Microsoft Stacks and Stumbles with OOXML

Guess what? There’s a standards war going on. Not quite as scary as the war on terror. But a war that will decide which format we all use for “office” documents, and how much choice we have over the tools used to write those documents. What a novel idea. Choice in the office tools market. You mean there’s something other than Word?

In the absence of real standards, we’ve been living in a world of de facto standards, which for most of us means Microsoft Word. But when ISO approved the XML-based Open Document Format (ODF) as a standard, the world started to look a little different, and people started to ask questions. Like, why don’t we store all our documents in this nice, new, open, standards-based format, and tell all the vendors (including Microsoft) to bring their software into line with the standard?

This is very scary if you’re Microsoft.

So they did what any self-respecting monopolist would do in the circumstances: they started a standards war. And Office Open XML (OOXML) was born. If there must be a standard, let’s make it our standard.

On one side of the war you have Microsoft, pushing a standard very tightly aligned with its existing Office suite: OOXML. And on the other side of the war you have IBM, Sun, and others, pushing ODF, which already has the ISO seal of approval.

The latest skirmish relates to Microsoft’s efforts to “fast track” OOXML towards ISO approval. On July 13th, an important technical committee failed to reach any consensus on OOXML. Some are calling this a major setback. But according to INCITS spokesperson, Jennifer Garner (no relation to the actress that I’m aware of), the committee has “not yet determined” it’s position.

One of the more scandalous claims about this process is that Microsoft is trying to buy itself a standard, by stacking relevant committees with Microsoft business partners. I’m sure the surge in pro-Redmond members is pure coincidence.

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