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There They Go Again: It's Time to Just Say No to Microsoft and Ecma

OpenDocument and OOXML
Should ISO/IEC JTC1 approve OOXML, and if so, why not? This morning's news provides the best evidence for why the answer should be "no."
 
Whether Microsoft's OOXML (now Ecma 376) should receive the thumbs up is a question most recently posed to me by a reporter last week. It's also one that I've been struggling with for the past 18 months in an effort to be open minded on the subject. Despite the fact that we would all be better off (in my view) with a single document format that works well enough for all vendors and all end users, the submission by Microsoft of OOXML to Ecma certainly benefits Microsoft's many customers and partners.. So why shouldn't ISO/IEC approve it as a standard as well, despite the prior approval of ODF as a global standard? 
 
My response to the reporter was this: "The best reason for not approving OOXML/Ecma 376 as a global standard is that it will encourage other vendors to push for multiple, unnecessary standards rather than achieving consensus on a single standard that will best serve the needs of all stakeholders, and not individual proprietary vendors.
 

An email with a blog link I just received from IBM's Bob Sutor clued me in to the best example of why approving Ecma 376 would be a bad idea. Why? Because Bob reveals that Microsoft has now put it's PDF-competing "XML Paper Specification" before Ecma, and the technical committee charter that Ecma has agreeably posted includes the following text:

Scope:
 
 
The goal of the Technical Committee is to produce a formal standard for office productivity applications within the Ecma International standards process which is fully compatible with the Office Open XML Formats. The aim is to enable the implementation of the Office Open XML Formats by a wide set of tools and platforms in order to foster interoperability across office productivity applications and with line-of-business systems. The Technical Committee will also be responsible for the ongoing maintenance and evolution of the standard.
 
Programme of Work: Produce a formal standard for an XML-based electronic paper format and XML-based page description language which is consistent with existing implementations of the format called the XML Paper Specification,…[in each case, emphasis added]
 If that sounds familiar, it should, because it echoes the absolute directive of the original OOXML technical committee charter, which constrained the TC as follows: 
The goal of the Technical Committee is to produce a formal standard for office productivity applications within the Ecma International standards process which is fully compatible with the Office Open XML Formats. The aim is to enable the implementation of the Office Open XML Formats by a wide set of tools and platforms in order to foster interoperability across office productivity applications and with line-of-business systems. The Technical Committee will also be responsible for the ongoing maintenance and evolution of the standard.[emphasis added]
 Why does this latest submission matter? The reason, of course, is because it indicates a desire by Microsoft to institutionalize and expand a perpetual, standardized environment that would surround a single vendor's products. This would inevitably serve, as Microsoft would of course intend, to extend its monopoly position into the indefinite future. The result would be to continue to stifle innovation and competition at the office productivity suite product level as well (consider the flowering of diverse products that have sprung up since ODF gave hope of actual competition to multiple proprietary and open source ISVs). Microsoft has stated before that the submission of OOXML to Ecma did not mean that anyone could clone Office without being sued for infringement – just that it would be easier for people to work with it. No such flowering will ever likely exist around OOXML, given Microsoft's enormous lead in products based upon that format.
 
Can anyone doubt that Microsoft and Ecma will submit this new specification to ISO/IEC JTC1 upon its inevitable completion? I don't think so, and my guess is that if queried, Microsoft and Ecma would confirm that this is their intention. Hopefully, someone will ask that question soon.
 
To be fair, the situation with PDF is much more murky than that presented by ODF. Adobe did not fully release its control over PDF vis-à-vis the standards process until early this year, and negotiations between Microsoft and Adobe over Microsoft's desire to natively save Office documents to PDF were unsuccessful, for reasons known in detail only to those companies. Depending on what actually transpired in those negotiations, Microsoft might justifiably feel that Adobe has itself not dealt fairly with the marketplace. But the marketplace at large has adequate access to PDF, and Microsoft itself is now providing a plug in that will permit its customers to save to PDF.
 
Be that as it may, perpetuating one monopolistic market position after another seems wholly incompatible with the role of a global standards body, tasked with protecting the interests of all stakeholders. I believe that it would turn the ISO/IEC process into a sham to consistently allow proprietary vendors to present their products, not as examples to be used for the creation of directly competing products (as was the case with Sun's submission of the specification for StarOffice as the starting point for the creation of ODF) but as the off-limits product around which an interface can be standardized.
 
This seems to me to be a turning point for the creation of global standards. Microsoft was invited to be part of the original ODF Technical Committee in OASIS, and chose to stand aside. That committee tried to do its best to make the standard work well with Office, but was naturally limited in that endeavor by Microsoft's unwillingness to cooperate. This, of course, made it easier for Microsoft to later claim a need for OOXML to be adopted as a standard, in order to "better serve its customers." The refusal by an incumbent to participate in an open standards process is certainly its right, but it is hardly conduct that should be rewarded by a global standards body charged with watching out for the best interests of all.
 
If OOXML, and now Microsoft XML Paper Specification, each sail through Ecma and are then adopted by ISO/IEC JTC1, then I think that we might as well declare "game over" for open standards.
 
It's time for the National Bodies to draw a line in the sand and reject Ecma 376 – before it's too late.
 
Update: 

Stephe Walli has posted a really nice piece on this same story here.

For further blog entries on ODF and OOXML, click here

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* * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
 
 

As usual, I am posting the text of my primary source material (the new Ecma Technical Committee page) for archival purposes: 

 
TC46 - XML Paper Specification (XPS)  

Scope - Programme of work -

Activities
 
Scope:
 

The goal of the Technical Committee is to produce a formal standard for office productivity applications within the Ecma International standards process which is fully compatible with the Office Open XML Formats. The aim is to enable the implementation of the Office Open XML Formats by a wide set of tools and platforms in order to foster interoperability across office productivity applications and with line-of-business systems. The Technical Committee will also be responsible for the ongoing maintenance and evolution of the standard.

 

Programme of work:

 

1.Produce a formal standard for an XML-based electronic paper format and XML-based page description language which is consistent with existing implementations of the format called the XML Paper Specification, including:

o        Produce a fully documented and unambiguous standard for an XML-based electronic paper format and page description language.
o        Produce appropriate W3C XML Schemas to enable automatic verification of files written to the standard.
o        Enable interoperability between existing industry implementations of applications, devices, tools and platforms.
2.       Assume responsibility for the ongoing maintenance and evolution of this Ecma International standard.
3.       Support backwards compatibility with implementations targeted to prior versions of the standard.
4.       Evaluate and consider proposal for complementary or related additional technologies.
5.       Establish and maintain liaison with other Ecma TCs and with other Standards Setting Organizations (SSOs) as appropriate to facilitate and promulgate the work of the TC.
6.       Evaluate and consider contributing the Ecma standard to an ISO and/or IEC TC for approval and adoption.

 

 

Contacts:

 

Chairman

Mr. M. Bailey (Global Graphics)
Vice-Chairman
Mr. T. Hashizume (Fuji Xerox) 
Secretary

Dr. Istvan Sebestyen (Ecma)

 

There They Go Again: It's Time to Just Say No to Microsoft and Ecma | 1 comments | Create New Account
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There They Go Again: It's Time to Just Say No to Microsoft and Ecma
Authored by: Anonymous on Friday, July 06 2007 @ 10:51 AM CDT
It's going wrong. The UK National Archive is getting in bed with M$, The head of our National Library co-chairs the OOXML committee... It's all going "Pete Tong" as we say in the UK. http://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/news/stories/164.htm

http://www.noooxml.org/forum/t-13102/microsoft-ireland-trying-to-get-support-from-its-customers#post-32881

Alan Lord
www.theopensourcerer.com
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