Microsoft's OOXML: The No vote

The first of a two-part series examining the arguments for and against the standardisation of Microsoft’s Office Open XML format.

The Cyberspace Law and Policy Centre at the University of New South Wales recently hosted a symposium to discuss issues surrounding the proposed Microsoft OOXML document format standard.

In attendance at a technical session were representatives from Microsoft, IBM, Google, the Open Source Industry Australia, Standards Australia, the National Archives of Australia, and the International Organisation for Standardisation.

In this first part of a two-series story, Computerworld presents a summary of the key discussion points made by industry players who do not support the bid to standardize Microsoft's OOXML format.

The 6000-page specification for standardisation of Microsoft's OOXML format in its current form has attracted criticism on a range of issues from a variety of industry players, both commercial and non-profit alike.

The major themes discussed at the Cyberspace Law and Policy Centre's OOXML technical session centred around issues within OOXML relating to interoperability, harmonization, accessibility, portability, legacy and fidelity.

Google

During a facilitated discussion session, Lars Rasmussen, a software developer for Google Australia and one of the inventors of Google Maps, voiced Google's concerns that interoperability between document formats would be hampered by the addition of Microsoft's OOXML format alongside the current ISO document standard, Open Document Format.

"We find that to make interoperability possible what you want is a single agreed upon standard that you can use, and the question of OOXML's relationship to ODF is to us the most important of all the many comments that were raised by the national bodies," he said.

Rasmussen acknowledged that there were cases where more than one standard was required, but only when there are solid technical reasons for doing so.

"ECMA and Microsoft agree with this principle. In fact, in their introduction to OOXML they argue why there should be a new standard for office documents. We believe, as do our open source friends from New Zealand, that Microsoft has failed to provide enough technical reasons for this," he said.

"If I want to become a vendor of office productivity tools, if I have to - in order to be interoperable with other tools - implement two different standards or five or ten different standards, then the cost becomes overwhelming."

Rasmussen said what Google would like to see is further development of ODF in lieu of standardising a new format, particularly to enable the ability to convert old files to the latest format in full fidelity.

"I don't believe its true that ODF could not, with a reasonable amount of effort, be developed to a state where that could be done.

"What I'm arguing is, absent a very strong technical reason that there should be more than one standard in this area, we should not approve this standard," he said.

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Andrew Hendry

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