Source: Few Substantive Criticisms of Microsofts Office Open XML Format

By Peter Galli  |  Posted 2007-02-09 Print this article Print

Less than 10 of the comments to the ISO under the fast-track approval process for Microsoft's Office Open XML format are substantive, a source close to Microsoft says.

More information is leaking out about the content of the comments, complaints and formal contradictions that 19 countries submitted to the International Standards Organization under the fast-track approval process for Microsofts Office Open XML format.

Office Open XML was approved as a standard by Ecma International in December 2006, and in early January that standards body began the fast-track process for adoption of the format as an ISO international standard.

During the 30-day comment period that followed, the national standards body of 19 ISO member countries commented, complained or issued formal contradictions.

Click here to read more about how Microsofts Open XML format has hit roadblocks in the U.S. and abroad.

A source close to Microsoft told eWEEK that Romania specifically stated that it is in support of the fast-track process, while other countries, including Hungary and Sweden, also raised no contradictions in their submissions.

Many others, including the United States, felt that there were no grounds for contradiction and so chose not to make a submission during the comment period.

Less than 10 of the submissions contain substantive comments that Ecma, Microsoft and others will work to address, the source said.

"This is not that big a number if you consider there are more than 100 countries who could have submitted comments or contradictions, and Microsoft certainly expects technical comments to be submitted during the five-month technical review period. So this is certainly not the end of the discussion," the source said.

Read more here about Ecmas approval of the Open XML format.

The issues that have been raised include the question of how dates will be handled, given that there is an official ISO date format.


"The Open XML product does represent the old Lotus date bug-and the irony here is rich and thick-which goes back to the creation of the Lotus 1-2-3 stuff where they incorrectly calculated 1900 and the leap year," the source said.

"The fact is that you also have compatibility issues with billions of documents, and you dont just go and undo that necessarily, so those issues will get raised and addressed during the technical review process," the source said.

The ISO Secretariat now has up to 90 days to seek resolution of the issues raised by the member submissions, although this can be extended if the issues cannot be resolved in the given time period. After that comes a five-month technical review period, followed by a vote.

The alternative OpenDocument Format has already been approved as an international standard by the ISO. Click here to read more.

"This is the fast-track timetable that Open XML will follow at ISO, and so there is no possibility of it not being fast-tracked, as has been erroneously reported," the source said.

It is also important to note that Ecma had been awarded fast-track status with the ISO, indicating that the Ecma process itself met the ISO standard. "So, this whole FUD [fear, uncertainty and doubt] campaign that has been going on questioning Ecma and its credentials is really not valid," the source said.

Some Microsoft officials, like Tom Robertson, general manager for interoperability and standards, have called the reaction to the 19 comments nothing more than "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."

Microsoft is encouraged by the fact that "only a small handful" of countries submitted comments, and the company will support Ecma as it works within the ISO process to respond to the comments. "We think we will ultimately resolve all of these issues as we work through this process," Robertson said.

Microsoft hits back at its Open XML critics. Read more here.

Ecma has until Feb. 28 to respond with its proposed "resolution" for each contradiction, according to Andrew "Andy" Updegrove, a partner with Boston law firm Gesmer Updegrove LLP and the editor of the standards blog.

Once the response has been received, it will be published, accompanied by the text of the contradictions themselves, as submitted by the national bodies.

"At that point, a decision can be made on the next step. One possibility would be to permit additional time for the contradictions period-which under ISO rules could extend for up to 90 days," he said, adding that this was "all in all, not a very auspicious start for Office Open XML. And not one that bodes well for a very fast fast-track experience."

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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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