Why you should care about Open Standards

Everyone seems to think that caring about standards is someone else’s job but that is just the technical equivalent of political apathy.  The debate over the ISO ratification of document formats might sound a dense subject for the mere mortal but make no mistake, it will affect you eventually.

This week, Ecma reported that the Ecma Open XML standard has passed into the fast track 5 month review process by the ISO.  But there I go, I’m already using jargon, so let’s review the story so far and a hat tip to Steve Clayton who has summarised this so neatly I won’t try and improve on it.  Having said I can’t improve on it, i have a duty to point out that the file compatibility pack provides compatibility to Office 2003, Office XP and even to Office 2000.  I wrote all about this in my office babelfish post.

Open Source and Open Standards

These are often confused and it is worth clarifying – Open Standards, like Ecma Open XML, like TCP/IP, like ASCII are something that Microsoft believes in very passionately.  Open Standards provide a way for the industry to create products that interoperate smoothly.  This is good for the customer and good for companies that write applications because more stuff just works without lots of translation layers.  Open Standards paves the way for lower TCO.

Open Source is something else – the idea that free software is the way forward.  I’m not going to get into that here but a quick search turned up an interesting presentation from 2004 that presents the same arguement we still make today – so we are consistent in our belief that commercial software results in better quality and TCO for customers than open source. 

Whatever you think about that last point (park it for now), it is important to realise the distinction.  Everyone agrees that Open Standards are a good thing.

This is not a standards war

I wholeheartedly agree with Brian Jones on this point – we do not want people to see our support for Ecma Open XML as being at odds with the great work done to create the Open Document Format.  This is about using the right standard for the right job.  Choice is a good thing.

The 6000 pages debate

We’ve come under criticism for doing too good a job on documenting Open XML – I find this a bizarre reaction.  Brian has another excellent post on this.

So why should I care?

We believe in:

· Freedom to choose a format that suits the needs of the task at hand

· Document formats that can be easily exchanged by many applications and systems

· Freedom from dependence on specific applications, vendors or platforms to exchange documents

· Maximum compatibility with existing documents

· Preserving documents for records management and archival purposes

· Document formats that support the breadth of language and assistive technology requirements

· Protecting information stored in documents from unwanted usage

If these matter to you too and you back our efforts to pursue openness and standard file formats then take a few seconds and add yourself to our simple petition.  We want the powers that be to see that we are not alone in the belief that choice and openness can go hand in hand.

Support Ecma Open XML:  Sign the petition today

Comments (7)

  1. pearljam145 says:

    The reason why I won’t sign this petition is because Microsoft has demonstrated over and over again that it does not wish to use Open Standards in its products, unless those "Open" standards are Microsoft defined.

    Let me quote an example, Microsoft’s latest and greatest operating system (Windows Vista) writes DVD by default to a "live file" format (see the DVD burner section in http://enthusiast.hardocp.com/article.html?art=MTMxOCw0LCxoZW50aHVzaWFzdA==). Now I understand that other formatting options are available, but why does Microsoft have to default to the proprietary format, when there is an open standard out there which it also supports?

    These decisions make it difficult for us to believe your promise.

  2. Ericga says:

    Congrats for publishing Open XML. Criticisim comes because MS is general delivers a confusing message.

    WeI agree about open standards…so why so much of MS products work only with IE? Some MS teams are pushing standards (whith success) but others do the opposite. MS CRM is a very good example: even the next version supports only IE…because it needs activex…but activeX is a security issue that other MS team try to eliminate.


  3. dstrange says:

    thankyou for these comments.  thanks for not just ignoring the post but taking the time to explain your reasons and most of all, to use recent examples.  You’ve made me think about this more and I would like to find out why we chose not to go with what appear to be existing standards in the examples you cite.  I get the feeling that Microsoft is learning to do this better though.  For example, live communication server does it’s best to comply with every known open standard.  I think what we are seeing is some parts of Microsoft "getting it" more than others.  I hope that is true and if it is we need to do what we can to encourage good behaviour when we see it from Microsoft.  I can understand your doubts but this is an instance of good work and it benefits everyone for the format used by Office to be an ISO standard.  My thanks again for you insights.

  4. Jonathan says:

    I’ve had a love/hate relationship with MS Office for several years now.  On one hand, it is the best in the market.  On the other hand, it’s really expensive, and it (used to) create proprietary binary format documents, locking me and the rest of the world into your product.  

    Let me say again, MS Office is an excellent product.  

    As for the OpenXML format… well, that’s great!  I’ve given this particular topic a lot of thought.  I enjoy open source software, but I’m not against paying a programmer for his work.  What I am against is non-open formats for my data.  

    The important thing to remember for document formats is that the data belongs to ME.  The means from which the data is processed, or how it gets from my head to the document can be proprietary all day long, but the data belongs to me, so once the data is processed, I should be able to retrieve my information from outside the application.  It may not be in such a nice format as it would be inside the application, but that’s what I pay for.  For example, with the new docx format, I can open the package up and retrieve everything that I wrote into it from a standard text editor.  That’s the way it should be.  

    No more binary file formats, not unless they are an open standard.  

    By the way, what does  "Protecting information stored in documents from unwanted usage" mean?

  5. dstrange says:

    protecting information etc refers to support for Information Rights Management in Office.  This is not a concept which can be represented in ODF because it is not something OpenOffice offers and so there was no need for it in that standard.  That is not a criticism, just a further reason why choice on open standards is important.

  6. 30 th April – 1 st May 2007, Reading, UK This two day developer workshop focuses on Open XML, the new

  7. Open XML is a subject that is hot at the moment in the blogosphere and on the news wires. I’ve blogged