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The OOXML Odyssey: In Defense of Microsoft

Call it "Standardization Theater." Last week, I wondered about the lack of positive takes when it came to Microsoft's proposed Office Open XML (OOXML) standard, currently under review with the International Organization of Standardization (ISO). Having received a flood of decidedly critical opinions about OOXML, I wondered how it was that no one reading the RedDevNews newsletter -- an audience likely to be friendly to Microsoft technologies -- was saying anything good about OOXML.

Well, I heard a couple of responses. The first is from Jan Hansen, a developer out of Copenhagen, Denmark. "Your previous article was linked to from Groklaw," he writes. "Maybe only visitors who came from there bothered to respond to your question in that article."

Good point. Ben, an IT director in Leeds, England, contends that he and other Redmond supporters haven't written in because "[it's] not our job. Microsoft is a big company with a big budget and can look after itself."

He goes on with an interesting theory, which is that the ISO standardization push is simply a grandstanding maneuver. He says the open source community first gets its technology established as an ISO standard, then turns around and lobbies to require ISO ratification as a way to keep competing technologies (read: Microsoft) out of government contracts.

Writes Ben: "Best case for Microsoft, people will see through the tactic, and realize that being blessed by ISO is worth exactly nothing outside of politics. Worst case, MS will have to write a tip-top ODF import/export to get government contracts, and will have to write tip-top DOCX import/export for OpenOffice to ensure DOCX remains the interchange format -- which will basically mean massively improving OpenOffice."

Is ISO ratification just public theater in the ODF/OOXML contest? I spoke with Alexander Falk, CEO of Altova -- the company that makes XML-savvy software like XMLSpy -- and he seems to think so. Falk says that the ISO process is a good thing in that it helps improve the OOXML spec by bringing forward third-party input. But he says he expects Microsoft's XML-based file format implementation to gain widespread adoption with or without ISO sanction.

"At the end of the day, I think it will be in [Microsoft's] best interest to get through it and make those changes," Falk says. "But my gut feeling is they still have sufficient market share to push OOXML through as a de facto standard, even if it doesn't become an ISO standard."

What do you think? Does it even matter if Microsoft ends up providing an ISO-approved XML file format specification? Or will the mere existence of XML-based default file formats in Office be enough for most IT and dev shops to get behind? E-mail me at [email protected].

Posted by Michael Desmond on 09/26/2007 at 1:15 PM

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