OOXML doc format gets ISO approval

April 3, 2008 | 11:38

Tags: #docx #excel #iso #odf #office #office-2007 #ooxml #openoffice #openofficeorg #standards #word

Companies: #microsoft

The International Standards Organisation has voted to approve Microsoft's Office Open XML file format as an official international standard, but critics say that's not good enough.

The new format – a series of XML files contained in a compressed archive – was introduced with Microsoft Office 2007, and sparked fears that a new format would lock users in to Microsoft products and prevent interoperability with other office products.

After a decision by Massachusetts state government to mandate the use of ODF – the OpenDocument Format favoured by OpenOffice.org and other would-be MS Office killers – in 2005, Microsoft chose to hand responsibility for the fledgling format over to a third party company called Ecma International, who submitted the OOXML format to ISO for approval as an international standard.

In theory, that's a good thing: as an official international standard OOXML will see support outside the Microsoft monoculture, and other office suites – including the popular OpenOffice.org open-source package – will be free to add support for opening and saving files created by the new version of Microsoft Office. The move will also prevent the possibility of Microsoft ditching its new format some time in the future and rendering old files incompatible with newer Office versions, as there will always be something that can read an ISO-approved file.

Fans of the rival ODF say that this is another example of Microsoft forcing their pseudo-standards on an unwilling public. Marino Marcich, head of the OpenDocument Format Alliance – so hardly an unbiased observer – said in a statement that “OOXML doesn't play well with the products of other software companies,” and accused Microsoft of a failure to fully document all the intricacies of the format in order to ensure their own Office package has the best OOXML support around. He also claims that parts of the code needed to parse OOXML files are proprietary, leaving companies that adopt the format open to accusations of copyright infringement from the software giant.

Marcich also points out that the current version of Office 2007 uses a version of OOXML which is subtly different from that submitted to ISO. That said, it's expected that Microsoft will release an update to its office suite now that the OOXML format has been officially standardised.

It's not just members of the rival format club who aren't happy with the decision, however. Steve Pepper, a member of Norway's standards body, claims that Microsoft used the bully-boy tactics to cajole the group into voting for the OOXML format. Speaking to the Associated Press in Switerzand, Pepper called the decision “a tragedy for standardisation.”

Microsoft is, of course, upbeat about the whole thing. Tom Robertson, Microsoft's general manager for interoperability and standards, claims that “input from technical experts, customers and governments around the world has greatly improved the Open XML specification,” and that the changes made to gain ISO approval will make the format “even more useful to developers and customers.

Do you support Microsoft's effort to improve interoperability between rival office applications, or is it just another smoke and mirrors session from a perfidious monopoly? Share your thoughts over in the forums.
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