Microsoft: No File Format or Standard Is Perfect

By Peter Galli  |  Posted 2008-01-16

Microsoft: No File Format or Standard Is Perfect

KIRKLAND , Wash. -- No format or standard is perfect. They are evolving things that morph, change and improve over time, said Tom Robertson, the general manager for Microsoft's corporate responsibility and standards group, at a media event here Jan. 16.

Microsoft's own Office Open XML file format is itself evolving through the international ISO/IEC standardization process, which is currently underway, he said, before stressing that Open XML was a true, open standard that has already been through the rigorous standardization process by Ecma, which then sent this on to ISO/IEC for ratification.

Robertson also took aim at the competitive ODF (Open Document Format), saying it does not meet its customer needs, does not provide backwards compatibility and does not support custom-defined schemas. 

"Our customers were telling us that they needed the higher functionality built into Open XML and Microsoft does not believe they should be forced into a one size fits all solution that does not meet their needs, and did not meet their needs from the outset," he said.

Microsoft also has a very different perspective on allegations that it strong-armed companies to become involved in the IEC/ISO process so that it could vote in its favor, Robertson said, before taking aim at IBM, which supports the competitive Open Document Format.

"This process should not be conducted the way it has been in the past, behind closed doors by the old guard of established IT companies, including IBM. There has to be an open process where anyone who has an interest in the process has the right to sit at the table, have a voice and be heard," he said.

While Microsoft has not achieved the two-thirds majority required to get Open XML approved as an ISO standard at the vote in September 2007, the Ecma committee has done a huge amount of work to address the comments raised by national bodies when they voted, and Microsoft was very involved in that and felt the recently issued report on this is a great accomplishment.


Voice of the People

"We believe this document addresses the comments of those national bodies, and hope that even more national bodies will vote in favor of the improved format later this quarter as a lot of good improvements to the format have taken place as a result of this hard work," Robertson said.

But he stressed that Microsoft believes the vote is of interest to many countries and people across the world, and that they should absolutely have a voice in that process, which needs to not be limited to Open XML proponents, but also include ODF supporters.

"The table should be big enough and inclusive of all. We are happy to see the process is more inclusive than it has been in the past," Robertson said. 

Asked by eWEEK what the impact would be on adoption if Open XML is not ratified by ISO/IEC, Robertson said it is already an open Ecma standard, is already available to the community and is already being rapidly adopted.

"We would expect that to continue. The question is whether the global community wants to have a voice in its evolution, and that is what the ISO/IEC ratification process will do," he said.

With regard to whether it is possible to create a perfect translator between different formats, Robertson said there is no such thing. The community needs to be involved in the process and translation could be optimized and continually improved, but the fact remains that the two formats are different, he said.

Turning to the issue of interoperability, Robertson said it is as important to customers as security and reliability. As such, Microsoft is working with others, including competitors, to achieve this.

For Microsoft, interoperability means connecting people, data and diverse systems, addressing real customer concerns and enabling innovation, he said.

But Robertson did acknowledge that there is still a lot of work to be done on the interoperability front. "Is it a perfect world? No. Are we going to resolve all these issues by next week? No. But the work here is ongoing," he said.

With regard to antitrust actions in the European Union, Robertson said the Court of First Instance decision in September was in large part about interoperability and the sharing of protocols, which the commission felt needed to be open and shared and Microsoft was working to make sure it complied with this.

The Commission's opening of two new investigations on Jan. 14 also have some element of interoperability and "we are working with them to ensure that we comply with all the rules and laws around the world," Robertson said.

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