Microsoft Gets Another Shot at Open XML Standard

 
 
By Reuters -  |  Posted 2008-02-25
 
 
 

GENEVA, Feb 25 (Reuters) - Microsoft Corp ramped up its fight to have its Office Open XML document format made into an international standard on Monday as delegates from 37 countries met to reconsider the proposal.

Their meeting hosted by the International Organisation for Standardisation (ISO) and International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC) in Geneva is meant to help broker consensus after a preliminary vote on the standard failed six months ago.

There will be no ballot during the week-long talks, but the 87 national standards bodies who previously voted will have until March 29 to adjust their positions, giving the world's largest software maker another shot at the two-thirds majority it needs for approval.

"The ISO/IEC members who voted on the draft in September will have 30 days to change their votes if they wish," said Roger Frost, a spokesman for the Geneva-based agency.

Microsoft won only 53 percent support in September.

Standardisation of Open XML, which is the default file-saving format in Microsoft Office 2007, would allow other companies to build products using the file format and simplify file exchange between different software suites.

Opponents of the proposed ISO/IEC standard DIS 29500 argue there is no need for a rival to the widely used Open Document Format (ODF) that is already an international standard.

They say that the Microsoft product's 6,000 pages of code, compared with ODF's 860 pages, make it artificially complicated and untranslatable. The productivity software suite OpenOffice uses ODF, which is supported by International Business Machines Corp. (IBM) and Sun Microsystems Inc..

"Microsoft could easily provide full support for ODF," said Rishab Ghosh, senior researcher at the United Nations University in Maastricht.

Ghosh said Microsoft's drive for a competing standard was part of its broader strategy to encourage consumers to use only Microsoft products, as has been alleged in anti-trust cases in Europe and elsewhere.

"Because their software is used by so many people, you don't switch to anyone else's software because you are worried that your files are going to be lost," he told Reuters by telephone.

"If you can save by default in ODF using a Microsoft product, that means your documents will be easily readable by users of a competing software. And when your documents are easily readable by others, maybe you can consider switching to a different software," he said.

Microsoft says multiple standards are normal in software and other industries, that competition makes for better products, and that its format has higher specifications and is more useful than ODF.

The company has collaborated with Novell to develop a tool to translate Open XML documents into ODF and vice versa, though critics believe the tool cannot provide a complete translation due to the complexity of the Microsoft product.

XML, short for Extensible Markup Language, is a standard for describing data in a way that allows it to be shared across various systems and applications. Microsoft has handed over control of Open XML to the standards-making body Ecma, which would make it available even in the event of its demise.

Delegates submitted about 4,200 suggested modifications to the Microsoft documents in the lead-up to last year's ballot. Those have been whittled down to 1,100 comments for consideration during this week's meeting, the ISO said. (Editing by Jonathan Lynn and Jason Neely)

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