'Legitimate concerns' raised over Microsoft's Office formats RRS feed

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  • Microsoft Corp's director of corporate standards has conceded that 'legitimate concerns' have been raised in response to its attempt to fast-track the approval of its Open XML format by ISO.

    The level of criticism targeted at Microsoft's XML-based office productivity file formats is significant, raising the potential that Open XML might not gain ISO approval, but Microsoft's Jason Matusow insisted there is still a long way to go.

    "The first thing to say is that Microsoft has a great deal of respect for the ISO process, but it is a very long process," he told Computer Business Review. "The next five months will be spent in the technology validation process. Of the 19 submissions, some are very supportive of XML and the process, some are neutral, and some had legitimate concerns that were raised."

    The concerns were raised in response to a 30-day review as to whether Open XML should be granted fast track approval by ISO/IEC and were included complaints that Open XML overlaps with the existing OpenDocument Format, and is inconsistent with existent standards.

    According to details of the responses published by ECMA, 12 national bodies noted that Open XML overlaps the ODF standard, which was ratified by ISO in May 2006, while nine raised concerns about date and time representation, and eight about inconsistencies regarding picture metafiles.

    "OpenXML clearly duplicates or at least significantly overlaps with the ODF specification, and having two contradictory and inconsistent standards for the same problem will only cause user confusion and lack of interoperability," noted the UK with regard to the first issue.

    "'Date Representation' conflicts with the Gregorian calendar in the calculation of dates. Specifically, it requires spreadsheet implementations to incorrectly treat the year 1900 as a leap year. This contradicts the Gregorian calendar, ISO 8601 and the civil calendar adopted by most nations of the world," noted Kenya in response to the second.

    Eight national bodies also complained about only having 30 days to review a six thousand page document, while seven raised concerns about language name codes and six intellectual property rights.

    Additionally a number of bodies, including Norway, the UK, Canada, and the Czech Republic noted their suggestion that ISO should either cancel or consider canceling the fast-track process.

    Other noted concerns included the definition of contradiction (four national bodies), missing annexes (three), undocumented legacy features (three), and consistency regarding paper sizes (two), SGML (one), and HTML (two).

    While Microsoft remains involved in the approval, or not, of Open XML by ISO as an ECMA member, Matusow said the company will not get involved in responding directly to complaints and responses.

    ECMA has already done so, however, maintaining that it is quite common to have ISO/IEC standards that overlap, that Open XML and ODF are designed for different user requirements, and that it does not, in fact, contradict numerous other standards.

    While not responding directly to the ISO responses, Matusow did respond to Computer Business Review's questions as to why Microsoft felt the need to make Open XML an ISO standard, rather than simply offering native support for ODF.

    "It's true that in Office we have more than 30 formats we do support. At the time we were building the current product there just wasn't the demand for it. What people were asking for was not ODF but PDF," he said. "We built native PDF support into Office but Adobe told us they did not want us to do it that way, so we will do that via a translator. Those who were pushing ODF from a commercial perspective, they were really the ones pushing for that. From a government perspective it was really a matter of being respectful of the ISO standard. They were saying to us if we receive a requirement to use the ISO standard we will want to do that."

    Matusow said the company had chosen to contract third parties and an open source project to create its ODF translator to avoid suggestions that Microsoft was manipulating the standard. "The decision to do the translator was a matter of transparency," he said. "You want the transparency as well as the discipline of professional development."
    Wednesday, March 7, 2007 5:58 PM