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The Coming OOXML Showdown

Forget about the Super Tuesday presidential primaries. The biggest election in February could be the long-awaited vote to approve Microsoft Office Open XML (OOXML) as an industry standard under the International Organization for Standardization (ISO).

You want to get a rise out of a group of developers? Tell them you see no difference between Open Document Format (ODF) and OOXML, since both simply map the features and functions of their respective, underlying Office application suites, OpenOffice and Microsoft Office.

Yeah, I can feel the hate mail already.

Peter O'Kelly knows a thing or three about the upcoming fight. He spent a good deal of December and January finishing up a Burton Group report titled: "What's Up, .DOC? ODF, OOXML, and the Revolutionary Implications of XML in Productivity Applications." You can read an excerpt of his report, due to go up tomorrow, here.

To hear Peter tell it, the ISO vote, scheduled for late February, is probably second only to the Super Tuesday primaries in terms of its importance. Like the Super Tuesday contests, the ISO vote won't decide if OOXML wins or loses. Rather, it will set the stage for the next phase of the battle.

In the case of OOXML, the ISO vote is all about position. Win, and Microsoft OOXML gains access to a larger body of organizations, companies and government bureaucracies requiring open, standards-based file formats for their applications. Lose, and OOXML could find itself shut out of some major contracts. Either way, the overwhelming dominance of Microsoft Office in the field all but ensures that OOXML is with us for the long haul.

And like a hard-fought presidential primary, the ODF-OOXML battle has all the passion and drama of the Hillary Clinton-Barack Obama primary fight. As O'Kelly wrote in his report:

"It's a story that has many elements appropriate for a James Bond movie, with multibillion dollar business empires at risk, global political intrigue, and even some conspiracy theories at the intersection of capitalism (commercial software products), democracy (industry standards), and communism (e.g., related standards controlled by the People's Republic of China). This is improbably heady stuff for what's ultimately a debate about something as mundane as file formats."

What are your thoughts on the upcoming ISO vote -- and will the result, honestly, even matter when it comes to blunting OOXML? And tell me, what would it take to fix OOXML to make it a palatable candidate as an ISO standard? E-mail me at

Posted by Michael Desmond on 01/10/2008 at 1:15 PM

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