Microsoft Wins Document Format Standards Battle
April 2, 2008 4:15 PM
Microsoft takes important step in crushing its rival's format
Microsoft has long profited from proprietary formats, occasionally at its competitors' expense. However, with open standards coming into vogue, Microsoft adopted an "if you can't beat them, join them" approach, creating its own
open document format
However, its new format was not warmly received. Microsoft hoped its Office Open XML (OOXML) format would become the office file format of choice for the industry. The OpenDoc Society, a long term opponent of Microsoft, did not believe in Microsoft's sudden change of heart. It sought to
outcompete OOXML, with its existing format, Open Document Format (ODF)
The ODF format is already ratified as a standard by the International Organization for Standardization (ISO), solidifying its place in the academic and business communities as a viable option. When Microsoft sought ISO ratification, the OpenDoc Society lobbied against it. It argued that having multiple open document standards defeats the purpose of having standards and that the standard would allow Microsoft to tighten its grip on computer systems.
In the end the OpenDoc Society's campaign was an exercise in futility as Microsoft's OOXML has
finally been ISO certified
. The decision was leaked Tuesday ahead of the official ISO announcement, which came today. Microsoft lauded the move, saying that it created a "level playing field" for OOXML to competed with ODF and other formats.
Tom Robertson, Microsoft's head of interoperability and standards, stated, "Open XML joins the
ranks of PDF
, HTML and ODF among the ranks of document formats. I think it makes it easier for governments to offer users choice. The control over the specification now moves into the hands of the global community. This is going to be one of the most, if not the most important document format around the world for years to come."
James Love, director of Knowledge Economy International, an organization campaigning for more open access to knowledge critical of OOXML, stated, "We are disappointed. Microsoft's control over document formats has destroyed competition on the desktop, and the fight over OOXML is really a fight over the future of competition and innovation."
Microsoft lost an initial first vote, putting the format's future in jeopardy. The format was allowed a second balloting, though, and this time it passed. Of those voting, 86 percent of voting national bodies and 75 percent of the voting members -- known as P-members -- moved to approve the format. A two-thirds approval among P-members was sufficient to ratify the format. Voting for Microsoft's OOXML were the United States, Britain, Germany and Japan. Voting against it were China, India and Russia.
The committee had a tough job just reaching the vote, having to deal with the 6,000 pages of code that define OOXML and with over 1,000 points of order, topics to be discussed before the vote. Critics of OOXML point out that ODF is only 860 pages of code, making it difficult to guarantee true interoperability between the formats. Microsoft continues to insist that
OOXML will be fully interoperable with ODF
Michiel Leenaars, OpenDoc Society boardmember and ISO voting member, stated that the standard should not have been ratified and the ratification process was too hasty. He states, "It was mission impossible. The process wasn't meant for this type of thing."
Nonetheless, Microsoft has secured ratification and fulfilled its critics worse fears by moving one step closer to domination of the next generation industry standard for office documents.
"So, I think the same thing of the music industry. They can't say that they're losing money, you know what I'm saying. They just probably don't have the same surplus that they had." -- Wu-Tang Clan founder RZA
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