Ecma to create standard out of Microsoft PDF rival

IBM, others raise objections

Standards body Ecma International has formed a technical committee to develop a standard built on Microsoft’s XML Paper Specification (XPS), a rival file format to Adobe Systems’ widely-used PDF.

According to Ecma’s website, the goal is to create “a formal standard for an XML-based electronic paper format and XML-based page description language which is consistent with existing implementations of the format called the XML Paper Specification”.

XPS is one of many file formats natively supported in Microsoft’s Office 2007 productivity suite and was developed internally by the company. Currently, Microsoft has the only implementation of XPS. Microsoft had planned to include PDF — used widely as a de facto document standard for years but only submitted to a standards body earlier this year by Adobe — as a native file format as well, but Adobe objected. Microsoft does offer PDF as an add-on file format for Office.

Microsoft has been criticised by rivals for how it has handled submissions to standards bodies, though it has instituted a formal interoperability effort across all its product groups in the last 18 months. Its Open XML file format for documents has already won Ecma approval and will be put before the International Organisation for Standards (ISO) towards the end of the year for a final vote.

But critics — mainly those who support Open Document Format for XML (ODF) as the standard format rather than Open XML — have complained that Microsoft is too controlling when it comes to ensuring that the technology it submits to Ecma as a standard looks the way Microsoft wants it to at the end of the approval process. And since the company didn’t allow third parties to create implementations of Open XML before it was submitted to Ecma, critics say Microsoft has misused the standards.

Naysayers and rivals are using the XPS move to discourage approval of Open XML as an ISO standard.

“If [Open XML], and now Microsoft XML Paper Specification, each sail through Ecma and are then adopted by ISO/IEC JTC1, then I think that we might as well declare ‘game over’ for open standards,” says Andrew Updegrove, an intellectual property lawyer and outspoken open-standards and ODF advocate, on his blog.

IBM’s vice president of open source and standards, Bob Sutor, a vocal proponent of ODF, has also criticised Ecma and Microsoft on his blog.

He says Ecma will create a “standard” of XPS that goes along with Microsoft’s wishes for the technology rather than letting an impartial group develop the standard. “The standard must be compatible with Microsoft’s implementation, which is the only implementation,” Sutor says.

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