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12.12.06

A Coin-in-the-Slot Standards Organization

Posted in ECMA, Formats, Interoperability, Microsoft, Open XML, OpenDocument at 3:18 am by Shane Coyle

That’s what Simon Phipps of Sun called the Ecma, seemingly echoing Bob Sutor’s opinion that Ecma approval of Open XML was never any more than a formality (remember, IBM is a member of Ecma).

They had a schedule they had to keep, largely because of the release plan of Microsoft Office, and they also needed to work around ISO’s upcoming schedule. There was no surprise here. I might imagine someone taking umbrage at this statement, but I don’t think it’s really debatable. It’s best to understand the large collection of votes that take place in ECMA over a long period and who is sponsoring what. That’s life.

We voted "no" because we fundamentally believe that this is doing nothing more than “standardizing” Microsoft’s formats for its own products and that’s not how the industry should be behaving in 2006. In ECMA you do get to vote, and we exercised that right. It’s nice that the Microsoft spec is XML, but that alone will not guarantee widespread correct and complete implementation for the many reasons people have laid out.

Make sure you follow how well the Novell and Corel implementations do, incidentally. If they falter, watch out for those who try to blame those companies or open source itself, when the root of the problem may be with the Microsoft Office Open XML spec in the first place. You heard it here first.

It should be noted that Sun has had a problem with Ecma in the past, while trying to standardize Java, and is no longer a member. I have only fuzzy recollections of the whole thing, honestly.

[editor’s note, ECMA is no longer a correct acronym, the organization is now Ecma International]

Sun pulled Java out of the ECMA standardisation process earlier this week, citing its concern that compatibility could otherwise suffer. But there are many subtle and not-so-subtle issues underlying the decision. Sun thinks that ECMA, the Geneva-based European Association for Standardising Information and Communication Systems (previously known as the European Computer Manufacturers Association), has been unduly influenced by Microsoft and HP, who have agendas that are quite different from that of Sun. Scott McNealy noted this week that standards bodies are highly political and are influenced by their need for money.

Also questioning the purpose of Ecma in an entry entitled "A cathedral of formats or a castle of cards?" is Charles H. Schulz:

This week the ECMA decided that the Microsoft’s Open XML office file format would become an ECMA standard, despite the opposition of IBM.

I think that it was an expected result. ECMA has strong ties with Microsoft, and the very philosophy of the ECMA is to acknowledge existing technologies and call them a standard. This view is quite opposed to the one of the OASIS consortium, because the consortium does try to design specifications based on consensus, plausible engineering decisions and not on the fait accompli.

Schulz goes on to point out some very disturbing problems with Microsoft’s Open XML Patent Covenant (Andy Updegrove compares it to Sun’s covenant re:ODF here), and agrees with previous assessments regarding the impossibility of a complete "conformant" OpenXML implementation by anyone other than Microsoft.

It is clear that Ecma is an Industry Standards organization, as opposed to an Open Standards organization, and is subject to influence. Nothing is more telling than their own website, which states (emphasis mine) "Ecma is driven by industry to meet the needs of industry, generating a healthy competitive landscape based on differentiation of products and services, rather than technology models, generating confidence among vendors and users of new technology.".

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