Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Is OOXML Open as Microsoft Claims?

Microsoft recently posted an "open letter", complaining that IBM is not in favor of open standards, and that they are all hypocrites. It is noted that IBM was the only one to vote no in the ECMA process for the standardization of OOXML. I find this to be disingenuous to say the least.

Microsoft claims that OOXML is open because of its acceptance as an ECMA standard. In my opinion, that hardly makes it open. The rules by which ECMA standards are created are very loose indeed, and I don't blame IBM one bit for voting against it. I just can't believe that everyone else involved didn't vote no too!

File formats have become an interesting topic of conversation, ever since ODF (Open Document Format) came on the scene. Before ODF became an OASIS and ISO standard there were no open standards for office document formats. With Microsoft controlling the majority of the market for office productivity applications, their proprietary file format has been lock-in heaven for them, and lock-in hell for their customers.

ODF threatens to break that lock-in, and free customers to choose alternatives, without the problems associated with proprietary file formats (lost formatting, can't edit with a different application, etc.). So, Microsoft had to act to protect its franchise, because they simply are afraid to, or maybe they can't, compete on the quality of their implementation of office productivity software. Of course, it would also commoditize the market, and drive down prices. With Office being almost half of Microsoft's profits, that's a hard pill to swallow.

With that as the backdrop, is OOXML truly open?

The short answer is an emphatic NO!

The reason for this is simple. The specification clearly references proprietary Microsoft Office technology that cannot be implemented by anyone other than Microsoft. Truly open standards, need to be able to be implemented by anyone that desires to do so, and this is simply not the case with OOXML.

Without the ability for competing products to implement the file format, Microsoft can claim to have an open standard file format, and keep the lock-in they have enjoyed for years. As they say in the Guiness commercials, "brilliant!".

Of course, I hope the ISO will put an end to this charade, and vote this down as an ISO standard. That is the only just thing that can happen. If Microsoft gets away with this, Microsoft will have won again, and the joke is on us.

What's the old saying? Fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice, shame on me!

Well, if the ISO members are fooled into accepting OOXML as a standard, it will not only be the shame of the ISO members, but a shame on the entire world!

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