Microsoft stands firm on OOXML standardization

The good thing about standards is that there are so many to choose from

Following criticism from the Open Source Industry Association (OSIA) over its ambition to have the Office Open XML (Open XML or OOXML) format accepted as an international (ISO) standard, Microsoft's group product manager for Microsoft Office, Gray Knowlton, spoke with Computerworld about why the world needs two standard document formats.

What advantages does OOXML have over Open Document Format (ODF) that warrant its inclusion as an ISO standard?

Open XML and ODF are designed with different goals in mind. Among its goals, Open XML is designed to carry forward the information stored within billions of documents created in the past. Open XML provides the best opportunity to do so. Open XML includes specifications for features like spreadsheet formulas to maintain maximum compatibility. ODF, favouring a simpler implementation, chose to omit spreadsheet formulas in the standard submitted to ISO. Open XML also includes capability commonly referred to as "custom-defined schema support", a unique capability designed to allow implementers to embed information within documents using their own XML vocabularies, instead of requiring translation into the document format markup language. This is particularly advantageous when incorporating information into documents that originate from line-of-business applications.

This week Brazil and Indian technical committees have publicly voiced concerns about OOXML. One of the objections was that Open XML was not fully compatible with ODF. Are these criticisms valid?

Open XML and ODF are not required to be compatible. In fact, this is the purpose of having two standards. Translation projects, however, have been undertaken to help move documents between Open XML and ODF when this is necessary. These translation tools are freely available (as well as the source code for them) today. Open XML and ODF differ in their fundamental approach to XML markup. Open XML word processing documents, for example use a non-mixed content model designed for optimum application performance. ODF opts for a more verbose and more human-readable XML markup. This can be said for many document formats and XML-based markup languages. As PDF and ODF are fundamentally incompatible, and XBRL (Extensible Business Reporting Language) and DITA (Darwin Information Typing Architecture) are also incompatible, it is very common for different document formats and markup languages to have differing design objectives and implementations.

If Microsoft wants to get OOXML approved as an ISO standard what progress has it made to support the existing ODF standard in its products? Does Microsoft plan to support ODF in future products?

ODF is supported in Microsoft Office via the [ODF] translator. This is an open source project funded by Microsoft, and it is already available today. [See http://odf-converter.sourceforge.net/]

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Rodney Gedda

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