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06 April 2010, 17:17

XML expert says Microsoft's OOXML fails standards test

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Microsoft Logo Microsoft has come under heavy criticism for its role in the standardisation process for its Office Open XML (OOXML) standard at the International Organisation for Standardisation (ISO). In a blog entry on the second anniversary of the specification's adoption as an ISO standard, Alex Brown, convenor of the Office Open XML (OOXML) Ballot Resolution Meeting at the ISO, has stated that Microsoft is failing to implement commitments on transforming OOXML into an open ISO standard. He summarises the situation thus, "It seems to me that without a change of direction the entire OOXML project is now surely heading for failure."

During the ISO's standardisation process for OOXML, which was riddled with irregularities, 36 countries and standardisation organisations imposed extensive requirements for modifications on Microsoft. The OOXML variant which Microsoft had been using as the standard file format in its Office package was initially rejected in Geneva and finally accepted as a purely transitional specification against a 'strict' ISO standard, which was not, in practice, in use at the time. At the time, Chris Capossela, Senior VP Microsoft Office, stated, "We've listened to the global community and learned a lot."

Brown has now criticised Microsoft's continuing failure to implement the ISO variant of the document format in the current beta version of Office 2010, instead using the old format rejected by the ISO. The former chief negotiator describes Microsoft as behaving as if the standardisation process never happened. In its latest product package for office software, the company has continued to implement technologies such as VML (Vector Markup Language) which "even the text of the Standard itself describes as 'deprecated' and 'included [...] for legacy reasons only'." Brown notes that simple test programs demonstrate that documents produced using Office 2010 do not conform to the ISO standard.

According to Brown, talk of "healthy maintenance" of the standard by Microsoft and the European Computer Manufacturers Association (ECMA), which backed the document format before it was adopted by the ISO, is out of the question. The specification text still contains many defects. Brown notes that Microsoft has many talented experts who are clearly committed to open standards, but opines that something appears to be wrong at the centre of the company and throws his weight behind a "sad" prophecy made by XML veteran Tim Bray after the OOXML standard was adopted by the ISO. Bray predicted that Microsoft would use the ISO process as a PR tool, but would not make any further attempt to implement the new standard. Standards expert Andy Updegrove also fears that the OOXML standardisation "drama" could end in "farce".

(Stefan Krempl)


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