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Microsoft Open XML Failed ISO Bid Makes Big News

Microsoft’s failed bid to make its “Open XML” format an ISO standard was certainly newsworthy, though it was slightly surprising to see it covered in detail in the Wall Street Journal, and to hear about it this evening on MarketPlace.

Among the most amusing responses to Microsoft’s failed efforts (which include some questionable attempts at a fast-track and alleged vote packing) came from Eric Raymond:

I find I’m almost ready to recommend that OSI tell Microsoft to ram its licenses up one of its own orifices, even if they are technically OSD compliant.

To me it seems that Microsoft has misunderstood the criticism leveled at its opaque (and ubiquitous) .DOC format. It seems that they believed that the contention was merely that the format was closed, and therefore making it XML (and hence “open”) would assuage those concerns. But the biggest complaints about Open XML have been around as long as RTF — that Microsoft deliberately makes choices in their “standards” that sacrifice general flexibility for Office-specific implementation details.

Of course, I don’t really blame them — they haven’t gotten where they are by being a benevolent standards body. Perhaps this will finally motivate them to stop trying to act like one.

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  • Suresh Kumar

    i understand the basic sentiment of what your saying about Microsof’ts attempts at forcing their own proprietary implementations as standards..

    But that said, Apple has managed to implement the OOXML standards in their current iWorks’08 suite.

    So there should be little complaint that it cannot be done, although the level of fidelity across packages is not perfect.

  • http://holloway.co.nz/ Matthew Cruickshank

    Hi… just to be clear, Apple’s iWork has read-only support right now. See OpenMalaysia: Third Party Support – Apple iWork ’08.

    I think that, like in the past, people can reverse engineer the undefined behaviour from MS Office, but that this doesn’t necessarily show that OOXML is defined.

    So it’s probably a good idea to just look at OOXML itself and see where the holes are and whether Apple or anyone else could fully implement OOXML. Eg, proprietary OLE references which have no definition in OOXML, SSPI references, compatibility flags like “useWord97LineBreakRules” aren’t defined, leap year and spreadsheet formula bugs, etc.

    One thing in particular that seems strange is that
    OOXML persists a lot of bugs whereas ODF typically has flags that indicate buggy behaviour which are off by default. For example, in OOXML CEILING takes 2 parameters, but ODF 1.2’s CEILING takes a 3rd parameter which tells it whether to emulate the buggy behaviour.

    That way you get bug emulation for old documents, and a clean slate for anything new.

    Anyway, as any country can change their vote now (to yes/no/abstain) I think we’ll see a lot more lobbying from the big corps.

  • john m

    It’s interesting if you look at the 3rd world countries that signed on recently to vote for the closed Microsoft standard.

    It smells a little like ‘digital colonialism’

    digital man’s burden: MS knows what best for you [Cote d'Ivoire, Cyprus, Ecuador, Jamaica, Lebanon, Malta, Pakistan, Trinidad and Tobago, Turkey, Uruguay and Venezuela, all voted to approve or approve with comments]

  • Rick Jelliffe

    “But the biggest complaints about Open XML have been around as long as RTF — that Microsoft deliberately makes choices in their “standards” that sacrifice general flexibility for Office-specific implementation details.”

    Do you have some references for this?

  • AndyCee

    Just to mention, the final specs for OOXML haven’t been released yet.

    In fact, the next incarnation of Microsoft office won’t support the ISO standard version of OOXML – though it will ODF (?).