Rhetoric Rises as Office Open XML Vote Approaches

Partisans are debating whether the modifications to the Open XML specification are enough to win it recognition as an international standard.

The war of words between Microsoft, IBM and others with an interest in document formats has reached a boiling point ahead of the crucial vote later this month on whether or not Microsoft's Office Open XML format should be approved as an ISO standard.

The format failed to achieve the two-thirds vote needed for approval as an international standard by the International Organization for Standardization in September.

That was followed by a ballot resolution meeting in Geneva this February, designed to find consensus on modifications to the document in light of the comments made by the national bodies that voted.

The question now is whether those modifications have persuaded enough of the national bodies to support the publication of the specification as a standard.

Microsoft fired off the first volley, with Chris Capossela, senior vice president for Microsoft Office, releasing an open letter March 16 in which he said the Open XML standard under consideration by the ISO/IEC has been significantly improved as a result of global feedback and consideration.

He also appears to assume that the specification is headed for approval later this month, saying, "We've listened to the global community and learned a lot, and we are committed to supporting the Open XML specification that is approved by ISO/IEC in our products."

That led to a sharp retort March 19 from Ed Brill, an IBM business unit executive and worldwide sales leader for Lotus Notes, who accused Microsoft of trying to appear "the good guys" in its efforts to take a "heavily modified version of the Office 2007 document formats and get it rubber-stamped as an international standard."

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Brill also took issue with Caposella's claim in the open letter that Novell, Corel, Apple, IBM, Sun and others have already adopted, or announced adoption of, Open XML in their products on a variety of platforms-including Linux, Windows, the Mac operating system, the Palm operating system, Java and .Net.

"This hits at one of the core issues of the Office Open XML saga that I have been highlighting for months. Microsoft claims that the Office 2007 document formats equals Ecma Open XML and therefore that IBM's announced support for Office 2007 document formats in a few products equals support for the format. IBM doesn't support Ecma Open XML. But whoever expects Microsoft to be clear communicators?" he said in a blog post.

Earlier in the week, Bob Sutor, IBM's vice president of standards and open source, also made it quite clear that the companyis completely opposed to having Office Open XML become an ISO standard.

" IBM is opposed to this specification becoming a JTC1 [ ISO/IEC] standard because it was developed in a non-open manner, is ridiculously large, is technically inferior, and emerged from the Ballot Resolution Meeting with most things not explicitly resolved and more questions than ever before. So just in case you were wondering, now you know," he said in a blog post.