Emerging Tech

Microsoft's OOXML becomes an ISO standard

Microsoft seems to have won its bid to have OOXML declared an official standard alongside ODF. But what has it won? And is it possible that it has truly lost the war? The European Commission is taking a closer look, and realistically, Microsoft isn't ready to implement the OOXML that ISO has blessed.

The vote is in and it appears that Microsoft has won its bid to have OOXML declared an ISO standard according to voting results obtained April 1.

Does this mean that Microsoft's fight to become a recognized ISO standard is over? Not really. There is still a two month period that it must get through to allow national bodies to lodge any formal appeals before the standard moves to official publication.

But it is definitely a step forward.

From the New York Times:

The tally reversed a loss by Microsoft in first-round voting before an 87-nation panel in September, a process that involved blunt lobbying by both sides toward members of national standards committees - typically made up of technicians, engineers and bureaucrats.

In the final round of voting, which ended Saturday, three-quarters of the core group members - including Britain, Japan, Germany and Switzerland - supported Microsoft's standard, according to the results document. Of the 87 votes, 10 opposed the standard: Brazil, Canada, China, Cuba, Ecuador, India, Iran, New Zealand, South Africa and Venezuela.

Under organization rules, at least 66 percent of core group members must accept a standard for it to be approved, and no more than 25 percent of all voting nations can be opposed.

Roger Frost, a spokesman in Geneva for the standardization group, would not confirm that Microsoft's format had been designated, saying the organization would disclose the vote Wednesday after informing its members. The International Herald Tribune obtained the results from one of the delegations contacted by the standardization group.

But the court of public opinion has yet to weigh in on Microsoft's win. There are many who feel that the fast-track approval process that Microsoft lobbied heavily for beginning in 2007 was not appropriate for a proposal like OOXML.

From Australian IT:

In Australia, a "wide spectrum of opinion" had been canvassed by Standards Australia, and the decision to abstain was "absolutely valid from their perspective", Mr Stone said. "They've gone through an exhaustive process and put an inordinate amount of work into consultations with industry, government and beyond."

Last week, Standards Australia said it would maintain its "abstain" position, with stakeholders divided along largely commercial lines. Pajan Navaratnam, head of SA's delegation, said that due to the size of the document - 6000 pages - and complexity, no full analysis of the implications of OOXML had been undertaken by relevant agencies.

"Standards Australia is not satisfied that the fast-track process is suitable for a proposal as large, complex and commercially sensitive," Mr Navaratnam said. "The recent meeting only addressed a small number of the issues raised by various member countries. We don't believe sufficient progress was made to change our vote."

In fact, nine nations with full voting rights chose to abstain. They were Australia, Belgium, France, Ital, Kenya, Malaysia, the Netherlands, Spain and Turkey. Previously, Kenya, and Turkey had voted "yes, with comments."

But is it enough to support wide adoption of OOXML? The answer is "possibly." To begin with, Open Document Format or ODF is already accepted as a standard, and it is already in use. The question is whether there is a need for two standards. But this question may already be a moot point as both the popular Office Suite embraces OOXML as does Apple's iWork.

However, the European Commission may have another view. With an investigation of Microsoft's business practices from an antitrust perspective currently underway, suggestions of foul play on Microsoft's part may come back to haunt it.

From InfoWorld:

When the Commission, Europe's top antitrust authority, opened a probe into Microsoft's business practices in January, it said part of the investigation would examine whether OOXML, as the format is known, is "sufficiently interoperable with competitors' products."

A month later ,the Commission sent a confidential request for information to all the national divisions of the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) in Europe, asking for information about the ongoing process of assessing OOXML.

"In your opinion, have there been any irregularities or attempts to influence the debate or vote on the ECMA 376 proposal as regards your organization? If so please provide details and any relevant facts," the Commission wrote in the letter, a copy of which was obtained by IDG News Service. ECMA 376 is the title under which Microsoft submitted OOXML for consideration by the ISO.

The request for information, known as an Article 18 letter, is a formal procedure carried out by the Commission's antitrust officials, designed to gather evidence of antitrust abuse.

It was used in the first Microsoft investigation, which concluded in 2004. The replies the Commission received that time led to fresh antitrust charges that Microsoft had been unfairly bundling its Media Player with its Windows operating system.

If national ISO bodies return evidence that Microsoft attempted to influence the votes to secure acceptance of OOXML, it would strengthen the Commission's antitrust case.

One ISO official from Norway has already written to the central office of the ISO in Geneva that the Norwegian vote be excluded from the final tally, stating that "the decision [to vote "yes"] does not reflect the view of the vast majority of the Norwegian committee."

Just to keep things interesting, OOXML in the format proposed to ISO is not what Microsoft implements in the Office suite. According to Pamela Jones, author of a popular Groklaw blog and outspoken critic of the effort to make OOXML a standard, "No one can actually implement this standard. Not even Microsoft." She also notes that "the format references proprietary stuff from the past. Stuff that is patented, no doubt, but mainly just unknown and unknowable."

So the vote is in. But is the war over? And what does ISO ratification of OOXML mean to you?

More information:

Analysis: ISO vote is only first step for Open XML (Computerworld)

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23 comments
Brian G
Brian G

GEESH, There is no way to actually implement a 6,000 page 'standard' ANYTHING, much less software and have it be portable between applications!! Anyone saying any different, hasn't every tried implementing a low level API. Just think of 1,000 programmers trying to implement (interpret) 6,000 pages of an idea that's never been implemented. Five programmers would come up with 7 different ways. Thousands of programmers, well... you just end up with a mess. But at least Microsoft can claim it's a standard mess.

Tig2
Tig2

It would appear that the fight is over for Microsoft to have OOXML declared a standard. Or is it? There will be a consideration period of about two months while any contentions are resolved. But that shouldn't prove to be a major issue for Microsoft. What may be more of an issue is the European Commission's antitrust investigations currently in progress. Assuming that Microsoft gets through that, the next hurdle is the fact that the OOXML standard that was ratified is not the standard that Microsoft used in Office 2007. In fact, Microsoft itself has never coded to the standard that they fast-tracked through the ISO process. So what, if anything, will this mean to you? Has your office moved to 2007 yet? Are you having any issues with it? And what do you think this could mean for popular open source products that are fully compliant with the already ratified ODF format? Final analysis- Is this a Microsoft big win? Or is it more of a big yawn?

foringmar
foringmar

I think that the process has hurt Microsoft to some extent. Microsoft got the approval at a price. From the first try there was reports of massive corruption from Sweden among other places. Sweden was the worst example by far though. This time in Norway 21 woted against approval and 2 for. Norway voted for approval though. How. Well. They had a second voting after they threw all 21 against out of the room first. Result: two for, none against. In Finland they didn't really vote at all. They held a 5 hour diskussion after which the foreman for the meeting announced the decision he had made. And the list could be continued. I think the process also has seriously undermined the credibility of the ISO standard as a whole, which might have consequenses in other industrial sectors as well. Thanks for that Microsoft.

carlsf
carlsf

I refuse to move to VISTA or Office 2007 (the interfaces and navigation NOT WANTED or LIKED) My concern HOW can the ISO ratify a standard that MS itsself does NOT meet. I hope MS gets hammered, and taken to court

Tig2
Tig2

It is looking like Norway may throw a voice of dissent into the mix. They have already sent a letter to ISO asking that they be listed as abstaining. The next two months should be awfully interesting!

Deadly Ernest
Deadly Ernest

MS immediately converts all their relevant apps over to the OOXML standard EXACTLY as presented to them and keep them EXACTLY as per the standard. If the MS apps don't match the standard exactly by the end of the year OOXML is canned and becomes a dead issue. That'll cause heart attacks right across MS headquarters as they try to do a many years worth of coding in only a few months. Also, I doubt MS could keep to the standard past one service pack. They want the standard, force them to use it and stay with it - MS pushed for the standards that lead to plug'n'play and then dropped most of them within a couple of years as they couldn't rip people off enough by sticking to them. edited to add: The ISO should also make a condition of acceptance the public release of ALL the code in the OOXML standard so that anyone can use it or code to it. That'll stop MS dead in their tracks too.

Dumphrey
Dumphrey

but I still maintain hope. The opposing countries are all mostly on an ODF standard already, and I do not see that changing. If anything, I can see it spreading as more and more agencies/countries begin to move away from Office.

BOUND4DOOM
BOUND4DOOM

Really who cares about any of this to begin with. This seems to have flooded the news. My response is So what? A standard is a Standard. Standards are great things. They give you guidelines and rules to follow. Thats all this is. If you do not like the standard then do not use it. Come up with your own. Standard evolve hopefully to become backward compatible. This standard in particular again, who cares, most users are going to open word and click save as .doc or .docx your general users do not care one bit.

cyberbob_67
cyberbob_67

The ISO format is arguably just about one of the best and revolutionary format to save information on. The best thing about it is that almost anyone with at least a little more than basic knowledge about computing knows what to do with it. With Microsoft entering into this arena, I don't know if this is really the best thing for the format. They don't really have the best track record for allowing alternate formats to flourish alongside them (to say the least). I just hope that this format doesn't go the way of the dinosaur (except for those reading this) just when it has gone mainstream because of corporate greed and profit.

Deadly Ernest
Deadly Ernest

if MS get their hooks into it you can bet it will get badly mauled around and have major changes every few years, have absolutely NO backwards compatibility worth knowing about and cost a fortune.

ozi Eagle
ozi Eagle

Try opening Office 7 doc with earlier version. Oh dear doesn't work ,well go and BUY latest version. Herb

Deadly Ernest
Deadly Ernest

better still, go download OpenOffice and open the lot and save money.

Deadly Ernest
Deadly Ernest

document in Office 2007 - it won't open, it says you have a corrupt file. It won't even consider a Word 2a or Word 6 document at all.

Tony Hopkinson
Tony Hopkinson

accept the massively reduced functionality......

james.bore
james.bore

Or you could just go to Microsoft's website and, you know, download the compatibility pack which is completely free. You could do that. And if you just need to view a docx file you could always just download the (also free) Word viewer.

larrie_jr
larrie_jr

MicroSoft has been the VICTIM of jealousy and envy. According to the article in Wikipedia... 'In 2004, governments and the European Union recommended to Microsoft that they publish and standardize their XML Office formats through a standardization organization.[6] Microsoft announced[7] in November 2005 that it would standardize the new version of their XML-based formats through Ecma, as "Ecma Office Open XML."' They came up with their version of doing something better... that's not a crime, and they even went to the point of making it a standard, at request; now they've done so and are 'bashed' for it... All of the arguments I've heard are about the fact that now open-source HAS to incorporate OOXML instead of the other way around. What sense does that make? I could see the argument if (as in the past) MS KEPT this as a proprietary format, but they are TRYING to play nice with others; it's just that they have the ball right now.

Deadly Ernest
Deadly Ernest

Not every idea used to make corporate America was proprietary and kept totally secret. In fact, what made the current PC revolution possible was a company taking a proprietary idea and making it a public domain idea and open to the world - something that MS won't ever do. We have existing standards set over a decade ago to make inter communications of computer hardware easier, yet MS deliberately ignore those standards, and a large number of the security issues in their software are due to the changes they force to avoid using those standards; also half the problem people complain about for drivers and dlls are based on the same deliberate changes. MS want their .doc to be a standard, yet the .doc format over the range of MS Word versions is not standard and they vary so much that you can't open older documents in the current versions - that's not a valid way to do business in the corporate world.

Tony Hopkinson
Tony Hopkinson

Better than what, ODF, in what particular? It said in the article office 2007 isn't compliant with the standard they have proposed, certainly the current open standard for office, is a set of tags round proprietry calls to MS functionality. That's like deeming your front door as open because the letter box flap is up. Open source already keeps up with MS's office formats, if it didn't, very very few people could afford to use it. In theory it should make things better, but what it is an attempt to do is to dictate the standard the competition must adhere to be compliant. MS aren't and never have been about making things easier for their competion, their success makes that self evident. So of course their efforts are viewed with extreme suspicion. We'll see, but I for one aren't holding my breath until Bill and his boys become the good guys.

blissb
blissb

You said: "If you don't like the standard, then don't use it. Come up with our own." Try applying that to web design... Don't like HTML? Make your own markup language. Sad thing is, nobody else will be able to properly view the sites you create with it, because it's not a standard. If non-Microsoft products are unable to implement OOXML properly (because of it's proprietary components and undocumented features), Microsoft will have again successfully locked out competition based on its near-monopoly market share. Not only does that limit competition (the whole basis of our free-market system), but it also potentially forces users to unwilling use a specific company's product. That's what the fuss is about...

jspurbeck
jspurbeck

is, I believe, premature. Why would MS or any Organization invest in a standard that has not been adopted. MS's proposal is an attempt to gain acceptance prior to re-engineering their base product. This has got to be considered good news for the industry, as long as NO (absolutely none) propriety feature set is included. Any future "Standard" must not embrace any propriety format. If is determined that MS included some MS-specific feature, they should be fined heavily. So, why the fuss at this point?

tomasb
tomasb

OOXML is MS's weapon against open source alternatives like OpenOffice and NeoOffice; because of the huge market presence of MS's products, now the competitors have to implement the MS "standard" rather then the other way around. I can see no other reason why MS didn't simply accept ODF as the "standard". Does it matter to the end user, who is looking at a list of "save as" options? Not in the short run, but wait until you see the long term strategy of MS being implemented...

pfreire
pfreire

The real issue here is all about the standard's adoption. Microsoft created OOXML so that governments can keep buying MS Office without worrying about standards compliance. However, should some government in the wake of their own business decisions, force it's citizens to use OOXML alone as a standard, we shall see what happens... otherwise, they'll always have to cope with ODF. And in the end it will boil down to the people's choice (can they buy us all?). MS Office is sure to be around for the years to come. Let's just hope there may always be a non-MS option... or that MS will finally blow up from trying to swallow the whole market alone ;-)

Tig2
Tig2

That even Microsoft is not aligned with the OOXML standard. So they too will have to implement a new iteration of Office which may or may not be compatible with the current iteration of Office. And who knows if iWork is compatible? Looks like a mess to me.