Document format battle still has lots of fight

Microsoft, ODF spinning their messages in advance of February meeting that could finally seal fate of Office OpenXML format

The buildup to Microsoft's second-round push for ISO standardization of its XML document format makes it clear the battle is still on.

During the past two weeks, Microsoft has formally responded to the 3,522 comments submitted in September by ISO members voting on Ecma-376 Office Open XML (OOXML); a survey was released by the Burton Group tagging OOXML over OpenDocument Format (ODF) as the dominant format for the future; and proponents on both sides have been freely spilling their opinions. For example, Andy Updegrove, a lawyer, Linux Foundation board member and citizen crusader against OOXML, issued a 16,000-word expose on the battle between OOXML and ODF.

In addition, Microsoft last week held a press conference for select media members to air its optimism on the fight over standardized formats, and the ODF Alliance issued an e-mail clarifying the ISO's Ballot Resolution Meeting (BRM) slated for Feb. 25-29.

OOXML, called DIS 29500 at ISO, went down to preliminary defeat during a September 2 vote among ISO members. In the second phase of the process -- the February BRM -- Microsoft and ECMA have the opportunity to respond to specific questions from the ISO's voting members regarding the 6,000-page OOXML specification.

National standards bodies from the voting countries may reconsider their votes following the BRM.

ECMA already has standardized OOXML and was the organization that recommended the format for ISO fast-track standardization. The ISO has approved ODF as a standard, giving it credibility among organizations that prefer standards-based technology, and Microsoft is gunning to land the same designation for its specification.

Brian Jones, a program manager on the Microsoft Office team, wrote in his blog that Microsoft was already addressing some concerns ISO members submitted during the September voting.

While the voters concerns are not yet public, Jones said Microsoft will make it easier to get documentation on the Office binary formats for applications including Word (.doc), Excel (.xls) and PowerPoint (.ppt). He said obtaining that documentation had been a concern by some voting ISO members.

Jones also said Microsoft would create a new open source project to create another translator for binary-to-XML format translation in addition to those from other vendors.

He said the Binary Format-to-ISO/IEC JTC 1 DIS 29500 Translator Project would be initiated on the open source software development Web site SourceForge, and that DIS 29500 would be modified to include a reference to the project.

Jones said software tools will be created as part of the Translator Project along with guidance to show how a document written using the binary formats can be translated to DIS 29500. The Translator will use the open source Berkeley Software Distribution license.

Microsoft and Jones said they were reacting to comments made by ISO voting members in September.

But Marino Marcich, managing director of the ODF Alliance, warned in an e-mail to media outlets that there is much more on the table. "Though an announcement was made that the 'Disposition of Comments' had been published and a summary of 'notable changes' was provided, the comments remain password-protected and unavailable for public review. The lack of transparency has resulted in several misunderstandings that need clarification," he wrote.

Those clarifications, Marcich said, include the fact that a final vote on OOXML will not be taken at the BRM and that there are many proposals on the table, not just the ones Microsoft has discussed publicly.

He also said many of the proposed changes are incompatible with Office 2007 and that Microsoft is not obligated to incorporate the changes in future versions of Office.

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