Microsofts Open XML Format Hits Roadblocks in U.S., Abroad

By Peter Galli  |  Posted 2007-02-07 Print this article Print

Legislation in Texas and Minnesota, as well as moves by foreign countries, does not bode well for Microsoft's Office Open XML format, favoring instead ODF.

Microsofts goal of getting governments across the globe to embrace its Office Open XML format has hit roadblocks in both the United States and abroad.

In the United States, legislation was introduced in Texas and Minnesota the week of Feb. 5 to mandate the adoption of open document formats that will essentially preserve all documents in an open, XML-based file format that is interoperable among diverse internal and external platforms and applications.
The formats will also need to be fully published without restrictions, available royalty-free and implemented by multiple vendors. In addition, they will have to be controlled by an open industry organization with a well-defined inclusive process for evolution of the standard.
These new legislative moves follow the decision by Massachusetts to switch to the Open Document Format for its official documents, with sources telling eWEEK that even more states are likely to follow suit if these bills pass. In fact, the ODF Alliance reports that Bloomington, Ind., has already moved to the format, while government leaders from California and Wisconsin have spoken publicly on the value of open standards and/or ODF. The use of ODF has been a controversial subject in Massachusetts. Click here to read more. Adding to the bad news for Microsoft is the fact that 19 countries have submitted "contradictions" to the bid to get fast-track approval of the standard by the International Standards Organization. Andrew "Andy" Updegrove, a partner with Boston law firm Gesmer Updegrove LLP and the editor of the standards blog, reports that Australia, Canada, Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Hungary, India, Japan, Kenya, Malaysia, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Romania, Singapore, Sweden and the United Kingdom have all submitted comments, complaints or formal contradictions to JTC (Joint Technical Committee) 1, the ISO/IEC body that is managing the fast-track process under which Office Open XML (now Ecma 476) has been submitted. India is also believed to have responded by abstaining from voting, in protest over the extremely short amount of time provided to review the 6,039-page specification, he said. Ecma now has until Feb. 28 to respond with its proposed "resolution" for each contradiction. Once this has been received, JTC 1 will publish the response, accompanied by the text of the contradictions themselves, as submitted by the national bodies. ODF has already been approved as an international standard by the ISO. Click here to read more. "At that point, a decision can be made on the next step," Updegrove said. "One possibility would be to permit additional time for the contradictions period—which under ISO/IEC rules could extend for up to 90 days. All in all, not a very auspicious start for OOXML. And not one that bodes well for a very fast fast-track experience." Tom Robertson, general manager for interoperability and standards at Microsoft, told eWEEK that there is a competitive situation in the marketplace, with ODF supporters actively trying to stop even the consideration of Open XML as a standard under the ISOs rules. "This is a pure competitive play on the part of ODF supporters like IBM," he said. "There are 103 countries that participated in the ISO process, and each country has a national standards body with the authority to act at the ISO on behalf of that country." The fast-track process started with a 30-day comment period, during which those national standards bodies could raise perceived contradictions that they feel fundamentally conflict with something the ISO is doing, or has done in the past. The ISO Secretariat then has up to 90 days to seek resolution of these perceived contradictions. After that comes a five-month technical review process, followed by a vote, Robertson said. "So, as of Feb. 5, we reached the end of the 30-day comment period, and we always expected some comments to come in. What we see is that only a small handful have submitted comments, but we are not in a position to say exactly how many have done that as we respect the ISO process and want it to run its course," he said. Microsoft and its partners have finished work on the Open XML Translator. Find out more here. "But what you are seeing now is a lot of hype about the state of the ISOs review of Open XML that is entirely driven by our competitors trying to make a bigger deal out of the comments that have come in than is appropriate," Robertson said. "We will support Ecma as it works within the ISO process to respond to these comments, and we think we will ultimately resolve all of these issues as we work through this process." Next Page: Is ODF behind the legislation?

Peter Galli has been a financial/technology reporter for 12 years at leading publications in South Africa, the UK and the US. He has been Investment Editor of South Africa's Business Day Newspaper, the sister publication of the Financial Times of London.

He was also Group Financial Communications Manager for First National Bank, the second largest banking group in South Africa before moving on to become Executive News Editor of Business Report, the largest daily financial newspaper in South Africa, owned by the global Independent Newspapers group.

He was responsible for a national reporting team of 20 based in four bureaus. He also edited and contributed to its weekly technology page, and launched a financial and technology radio service supplying daily news bulletins to the national broadcaster, the South African Broadcasting Corporation, which were then distributed to some 50 radio stations across the country.

He was then transferred to San Francisco as Business Report's U.S. Correspondent to cover Silicon Valley, trade and finance between the US, Europe and emerging markets like South Africa. After serving that role for more than two years, he joined eWeek as a Senior Editor, covering software platforms in August 2000.

He has comprehensively covered Microsoft and its Windows and .Net platforms, as well as the many legal challenges it has faced. He has also focused on Sun Microsystems and its Solaris operating environment, Java and Unix offerings. He covers developments in the open source community, particularly around the Linux kernel and the effects it will have on the enterprise.

He has written extensively about new products for the Linux and Unix platforms, the development of open standards and critically looked at the potential Linux has to offer an alternative operating system and platform to Windows, .Net and Unix-based solutions like Solaris.

His interviews with senior industry executives include Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer, Linus Torvalds, the original developer of the Linux operating system, Sun CEO Scot McNealy, and Bill Zeitler, a senior vice president at IBM.

For numerous examples of his writing you can search under his name at the eWEEK Website at


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