?

  7. jasonmatusow says:

    Many comments to this posting, I’ll try to respond to a few.  

    Zaine, so passionate about the point that you posted twice – you have to respect that.  I have no problem with the argument that standards are about agreement. My counter to that is the reality of standards setting and the reflection of commercial intent in that process. Public safety standards aside – and focusing on the technology sector – there are countless examples of simlimar technologies being standardized. The "choice" is not about standard setting. The "choice" is about standards adoption. TCP/IP vs. OSI. The issue of standardization is moot in that example, it is the reality of adoption that won the day for TCP/IP. There are dozens of document formats out there – some standardized and some not. (and unless I miss my mark, there are a couple of TV standards too).  

    Second, everyone (governments, companies, individuals) want control of their data. This is not about "waking up" to anyone’s scams. XML has opened the door to that control in a way not feasable 15 years ago. Binary formats served their purpose for the time they were created. They are a ton more performant than any other mechanism of the day, and they represented important intellectual property for software producers in the era of an emerging software ecosystem. Times change, technologies change, and yes – business models must move too to accomodate. The most important standard in this discussion is NOT ODF, nor is it Open XML. It is XML itself. There are going to be hundreds, if not thousands, of XML-based formats used over time. I think that is pretty powerful and will create opportunities for new businesses, for better control of data by the creators of that data, etc…

    Third, I’d be careful about your zealotry for freedom from companies associated with software. IBM and SUN are the only reason that ODF has legs. Yes, the community is interested in it, but the core engineering resources behind that work are not volunteer-based. Even the primary leading blog voices in favor of ODF have financial ties back into those two companies. Don’t get me wrong – I’m not saying that is a bad thing. I am fine with competition in the market place and people using every resource they can. But there are wizards in OZ on this one.

    Fourth, your comments about "lock-in" are a long-standing discussion which I have addressed many times in my blog entries. In this case in particular though – it is really not appropriate. Open XML is available under an Open Specification Promise that was publically endorsed by the Free Software Foundation. It is an international standard through Ecma. The OSP terms are clear that partial implementations are just fine with us. And, other companies are already working with the format.

    Zaine, keep up the passion. I love it.  As for this debate – it is going to continue, I hope, in a constructive fashion.

    Jason

  8. jasonmatusow says:

    Ok, continuing on the responses. Jane made a point about the Open XML Translator. I think it is really important to recognize what brought that project about. The thing that was not responsible was that ODF was (or is) being widely adopted by our customer base. The real reason came down to governments have legal requirements to be able to accept ISO standard formats if sent to them by a constituent. I have been speaking directly to CIOs of governments from around the world, and they are not saying they were broadly deploying OpenOffice – in fact they are looking at the benefits that Office 2007 brings to them for their future direction. The reality is that the translator gives them the ability to meet specific legislated requirements.

    Over time, it may be that customers broadly ask for ODF – who am I to guess on that front. If they do, and we get broad-based requests for that to be in the product, then we should listen. Our customers were very clear that they wanted PDF in our product. We did that – but Adobe was not keen on that solution.

    The translator strikes a very important balance. You would demand of us transparency to make sure that we were not in any way degrading the implementation of ODF for translation. So it is open source and available on SourceForge for you to review if you would like. Also, it means that all parties may participate if they want to. Moreover, it is built to be independent of MS products. It can be implemented by anyone – as you can see with Novell building it into OpenOffice as we speak.  Even with the openness, we also addressed some of the weaknesses of OSS projects. We have paid for disciplined, rigorous testing across a range of scenarios. (sounds a lot like most of the top 100 OSS projects out there – and that is not by mistake on our part)

    Anyway – I’m a big fan of the approach taken with the translator. But don’t be fooled, it is not about broad-based customer demand. A few key government agencies raised legitimate concerns and we responded to that.

    Jason

  9. jasonmatusow says:

    Glen – I’ve never suggested there would be no issues raised by member countries in the ISO process. That is exactly what the commenting period is all about…comments. I suggest though that you use a little caution in your own predictions about the comments that have come in. There is no reason to assume that all are about contractions.

    Additionally, just because there are comments, or other ISO standards that have some differences, that does not mean that a given standard is not eligible for ISO ratification. (I believe there were a few for ODF that were not considered a blocker to that standard).

    I hope to see the process continue to move forward under its normal processes.

    Jason

  10. My last blog posting was in a tone that was a bit too snarky for my tastes. I was writing late, and tired

  11. Hi, Mrs. Matusow.

    First, sorry about my poor English, as I’m a Brazilian guy, so portuguese-native-speaker.

    First of all, I could recognize some merits in this post and in MS initiative with OOXML. I believe that MS is caring itself with interoperability, and this is meritable.

    The greatest problem I see in OOXML is: it’s not compliant with other standards, like W3C SVG format (there is problems to designate colors), ISO date format (OOXML didn’t comply with it) and so on. In this, MS had used and published in OOXML some specific formats, that (1) onerates third-part application development and (2) could be seen as a "lock" for MS, /even/ (I guess) being not MS’s desire. The same problem we could see in the implementation artifacts "left-behind".

    I’m a Free Software guy. I’m a Free Standards guy. I see some light in OOXML initiative, if MS agrees to hear and accept some suggestions from community (here not necessarily Free Software’s, but developer’s and corporations’ one). MS has so much to win with it, as developers and users.

  12. James says:

    http://www.iso.org/iso/en/CatalogueDetailPage.CatalogueDetail?CSNUMBER=36769

    Don’t forget another ECMA standard Microsoft tried to get ISO certified – the CLI. Status: Withdrawn Standard