IDC Study Finds Strong XML Uptake in Europe

IDC study finds practical concerns driving XML-based doc formats.

A Microsoft-funded study of XML-based document formats, conducted by research firm IDC, found uptake is stronger in Europe than in the United States and largely driven in both places by considerations of cost and transferability, rather than by a general preference for "openness."

The study, "Adoption of Document Standards," is based on an IDC survey of 200 government and business organizations in Europe and the United States.

In a press release issued with the study late last month, Microsoft touted the survey results as showing that organizations favor XML-based document standards such as Microsoft's to facilitate interoperability between productivity apps and to simplify long-term archiving of documents.

Even so, Microsoft's Office Open XML (OOXML) failed to get the votes it need to be approved as a standard by the International Organization for Standardization, that organization announced early this month.

Key Findings
IDC analysts Melissa Webster, Per Anderson and Thom Rubel concluded in a summary of key findings that Microsoft's OOXML is the "dominant" standard in the United States and Europe, with the open source alternative Open Document Format (ODF) "receiving some attention in the public sector."

Andrew Updegrove, a Boston-based standards lawyer and prominent open formats advocate, says the research doesn't necessarily indicate organizations are actively supporting OOXML over ODF.

"How many of those people have upgraded to Office 2007? Well, by definition, you can put every single one of them into the Open XML category. Are they endorsing Open XML or just upgrading to Office 2007?" says Updegrove, who's done legal work for the OASIS standards body, which developed ODF.

Office Format Wars Get Messy

The Swedish Standards Institute (SIS) on Aug. 30 announced that it had invalidated a recent vote to approve Microsoft OOXML as a standard for the International Organization for Standardization (ISO), according to news reports. The SIS cited a technicality in clearing the initial yea vote for ISO ratification. But Microsoft has admitted that one of its employees in Sweden had offered compensation to partners if they voted to approve the Microsoft XML file format.

Global voting for ISO ratification of OOXML closed on Sept. 2 (just after this issue went to press). Because of the tight deadline, Sweden was unable to submit a second, valid vote to the committee, meaning the country has effectively abstained from approving OOXML as an ISO standard.

The incident is a black eye for Microsoft and ISO, and calls into question standards -- making processes that have long been the target of criticism.

Updegrove argues the interest in XML-based standards quantified by IDC is largely attributable to ODF. It was the advent of ODF, he says, that showed IT departments there was an alternative to proprietary document formats while putting pressure on Microsoft to offer an open alternative to ODF.

"Whether your solution is ODF or Open XML, we wouldn't have got there without ODF," he says.

Importance of Cost
In terms of the motivation of organizations moving to XML-based document standards, IDC concluded: "Cost is very important, as is the ability to have an easy transition of existing documents to a new standard. This is particularly true for large organizations and organizations in the public sector."

Updegrove agrees that concerns over "openness" likely aren't the dominant factor driving migrations to XML-based documents today. However, he thinks it's likely that the portion of adopters primarily seeking to avoid vendor lock-in through open standards has been increasing steadily over the last few years.

"I think it would be far more meaningful to look at that on a running rate rather than on a snapshot basis," he says.
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