Standards NZ to canvass local views on Open XML

Forums will discuss whether Microsoft's format should be accepted as a standard alongside Open Document Format

Standards New Zealand will host forums this week that could determine New Zealand’s position on Microsoft’s controversial Open XML file format in a crucial international vote on September 2.

Standards NZ acting chief executive Grant Thomas says the two-day forums, to be held this Thursday and Friday, will canvass a range of informed stakeholders on the complex issue of whether Microsoft’s format should be accepted as a standard alongside Open Document Format.

Microsoft New Zealand managing director Helen Robinson used her opening remarks at the Tech Ed conference in Auckland last week to ask developers to help “encourage” Standards New Zealand to support the file format.

Robinson said Open XML is about “backwards compatibility”, ensuring access to the many documents already in existence and now in multiple different versions and formats. Flyers were also distributed during Tech Ed sessions to get developers energised to back Microsoft’s quest to make Open XML a recognised standard.

In March, Standards New Zealand objected to a fast track consideration of the Microsoft-sponsored format.

Criticism of the format centres on the issue of patents that have been issued over parts of the format and its functionality that could mean it is not truly open.

“We’re certainly interested in trying to understand the needs of various stakeholders,” says Thomas. “We need to establish a ‘New Zealand incorporated’ view.”

Thomas says while Standards New Zealand is aware of the international thinking on the issue, the aim is to establish what is good for New Zealand.

Thomas says Standards New Zealand has received a number of letters on the issue and “had a lot of contact from some parties” including Microsoft and a consulting firm working for the software giant. Microsoft New Zealand director of innovation Brett Roberts identified that firm as Wellington-based Guinness Gallagher.

Roberts says Open XML is about providing users with a choice of formats that can be used and built upon to drive further development and innovation. He says the difference between Open XML and Open Document Format is that Microsoft’s format has been engineered to the nth degree to allow access to legacy files, right back to the first version of Word, with integrity.

The US delegate organisation to the powerful ISO standards body is now almost sure to vote against approving Microsoft’s format as an open standard this year. That could sway other member nations of the ISO’s JTC-1 technical committee to vote against Open XML’s approval by the 2 September deadline.

But at least one insider says that changes to Open XML to which Microsoft has already agreed could help the technology win approval in a new vote in September 2008.

In an internal vote of the Washington-based International Committee for Information Technology Standards (INCITS) that concluded last week, Open XML did not gain sufficient support within the executive board of the organisation.

The vote was 8 to 7 in favor of supporting Open XML, with one abstention. According to Frank Farance, a longtime INCITS technical member who voted against Open XML, the measure needed 10 votes, or two-thirds of those voting, to be approved.

“It was not that close,” he said.

But Farance said most INCITS members support Open XML’s eventual approval.

“We think it will ultimately become an ISO standard; let’s just do it the right way,” he said.

Members voting against Open XML were IBM and Oracle, printer maker Lexmark, bar-code standards group GS1 US, federal groups such as the National Institute of Standards and Technology and the US Department of Defense, as well as Farance. The IEEE abstained. Voting for Open XML were Intel, EMC, Hewlett-Packard, Sony and Apple. The US Department of Homeland Security, the Electronic Industries Alliance and Microsoft also voted for Open XML.

— Additional reporting by Eric La

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Tags open document formatopen XMLstandards nz

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