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12.07.06

Signs That Your “Open Standard” May Not Be Open Enough

Posted in Apple, DRM, ECMA, Formats, Interoperability, Microsoft, Office Suites, Open XML, OpenDocument, OpenOffice, Standard at 2:16 am by Shane Coyle

Microsoft has submitted their Office Open XML document format for ECMA approval, actually I believe they vote today, and will be seeking ISO approval as well – all in the hopes of proving that their file format is an "open standard" and they are serious about "interoperability".

When the ECMA International standards board approves Microsoft’s XML file format technology this week and hands it off to the International Standards Organization (ISO) for another level of approval, the software colossus will have nailed down an important piece of its strategy to keep the IT world in the Microsoft fold.

ECMA’s approval, a foregone conclusion after more than a year of study, likely won’t stop the parade of governmental bodies from adopting the competing OpenDocument Format (ODF), but it will help Microsoft in its effort to claim it is serious about providing interoperability for its hundreds of millions of users worldwide.

If OOXML is an open standard, why must Mac MS Office users wait so long for OOXML support? Correct me if I am wrong, but MS Office on the Mac is developed by Microsoft themselves, how is it that the Windows Office development team had access to the OOXML specification but the Mac Office team did not? Microsoft is promising to provide converters, but not for some months:

Without the converters, Open XML documents opened in Office for Mac 2004 are garbled and unusable. Microsoft developer Sheridan Jones said the Mac team had to wait until Office 2007 and the new file format were “locked down” before beginning the work. The free public beta version of the file converters is set for release in spring 2007.

The final version would be available six to eight weeks after the launch of the next version of Office for Mac, which is expected six to eight months after the launch of the Windows version of Office 2007. “The next version of Office for Mac will natively read the Open XML format; users of the current version of Office will have converters in order to maintain compatibility with the new Office for Windows,” Jones said.

So, the Mac team had to wait for OOXML to be "locked down" and the Windows team did not, that seems odd. But, lets get past that; How can it possibly take so long for implementation of OOXML?, you may ask. Well, as has been stated before, the Office Open XML specification is huge, making it difficult if not impossible to implement. How can this be? Try this for perspective: (emphasis mine)

ODF has a head start with ISO approval, which it received last summer and which was formally published by the standards organization last week. Microsoft’s ECMA submission comprised more than 6,000 pages. The challenge of plowing through so much could drag out approval by ISO. (ODF’s submission was less than 700 pages.)

“The ECMA spec stacks up on a desk as high as your shoulder,” said Hiser. “It can cost $1,000 just to print it out.”

So, while Microsoft’s own developers struggle to comprehend and implement their own proposed "standard" file format, perhaps Mac MS Office customers can use Novell OpenOffice for their Windows MS Office compatibility needs.

Now that’s interoperability.

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