a 'mooh' point

clearly an IBM drone

Why ISO-approval of OOXML is not an option

Now that the BRM has been done for about a week, I can't help but think back on what has happened in the past 9 months - the BRM was a pretty big mile-stone. It has been a crazy time and a crazy process to be a part of ... especially since the way the world usually works has been turned upside-down. On one side we have Microsoft making the file format of their Microsoft Office Suite publically available, thus being "open", and on the other side we have the OSS-community yelling "We don't want it, since it is too much like the internal format of your Microsoft Office Suite".

One of the first major mile-stones was when the EU-Commission in 2004 asked Microsoft to submit the file format of the Microsoft Office product line to an international standards body. Now, when the EU-Commission asks you for something, it is generally really just a polite way to say: "You must" ... much like when a police officer wakes you up outside of a bar and says: "You really should go home now".

IDABC: Microsoft should consider the merits of submitting XML formats to an international standards body of their choice;

So Microsoft did what they were told - they submitted their file format to first ECMA and then ISO. They didn't start from scratch and make the mother of all generic file formats - they took the file format of their Microsoft Office Suite and made it publically available for everyone to use. Essentially they said: "This is what we use - now you can use it too".

I have often been accused of being too gullable by those opposing OOXML - especially those that don't trust Microsoft as far as they can throw them. Sadly, they just don't get it

I'm not advocating ISO-approval of OOXML because I trust Microsoft to do the right thing -  I am advocating ISO-approval of OOXML because we as society cannot afford the possibility of Microsoft not doing the right thing

Microsoft opponents should actually be the ones screaming "Microsoft, put OOXML in ISO - we don't trust you". Instead they say "Microsoft. we don't trust you - kep your file format to yourself". I'm sorry, but I don't understand this. Rick Jellife has advocated that all protocols, APIs and document formats of major players in a given industry should be made part of the public domain (Rick, I have been trying to find the blog-entry where you mentioned this, but unsuccessful. If you (or anyone selse) have it, please send it to me and I'll update this article) (update: I found it myself). I agressively second this notion. We should not only encourage ISO-approval OOXML (and other important file formats) - we should demand it. This is what the EU-Commission wisely did.  In contrast to the American way of letting the marked decide what to do (my American friends, please take note of this) - the EU-Commission said that it is totally unacceptable that the file format of the Office Suite with a 95% install base is out of reach of governments, NGOs, competing companies etc. I totally agree. We want it to be defined and maintained in a forum, where we have a say - and that forum is the ISO. Rob Weir is correct when he on Tim Bray's blog said "IMHO, this really isn't a question of whether OOXML should exist or not. OOXML is here, just like the binary formats before". But he shows a slight lack of understanding of the big picture in his next sentense where he says: "The question is whether OOXML should be given ISO standard status in addition to being an Ecma standard.".

Rob seems to be under the impression that ISO-approval is some kind of quality badge of honor that you can proudly carry around. First of all, I think we can all agree that ODF itself is a clear example that ISO-approval not necessarily implies quality, interoperability and clearness. Secondly, how the specification was made is not the first priority when talking ISO-approval. The first priority should be:

We need to take control of OOXML out of the hands of Microsoft and back into society as a whole

This was imho the focal point of Patrick Durusau's support of DIS 29500 approval. Amongst other things he said that

Patrick Durusau: The cost of rejection is that ordinary users, governments, smaller interests, all lose a seat at the table where the next version of the Office standard is being written

This is my point!

Let's talk ISO-approval first - then quality. This is a whole new approach of ISO-usage (at least within IT), where we as society demand proprietary formats, APIs and protocols to be put in ISO - because the costs to society of not doing so are simply too big. We should use ISO as a tool to gain greater insight and control of important parts of the IT infrastructure. We need it in ISO, since IS's members are countries and not companies. This is our turf!

Some might say "hey, Microsoft will never abide by the format put in ISO - they'll simply extend it". Well, we should demand something else of them. We should do as the Danish Government wisely chose last year: A procurement requirement saying that new software must support, in our case, ODF and OOXML. Stop talking about applications - start talking about file formats! The bottom line of the Danish decision is that if Microsoft Office doesn't follow the rules of OOXML, it will either not be bought or not upgraded to. Microsoft Office being Microsoft's #1 revenue stream - they will not be able to ignore this. So to enhance competition we need to do two things:

  1. Demand that e.g. a file format is put in ISO
  2. Demand that the applications conform to this format


That should be our focus - and not trashing and badmouthing the competing format. In his latest article, Patrick Durusau tells a story of an angry Russian pessant.

One evening, through a cold miserable rain, a hungry Russian peasant was walking home. A luminous being appeared in their path. "Please! If you will make one wish, it will free me from my prison!" The genie pointed to an oddly shaped lamp on the side of the path. "Wish for anything you want, food, power, wealth, ..., anything!" The peasant grunted, "I wish my neighbor's cow would die," as he pushed past the genie to continue home.

The strategy behind NOOXML strikes me as being quite similar to that of the Russian peasant. It seeks nothing that would benefit itself, no new product to sell to customers, no new service to serve as a revenue stream. It is simply a wish that "...my neighbors cow would die."

Come on, guys ... let's move on! Let's stop bitching about the file formats and their differences and let's start doing what we all love the most - building applications on top of them.


... which brings me back to the headline of this article:

ISO-approval of OOXML is not just an option - it really should be a requirement.