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

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.

/zimages/1/28571.gifThe 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 ConsortiumInfo.org 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.

/zimages/1/28571.gifODF 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.

/zimages/1/28571.gifMicrosoft 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?