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    Standards Body Weighs Microsoft’s Competing Format For Document Sharing

    Published on 27 February 2008 @ 9:00 pm

    Intellectual Property Watch

    By Kaitlin Mara
    Public and private-sector representatives from thirty-seven nations are in Geneva this week for a five-day closed-door meeting to try to resolve editing suggestions on a recently proposed document format that if accepted as a standard could impact file-sharing worldwide.

    At issue is what has become a hotly contested fight over a proposed international standard for Microsoft’s Office Open XML (OOXML) format, also referred to as ISO/IEC DIS 29500. The Geneva-based International Standards Organization (ISO) is holding a “Ballot Resolution Meeting” on the draft standard from 25 to 29 February.

    Microsoft’s OOXML format already enjoys international standard status under Ecma International, an industry standards-making body also based in Geneva. But the ISO vote is of significance as ISO’s standards-making procedure is generally considered to be both more independent and more rigorous, several sources said. It is also an accepted international standards body for the European Commission, which Ecma is not, according to an EU source.

    ISO’s Joint Technical Committee previously granted fast-track status for consideration of OOXML standardisation. This means that the standard was first submitted to a five-month “letter ballot” in which all of ISO’s member national standards bodies have a chance to review the proposed standard, voting either to approve, disapprove, or abstain. Approval as a standard requires 66.6 percent (two-thirds) of the votes to be in favour and no more than 25 percent of the votes to be against. In Microsoft’s case, according to the ISO, only 53 percent of the votes were positive and 26 percent negative after the initial review, which ended on 2 September 2007.

    Voting bodies may also make comments on a proposed standard, suggestions for needed edits and/or changes necessary to improve the document or to make the document acceptable for that particular body’s approval. All national standards bodies that voted in the initial review – in Microsoft’s case, 87 bodies – are invited to the Ballot Resolution Meeting (BRM) where they can discuss the suggestions made. Attendance is obligatory for all bodies that voted to disapprove, according to sources.

    Microsoft received 3,722 comments on its OOXML format, according to IBM’s Don Harrison. Those suggestions have been whittled down to 1,100 through “grouping and eliminating redundancies,” according to ISO.

    This week’s meeting is a technical meeting in which attending representatives from the national bodies have five days to resolve as many of these 1,100 issues as they can. After that, bodies will have thirty days, until 29 March, to submit a change to their vote if they so choose, according to ISO.

    If OOXML is approved, it can continue the process towards becoming an international standard, it said. If it fails, it is considered to have failed the fast-track process as a whole and Microsoft will be required to reapply, if it chooses to do so, through ISO’s normal approval procedures.

    The Open Source Lobby

    The BRM has attracted a number of lobbyists and technologists to Geneva, many converging at a concurrent event called OpenForum Europe, organised by [correction: organised by OpenForum Europe and supported by] the Open Document Format (ODF) Alliance and the Free Software Foundation and held in the same building as the BRM. The ODF is OOXML’s rival standard and has been an international standard under ISO since 2006. It was approved in the first round ballot letter process without recourse to a BRM.

    Reactions to the BRM have been mixed. Jonathan Zuck of the Association for Competitive Technology, which counts Microsoft as a member and issued a statement in support of the standard, said that OOXML is just as deserving as ODF of standardisation, as “only OOXML offers full fidelity for storage of existing documents” from prior versions of word-processing software.

    Vint Cerf, vice president and “chief Internet evangelist” for Google, which appears to oppose the OOXML standard, argued that something that has been worked on by only one party should not be labelled a standard, and that OOXML appears to be more like the publication of a proprietary specification.

    The biggest problem, according to Sachiko Muto of the OpenForum, is the lack of transparency in the process. “I’m shocked that an international standard can be pushed through” in the way that it has. The ISO process is closed to journalists, and those not representing one of the 87 invited standards bodies, the Ecma delegation, or ISO are not permitted entrance.

    OOXML contains some 6,000 pages of code [correction: of specifications], the complexity of which could inhibit its usefulness, according to critics. Some participants at the OpenForum have made up tongue-in-cheek stickers asking “Have you read all 6,000 pages?” in order to contrast the length in the ODF format – which is 722 pages – along with its relative simplicity. A participant said the campaign also is aimed at raising the point that a five-day meeting for resolving over 1,000 comments on a document 6,000 pages long may not be adequate time for a quality peer-review process.

    Kaitlin Mara may be reached at kmara@ip-watch.ch.

     

    Comments

    1. Olivier Tripet says:

      Good article. As promised, Microsoft just published the specificiations of its old doc, xls and ppt formats as well as the related documentation. Before the specifications were made available freely, you had to email Microsoft. Surprisingly, they also made the documentation for a few other supporting technologies available.

      They even launched a new Open Source project (including a development roadmap) for a translator from binary to Open XML. The project is live on sourceforge. However, there is not a single line of code yet nor any binary package for download. Besides, substantial records may remain unspecified or missing.

      Some specialists warned that the milestones defined in the roadmap are way too optimistic.

      While many people critize the complexity of the Microsoft Office file formats (mainly due to backward compatibility issues) or even argue the necessity for OOXML, the recent release of the specifications may be just a strategy to get the OOXML format accepted as an ISO standard. There is no guarantee that the translation project on sourceforge will be properly implemented.

      On the other hand, the Open Document ISO standard already got the support of Sun, Google, IBM, Novell, Wikimedia. Now that the competition globally managed to parse the old doc, xls and ppt formats, Microsoft has nothing to lose by explaining how those are coded. However, by pushing its own Open XML, the firm is clearly battling against Open Document. By the way, it is funny to note that everyone’s talking about Open Source, Open formats, Open knowledge, etc, everything is presented as ‘open’ and free while there is a real war going on behind the scene!

      Meanwhile, Office 2008 still does not recognize Open Document files by default and Open Office still does not recognize Office Open XML…

    2. Office Open XML Officially Approved As International Standard | Intellectual Property Watch says:

      [...] has been hotly contested, culminating in two parallel meetings in Geneva this February (IPW, Access to Knowledge, 27 February 2008): one, the Ballot Resolution Meeting meant to resolve technical issues with the specification [...]


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    We welcome your participation in article and blog comment threads, and other discussion forums, where we encourage you to analyse and react to the content available on the Intellectual Property Watch website. By participating in discussions or reader forums, or by submitting opinion pieces or comments to articles, blogs, reviews or multimedia features, you are consenting to these rules.

    We welcome your participation in article and blog comment threads, and other discussion forums, where we encourage you to analyse and react to the content available on the Intellectual Property Watch website.

    By participating in discussions or reader forums, or by submitting opinion pieces or comments to articles, blogs, reviews or multimedia features, you are consenting to these rules.

    1. You agree that you are fully responsible for the content that you post. You will not knowingly post content that violates the copyright, trademark, patent or other intellectual property right of any third party or which you know is under a confidentiality obligation preventing its publication and that you will request removal of the same should you discover that you have violated this provision. Likewise, you may not post content that is libelous, defamatory, obscene, abusive, that violates a third party's right to privacy, that otherwise violates any applicable local, state, national or international law, that amounts to spamming or that is otherwise inappropriate. You may not post content that degrades others on the basis of gender, race, class, ethnicity, national origin, religion, sexual preference, disability or other classification. Epithets and other language intended to intimidate or to incite violence are also prohibited. Furthermore, you may not impersonate others.

    2. You understand and agree that Intellectual Property Watch is not responsible for any content posted by you or third parties. You further understand that IP Watch does not monitor the content posted. Nevertheless, IP Watch may monitor the any user-generated content as it chooses and reserves the right to remove, edit or otherwise alter content that it deems inappropriate for any reason whatever without consent nor notice. We further reserve the right, in our sole discretion, to remove a user's privilege to post content on our site. IP Watch is not in any manner endorsing the content of the discussion forums and cannot and will not vouch for its reliability or otherwise accept liability for it.

    3. By submitting any contribution to IP Watch, you warrant that your contribution is your own original work and that you have the right to make it available to IP Watch for all purposes and you agree to indemnify IP Watch, its directors, employees and agents against all damages, legal fees and others expenses that may be incurred by IP Watch as a result of your breach of warranty or of these terms.

    4. You further agree not to publish any personal information about yourself or anyone else (for example telephone number or home address). If you add a comment to a blog, be aware that your email address will be apparent.

    5. IP Watch will not be liable for any loss including but not limited to the following (whether such losses are foreseen, known or otherwise): loss of data, loss of revenue or anticipated profit, loss of business, loss of opportunity, loss of goodwill or injury to reputation, losses suffered by third parties, any indirect, consequential or exemplary damages.

    6. You understand and agree that the discussion forums are to be used only for non-commercial purposes. You may not solicit funds, promote commercial entities or otherwise engage in commercial activity in our discussion forums.

    7. You acknowledge and agree that you use and/or rely on any information obtained through the discussion forums at your own risk.

    8. For any content that you post, you hereby grant to IP Watch the royalty-free, irrevocable, perpetual, exclusive and fully sub-licensable license to use, reproduce, modify, adapt, publish, translate, create derivative works from, distribute, perform and display such content in whole or in part, world-wide and to incorporate it in other works, in any form, media or technology now known or later developed.

    9. These terms and your posts and contributions shall be governed and interpreted in accordance with the laws of Switzerland (without giving effect to conflict of laws principles thereof) and any dispute exclusively settled by the Courts of the Canton of Geneva.

     

     
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