Microsoft Hits Back at Its Open XML Critics

By Peter Galli  |  Posted 2006-12-08 Print this article Print

A Microsoft official says IBM was the only company that voted against approving its Open XML specification as a standard.

Microsoft has hit back at critics, including IBM, which voted against approving the software companys Office Open XML format as an Ecma standard, claiming it is nothing more than a vendor-dictated specification that documents proprietary products via XML. Ecma International announced the approval of the new standard Dec. 6 following a meeting of its general assembly and said it will begin the fast track process for adoption of the Office Open XML formats as an ISO international standard in January 2007.
Click here to read more about how Microsoft won Ecma approval for the Office Open XML format.
In response to that announcement Bob Sutor, vice president of open source and standards at IBM, said in a blog posting that IBM "voted no today in Ecma on approval for Microsofts Open XML spec. I think we have made it clear in the last few months why we think the OpenDocument Format (ODF) ISO standard is vastly superior to the Open XML spec. "ODF is what the world needs today to drive competition, innovation, and lower costs for customers. It is an example of a real open standard versus a vendor-dictated spec that documents proprietary products via XML. ODF is about the future, Open XML is about the past. We voted for the future," Sutor said. Alan Yates, general manager of Information Worker Business Strategy at Microsoft, told eWEEK that the vote on the standard was 20 in favor and one, IBM, against. That, he said is an indication of how IBM is isolated from the other members in this regard and "is an indication of where they stand." Intel recently joined Microsoft to help get the Office Open XML format approved as a standard. Click here to read more. "It is just unfortunate that IBM has taken this position. Clearly Open XML and ODF serve different requirements," he said. "ODF takes more of a Greenfields approach, while Open XML takes more of a practical approach toward documenting compatibility and interoperability." Yates said he does not understand why a large company such as IBM is at the forefront of creating conflict around the Open XML format. "They are also really focused on mandating ODF, mandating a single format that their commercial products support. This push to mandate ODF seems to be so antithetical to what they ordinarily talk about around open standards, interoperability and choice," he said. To read more about how the OpenDocument movement is gaining steam, click here. The Open XML specification is very detailed, running to some 6,000 pages, as both Microsoft and the Ecma technical committee felt this was important to avoid guesswork and make clear what results applications using the specification would get, he said. With regard to criticisms that the specification is "ponderously long," Yates said there are a lot of irrational criticisms of the Open XML specification, of which this is one. "I cant imagine our customers asking us to create a specification that was not backward-compatible with the options they have used," he said. "The British Library and the Library of Congress were pushing us for more and more detail as they want to make sure that the documents they have, if they go forward into this new format, are rendered with high fidelity in truth to the original." Click here to read about the ODFs ISO approval. The technical committee did a lot of work making sure the specification was architecturally clear, straightforward and well-organized, so that a developer who needs to use just part of it could also easily do that. Some 750 developers have been working with the format, and so far "they havent come up with that complaint very often," Yates said. Next Page: Open XML ties to Windows?

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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