23 August 2007

Microsoft Office Open XML and ISO fast-track adoption

So ISO will vote on September 2 for or against the Microsoft Office Open XML file format as a standard. What I expect the result of this vote to be? I think the quote bellow (followed by my own English translation) from the unofficial position of the president of the Romanian committee is telling:

Motivele mele pt. a favoriza OOXML sunt de natura practica si "ideologica", nu tehnica:

1. Sigur ca OOXML e un standard atipic. Cum zic si IBM-ii (in critica lor), nu e "aspirational". Dar are un scop "nobil", pe care-l salut: "decripteaza" binarul (mai multor generatii de) documente Office. Fiind eu in bransa patrimoniului, o sa ma intelegeti ca sunt sensibil la prezervarea documentelor "legacy" (si migrarea este - pina la noi ordine - metoda cea mai convenabila de prezervare). Dar "transparentizarea" formatului intern al tonelor de fisiere Office nu e utila doar "comunitatii arhivistilor". Ma gindesc si la programatorii multor aplicatii care vor sa consume documente Office: standardul asta le usureaza viata.

2. Obiectiile de detaliu ale IBM imi par (pe cit le pricep) notabile, dar imi vine greu sa cred ca un comitet tehnic ECMA (cu Apple, Novell etc., adica cu tehnicieni adevarati) sa le fi trecut usor cu vederea, daca sunt asa de serioase. In plus, mi se pare ca - cel putin o parte - sunt lamurite de raspunsurile ECMA. Si mai multe sunt lamurite de raspunsurile MS. In plus, vad ca MS e gata sa ajusteze in unele locuri unde obiectiile IBM au nimerit. Nimic neobisnuit in procesul de evolutie a unui standard.

And now my English translation:
My reasons to favor OOXML are practical and "ideological", not technical:

1. Of course OOXML is an atypical standard. As IBM says (in its critique), it is not an "aspirational" standard. But it has a "noble" goal and I salute it: it "decrypt" the binary of (several generations of) Office documents. As I work in the patrimony branch, you should understand my sensibility for legacy documents preserving (and migration is - until new orders - the most convenient preservation). But the "transparentization" of the internal format of tons of existing Office documents is useful not only for the "archiver community". I think also at the programmers of various applications wanting to consume Office documents: this standard will make their lives easier.

2. The detail objections from IBM seems (as fair as I can understand) notable, but I find hard to believe an ECMA technical committee ECMA (with Apple, Novell etc., so real technicians) could overlook them if they are so serious. Additionally, I believe - at least in part - those are clarified by the ECMA replies. And more are clarified by the replies from MS. Additionally, I see MS is ready to adjust in some places where IBM's objections have hit. Nothing unusual in the evolutionary process of a standard.

So what I can say more? With such blinded apologists who need paid supporters?


  1. Don't get too gloomy about it. I don't have a link to the official statement of the Czech committee just now, but in short it is 'no with reservations' (my own translation...). I hope there will be more countries looking at it from technical point of view (there is a lot of holes in the specification) than from ideological one.

  2. The problem is: Even when you agree in principle that the standard should be adopted you cannot agree with the current ECMA specification as it is full of technical problems. The only way to make ECMA to address those or get Microsoft to offer more specification, better patent license conditions and so on is to vote "No with comments" as there is no "Yes with Comments" in fast track although Microsoft claims otherwise. Fast-track was designed for adoption without comments but ECMA didn't do its job.

    If you are fine with the current ECMA specification feel free to implement it. But for ISO adoption it is no rational negotiation strategy to grant them ISO approval "for free".

    When you say "No" to the current specification you face absolutely no risks and do the "right thing"(tm). And you ensure that your comments will be taken into account.

    No market player except Microsoft needs an ISO approval of the OOXML format. And even if you think all the technical problems of ECMA are fine and the ECMA standard was acceptable as it is you still have to vote "no", in order to get offered more from Microsoft. We have the ECMA standard, we have the ECMA standard wacky patent conditions. Now they want to relabel it "ISO standard", so what do they offer?

    I would strongly advise to negotiate a bit longer to get more. Nothing to lose! Even when the ISO process fails as a whole, and OOXML gets rejected.

    Yes with Comments is a stupid vote.

  3. Hello, Nicu & all,

    Even if our Romanian ASRO (http://www.asro.ro) seems to be full of Microsoft puppets (not so "blind", I'd say, since they are financially interested...), some of us started a campaign to inform the large Romanian public.

    Please see our efforts at:


    and, if you want to help, plase sign at


    Any comment or idea on the Romanian blogs is welcomed.

    What we can do in this moment is to inform as many people as possible about the "Opendocument vs. OOXML" matter. Would you please help ?

    Răzvan Sandu

  4. Pe ultima suta de metri, Ungaria si tarile nordice isi reconsidera pozitia (refac votul national):