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Standard or Not, OOXML Has a Lot Going for It

With the February vote approaching to ratify Microsoft Office Open XML as a standard under the International Organization for Standardization (ISO), we're keeping a close eye on developments in both OOXML and the Open Document Format (ODF) specifications.

Last week, Burton Group analyst Peter O'Kelly published a detailed report that looked at both OOXML and ODF, and assessed their relative position in the XML file format space. You can find that report here.

There's a lot of noise and consternation about the approaching vote, but O'Kelly points out that the two specifications share a fundamental likeness. Both OOXML and ODF are essentially XML-based serializations of their respective office productivity suite file formats. In short, neither is positioned as a true, "universal" file format.

That said, O'Kelly's report finds that OOXML enjoys a significant edge -- particularly among larger organizations -- because it is, in essence, a de facto standard. OOXML is designed to work seamlessly with all versions of Microsoft Office, an application suite that Microsoft estimates is being used today by more than half a billion people.

"While ISO standardization would accelerate the use of OOXML in many standards-focused organizations, the February 2008 ISO ballot will not determine the overall fate of OOXML," O'Kelly writes in the report.

There's also Microsoft's rich history in the arena of standards-making combat. ODF versus OOXML is only the latest broadly supported industry standard to challenge the Redmond machine. Whether it's VIM versus MAPI, IDAPI versus ODBC, or OpenDoc versus OLE, it seems Microsoft doesn't lose too many of these battles.

With the vast fulcrum of the Microsoft Office suite to apply to the current fight, I'm hard-pressed to see how ODF will gain ground against OOXML, even if OOXML fails to gain ISO approval next month.

Ultimately, O'Kelly said it best in his report: "The relative success of ODF and OOXML, in any case, will be determined more by its utility and which community effectively exploits W3C standards than it will by one or the other more effectively navigating through ISO standards procedures."

Posted by Michael Desmond on 01/17/2008

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