Geneva Day 3 – Open XML BRM, OFE Event, and the blogosphere continued…


An article in CIO Magazine online The CIO of Denmark comments that no matter what happens at the BRM or in the following month, they will still use Open XML and ODF. The articles asserts that the CIO considers Open XML an open standard and one of the formats included in the government mandate for procurement. The ISO imprimatur is not the governing factor in their choice of what to use (ODF 1.1 would not be allowed otherwise - much like the language from Massachusetts if you remember the ETRM policy update).

It would be impossible for us to use only ISO standards if we want to fulfill the goal of creating interoperability in the government sector." - Adam Lebech, head of the IT strategy division for the Danish National IT and Telecom Agency


Vint Cerf spoke at the OFE event and is quoted talking about how there should be just one document format standard. This is the Google company line as I spoke about in my last blog posting. This is a very strange position for the man whose incredibly influential work on TCP/IP was successful as an industry standard due to market adoption AFTER despite the fact that an ISO standard (OSI) was ratified at the international level. So in other words, I think he is asserting that competitive standards back then were good for the marketplace, but that it is different now.

I disagree.

Competition is healthy and drives innovation. If we establish that the right technology is the one first pushed through the international standardization process rather than the one that best meets market needs - I think we are setting a very dangerous precedent.


My posting on Google's letter seems to have attracted the attention of Groklaw - that bastion of balanced opinion. Aside from the endless conspiracy theorizing, the most amazing thing to me is the hostility towards Patrick Durusau. (read the end of the rant against my blog posting) A few things:

  1. I completely acknowledge that Mr. Durusau believes ODF is a better format than Open XML (I disagree with him on that point).
  2. I have been clear that at no point has Mr. Durusau come out with an endorsement of Open XML for approval in JTC 1.
  3. BUT - it is clear that he has a balanced opinion based on years of experience in the international standards arena and I greatly respect the open-minded approach.
  4. Apparently character assassination is the preferred method of Groklaw - even against those who are pivotal to the success of the thing they endorse (namely ODF in this case).

What's more, Goklaw picks on the fact that Mr. Durusau correctly identifies that the "openness" of all ISO standards is uniform because the ISO rules apply uniformly. There is a big discussion to be had on the disturbing trend in the global dialog that all standards organizations are to be measured by the single criteria of their adherence to Free Software principles of intellectual property rights.


Gray Knowlton did a quality posting on the differentiation of harmonization and unification. I referenced the fact that the German National Standards Body (DIN) had kicked off work in this area in a recent posting, and think that this is a topic that will merit discussion for quite some time.

Comments (6)

  1. Luc Bollen says:


    The "Danish CIO" (Adam Lebech, head of the IT strategy division for the National IT and Telecom Agency) said:

    "For documents, public agencies must support OpenDocument Format (ODF) or Office Open XML (OOXML), or both, Lebech said."

    Let suppose I’m the CIO of a Danish public agency, that I want to support OOMXL rather than ODF, and that I don’t want to buy Microsoft products.  Could you please let me know which product I should use to ensure a faithful representation of all the OOXML documents (text, spreadsheets and presentations) that I will receive ?  I’m sure you cannot recommend any to me, because there are NONE.

    So, I understand the complaint of the Danish Unix User Group:

  2. jasonmatusow says:

    Hi Luc –

    The specification has been public (publication of Ecma 376) for fewer than 18 months. At this time, there are now independent implementations of Open XML cropping up all over the place, none yet with the fidelity of Microsoft Office, but that will come. In fact, I just saw an article that the Zoho Writer (for mobile devices) is doing output to docx. The opportunity is huge for people given the openness of the specification and IP rights associated with it.


  3. Luc Bollen says:

    Jason,  thanks for confirming that there are currently no alternative to Microsoft Office for faithful consumption of OOXML documents, and that you cannot give a date for such availability.

  4. jasonmatusow says:

    Luc – give it time good sir. I think you are looking for the easy "gotcha" in a situation where the economics will drive production of Open XML-based tools and applications on a very broad scale.


  5. Luc Bollen says:

    Jason, indeed, a lot of applications will produce ECMA-OOXML files,  and many will try to represent faithfully the MS-OOXML files produced by MS Office.  But I’m convinced that none will be able to get a really convincing result before many many years.

    Look at the current status for the binary formats : MS is the first to claim that OpenOffice is not able to faithfully represent these files, even after a dozen years of efforts to improve their input filters.

    Until a good quality alternative is available, mandating the use of OOXML equals mandating the use of Microsoft Office.

  6. AndreR says:


    I hope your are aware of the Danish competition authority complaint against DK mandating OOXML and your friends from Microsoft will also tell you what Dr. Rolf Schuster from the German Foreign Office said at the OFE event, by the way a DIN committee member.

    The official design goal of OOXML, backwards compatibility with the documents of a single vendor, makes it formally totally unsuitable for the public sector as it can be considered as a barrier to international trade favouring an American company.

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