Setting a New Standard

 
 
By Jason Brooks  |  Posted 2007-07-20
 
 
 

Recently, theres been a great deal of hand wringing over the possibility that Microsofts Office Open XML document format might be ratified as an ISO standard.

The critics also have pointed out that the specification was crafted by Microsoft not as a standard but as a means simply of representing its legacy office file formats in XML, and doing so in a way that wards off rival format implementers by including various Office and Windows dependencies.

Without question, OOXML falls far short of being a universal office document exchange format. Considering Microsofts enormous backward-compatibility commitments, Id go so far as to say OOXMLs own authors would probably agree ODF would be a superior format on which to base a new application.

Now, does OOXML really "deserve" to join the ranks of 16,000-plus existing ISO standards? Probably not. But, in this situation, I dont think it matters much.

For one thing, Im fairly certain that ISO rejection of OOXML will not prompt Microsoft to adopt ODF for Office. Im also pretty confident the lack of ISO certification for OOXML would do nothing to dissuade current Office users from continuing to run the suite. Microsofts Office franchise has been doing rather well without standards-body-recognized formats so far, and many believe that even without specs, the popularity of Microsofts formats render them standard enough for government work already.

Whats more, with or without the ISOs blessing, OOXML is substantially more open than are Microsofts legacy binary formats.

As a user of OpenOffice.org on Linux who works in a mostly Microsoft-formatted world, Im somewhat of a stakeholder in the ODF-vs.-OOXML horse race, and Id like to see OpenOffice.org take advantage of this marginal boost in openness. In particular, Id like to see vendors and projects that back ODF and Open­Office.org attack the OOXML specs 6,000 pages that Microsoft has offered to standardization bodies and do so with less focus on teasing out ISO inadequacies and more on identifying methods for improving support for Microsofts legacy Office formats.

Click here to read more about Open XMLs latest setback in its bid for ISO ratification.

As for government lobbying, ODF supporters would do better to encourage governments to ensure future document accessibility by archiving documents as PDFs—a format that Office, OpenOffice.org and any applications with printing capabilities can target equally well.

Given the level playing field of PDF, all comers—be they ODF, OOXML or neither—can be judged not on their format alone but on the mix of functionality, platform support and cost that best matches the task at hand.

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