Ecma Approves MS Office Format, IBM Dissents

Microsoft’s Open XML office software format, pushed by the tech giant to compete with the Open Document Format (ODF), cleared a standards hurdle this week, winning approval from the Ecma international standards body.

The vote was not unanimous, however, as ODF supporter and Ecma member IBM gave Microsoft’s standard a no vote, and there was some speculation that Open XML will face a much greater challenge winning approval from the International Standards Organization (ISO), which has already approved ODF as an international standard.

Still, the Ecma approval of Microsoft’s format — developed with a committee of other vendors including Apple, Intel, Novell and Toshiba — keeps Redmond’s efforts to dominate ODF with its own standard going strong.

“The biggest significance of clearing Ecma is it puts them in a position to be on a fast track for ISO,” Gartner Research Vice President Mike Silver told LinuxInsider.

Interoperable Intentions

The Ecma vote for standardization of Open XML, the format for Microsoft’s popular Office software suite, came after a number of changes to the specification, and the compilation of more than 6,000 pages of documentation intended to help developers use it.

“Today’s Ecma vote is a major milestone in furthering document interoperability — we believe customers will really appreciate the benefits that Open XML provides,” said Microsoft Chief Research and Strategy Officer Craig Mundie.

The vote also comes on the heels of an announcement that Novell and Corel will support Open XML in the Microsoft-competing OpenOffice and WordPerfect products.

International Edge

IBM indicated it did not support OpenXML because, unlike ODF, it is not truly open and vendor-neutral. Big Blue also objected to the voluminous documentation accompanying Open XML, arguing it would be hard for vendors to review and use the format.

However, Gartner’s Silver highlighted how Novell and Corel had already demonstrated both the willingness and ability to implement Microsoft’s format.

Microsoft needs to push Open XML through ISO because the governments that have traditionally relied on Microsoft’s solutions and formats are demanding an international standard, according to Silver.

He said ODF, approved as an ISO standard last May, currently has an advantage over OpenXML with its ISO blessing. Still, Corel’s reasoning to support Open XML shows that Microsoft may have an advantage beyond word processing formatting in spreadsheet and presentation software, Silver added.

“[ODF] is at the same point as Microsoft with ISO on spreadsheet and presentation [formats],” he said.

Open for One

The standards status of Open XML, which will work only with Microsoft software, is questionable given its user and platform limitations, Open Source And Industry Alliance (OSAIA) Director of Public Policy Will Rodger told LinuxInsider.

“What does it mean when a so-called ‘standard’ can be fully implemented by one vendor and one vendor only?” he said. “It is not a standard in any meaningful sense of the word in the IT industry.”

Although Microsoft made the ISO fast track with Ecma’s approval of Open XML, Rodger predicted a much tougher task in winning approval from ISO, which favors openness and also tends to limit its support to one standard.

“I think there’s going to be a very huge hurdle in ISO for Open XML, and it may be insurmountable,” Rodger said.

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