Inertia May Delay Standard

An open and standard format for office applications is a must.

Last week, the XML consortium OASIS announced the formation of a working group with the goal of creating an XML-based standard for office application formats.

This group has the backing of several software vendors, including Sun, but noticeably absent is Microsoft, and it seems to me that trying to develop a standard for office formats without Microsofts participation is like defining a standard for physical office documents that doesnt include paper.

Still, the goal of the OASIS Open Office XML-Format Technical Committee is laudable. After all, given the increasing interconnectedness of businesses, an open and standard format for office applications is a must. I also like the fact that the standard is being based on the format used by OpenOffice and StarOffice, which is essentially a compressed file made up of XML documents.

Of course, none of this matters without Microsofts backing. As far as most businesses are concerned, if it doesnt work with Microsoft Office, it doesnt work with office applications.

Microsoft will point to its excellent XML support in Office XP and in the forthcoming Office 11, which will be able to import and export content as XML files. This is good but not as interchangeable as a common document format would be.

However, the biggest stumbling block to this standard is simple inertia. Even if Microsoft gets on board for this standard, a version of Office that supports it would be at least two years away. Given that most businesses dont jump to upgrade Office (many still run Office 97), it could be many years before any standard format has enough penetration to be truly standard.

So, even though it makes sense, dont expect to see a true standard for office documents any time soon.

Does the OASIS office standard have a chance? Let me know at jim_rapoza@ziffdavis.com.