NZ Open Source Society warns of Open XML patent threat

Microsoft says backward compatibility key

The New Zealand Open Source Society is warning government and business users that the Microsoft-sponsored Open XML file format is "peppered" with potential patent liabilities.

"If Open XML goes through as an ISO standard, the IT industry, government and business will encumbered with a 6000-page specification peppered with potential patent liabilities" says NZOSS President Don Christie.

Christie says there is a level of interoperability that is missing now, and Open XML's adoption will perpetuate this problem.

"Having your entire organisation's records locked into OOXML documents — with all your eggs in one basket — is not a prospect I would want to face, especially in the public sector, where long-term record retrieval is essential," he says.

The battle over the Open XML format is heating up ahead of a formal international vote scheduled for 2 September.

On Monday, Microsoft New Zealand managing director Helen Robinson called on developers at the Tech Ed conference in Auckland to help "encourage" Standards New Zealand to support Open XML. Leaflets were also distributed at the conference to reinforce that message.

Microsoft New Zealand director of innovation, Brett 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.

But Christie says alarm bells are going off in many parts of the world over Open XML. He says many aspects of the format remain proprietary and because of this the process behind its development has not been robust.

He says the Open Document Format standard went through three years of public standardisation before being submitted to the International Standards Organisation, while Open XML was rushed out at "an unprecedented pace".

The areas where interoperability breaks down are where the detail is

just not there, Christie says, either because of haste or to protect proprietary methods. Add the issue of portability across platforms, he says, and OOXML fails to deliver two of the three hallmarks of a good standard.

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