And Now It’s Microsoft’s Turn Again

Ever since the surprise announcement by the Massachusetts Information Technology Division last August that it planned to adopt the OpenDocument Format (ODF) and not the Microsoft XML Reference Schema (XMLRS), it's been a tennis tournament between those that support ODF and those that are fans of XMLRS.

Less than three weeks ago, the ODF camp announced the formation of the ODF Alliance to promote and explain ODF to potential government users (its membership has already swollen from 39 founding members to 113 as of yesterday). A few days later, OASIS launched the ODF Adoption Committee.

Given those revelations, it should come as no surprise that Microsoft today announced its own initiative: the Open XML Formats Developer Group. As quoted by Ina Fried live from Microsoft’s Office Developers Conference, Gates made the announcement during his keynote address:

Gates noted that the new group, to be known as the Open XML Formats Developer Group, brings together three of his favorite words–“open,” “XML,” and “developer.” “No organization is good unless you put ‘open’ ” in there, Gates said.

At launch, the new forum has either 39 or 40 members (the site is internally inconsistent on this point), the most prominent of which are Apple, Intel and Toshiba (a full list can be found in the launch press release, which is reproduced at the end of this entry).

Despite the long list of founding members, it appears that the forum is purely informational in nature. A review of the site indicates that no specific initiatives are planned to be undertaken by the forum. Instead, it will provide information and provide a place for developers to pose questions, post content, and engage in discussion. According to the new forum’s Website, it was formed to fill a gap while the XMLRS complete the adoption process at Ecma, the European standards group to which they were submitted by Microsoft as a first step towards their intended adoption by ISO, the global standards body. As a result:

There are no technical articles that have been published yet (other than blog posts, some of which are great), and there are no books out on Open XML Formats development yet.

So in the short term, this site will be about empowering developers to get started on their Open XML Formats projects and get their questions answered in the absence of widely available reference materials. Our goal will be to help developers work with the formats right now, through sharing of code samples, white papers, workspace projects, and links to other resources.

In the long term, the site will be a place where Open XML Formats developers can share best practices and openly discuss and debate the issues and options surrounding Open XML Formats software development. We’ll have plenty of discussion right here on the site, and we’ll also find a way to get together from time to time for face-to-face meetings. And we’re making it up as we go, so every member of this community has an opportunity to influence the evolution of the Open XML Developer Group.

Visitors are entitled to post comments, start threads in the forums, or upload content to the site. The moderator of the site will be Microsoft technical evangelist Doug Mahugh.

So far, the Website includes a Library, which currently includes the initial draft of the Ecma Standard and four papers, a News page with Microsoft as well as external news related to XMLRS, a Workspaces section (empty thus far), and a Forums space, with 16 topics set up under three headings (Formats, Development Tools, and OpenXML Scenarios). At the moment, there are 12 visitors on line, as well as 5 of 42 members; it will be interesting to track the traffic in the future as the word of the new site becomes more widely known.

The text of the press release announcing the new forum is reproduced below. It may not be unfair to point out that the press release refers to the “Ecma International-developed Office Open XML file formats,” notwithstanding the fact that the charter of the Ecma working group charged with drafting the specification actually gave it very little latitude to deviate from the Microsoft submission.

Announcing the Open Xml Formats Developer Group

Announced March 21, 2006, the Open XML Formats Developer Group was initially founded by 40 organizations from around the world to provide a technical forum for developers who are interested in using the Ecma International-developed Office Open XML file formats. Membership in the community is open to anyone free of charge to enable broad development with the formats, regardless of platform. Below are further details on the community’s goals, developers who are involved in working with the Office Open XML formats, and quotes about the value of the community and the formats. Mission Statement: The Open XML Formats Developer Group is being formed as a community for developers to exchange information with each other regarding the usage of the Ecma-developed Office Open XML file formats. The community will serve as a technical resource for Open XML developers to submit and answer technical questions and to share tools and ideas around Open XML Formats-based solutions. The Open XML Formats Developer Group is open to anyone free of charge to enable broad participation and development of solutions using the Open XML Formats on any platform. The Open XML Formats Developer Group will support the wide adoption of the specifications being created by Ecma Technical Committee 45.

Founding Community Members:

• 4 screen AG:
• Acorn Systems:
• APL2000 Inc.:
• Apple:
• Ascentn Corp.:
• atQuest Solution Pte Ltd.:
• BP:
• Blaze SSI Corp.:
• Business Engine:
• CAPITA Education Services:
• Certeon Inc.:
• Colligo Networks:
• ComponentOne LLC:
• CyberSavvy.NET LLC.:
• Document Sciences Corp.:
• Essilor International:
• Florida House of Representatives:
• Flowfinity Wireless Inc.:
• Fractal Edge Ltd.:
• i-Magination Group:
• Intel Corporation:
• InterKnowlogy LLC:
• IntelliSafe Technologies:
• IP Commerce Inc.:
• ITVT GmbH:
• Mathsoft:
• Microsoft Corp.:
• NextPage Inc.:
• NuSoft Solutions Inc.:
• OBS Services and Solutions:
• Panorama Software:
• RM Sistemas SA:
• Sonata Software Ltd.:
• SourceCode Technology Holdings Inc.:
• Spescom Software Inc.:
• The Computer Solution Company:
• Toshiba:

“Standardization to foster the growth and openness of file formats across the industry is of benefit to everyone. As such, having an Open XML Formats Developer Group as a community and resource to foster the adoption of the Office Open XML File Formats is great for all participants involved. We look forward to seeing this community grow.”
– Jan van den Beld, Secretary General, Ecma International

[To browse all prior blog entries on this story, click here]