Microsoft joins OpenDoc group

Open standards document group somewhat surprised by Redmond move

In a move some think has the potential to stall the adoption of OpenDocument Format (ODF) as an international standard, Microsoft has joined the V1 Text Processing: Office and Publishing Systems Interface group within the International Committee for Information Technology Standards (INCITS), a Washington-based organisation.

INCITS is involved in recommending which technologies should become ISO standards, and the V1 Text Processing group in particular deals with office document formats.

ODF is overseen by the Organisation for the Advancement of Structured Information Standards (OASIS) and is supported by Microsoft rivals IBM and Sun Microsystems, among other companies. They want to see ODF adopted internationally as the standard for office documents and software that creates and manages these documents, such as Microsoft’s popular Office suite and rivals such as Sun’s Star Office. The government of Massachusetts in the US already has put in motion a plan to migrate its documents to ODF from proprietary formats, a process it hopes to implement beginning in January 2007.

Microsoft, however, is committed to promoting the document format it created for Office, called Open XML, as the international standard. In November, it submitted Open XML to the ISO standards process to make it more attractive for organisations or institutions that insist on supporting open standards.

Pamela Jones, author of the popular Groklaw blog, called attention to Microsoft’s participation in the INCITS committee on her blog last week. She says Microsoft’s presence on the committee could stall the process, at least until Open XML makes it through the same ISO process.

“All they would have to do to slow ODF down, I’m thinking, is ensure lots of discussion, review, documentation, exploration, etcetera to arrange that ISO can’t ratify ODF” until Open XML is also approved, she wrote in her blog entry.

Andrew Updegrove, an open-source advocate and lawyer with Gesmer Updegrove in Boston, also wrote in his blog that Microsoft’s motive for joining a small subcommittee is suspect.

“Why does Microsoft want to be on this small subcommittee?” he wrote. “After all, although it has been a member of OASIS for years, it decided not to take part in the ODF Technical Committee, and has also declined to support ODF.”

Through its public relations firm, Microsoft denied that it joined INCITS to subvert the adoption of ODF as a standard.

In a statement attributed to Jason Matusow, Microsoft’s director of standards affairs, it said its representative to the INCITS committee, Jim Thatcher, will have no impact on the ODF standardisation voting process.

Instead, he joined the group to put himself in good standing to promote Open XML as that standard moves through the ISO process, the statement says.

In an email message, Groklaw’s Jones expressed concern that Microsoft will work to stall the standards process of ODF.

“I think Microsoft is a big bully trying to kick sand in ODF’s face,” she says.

Microsoft does not appear to be backing down from its support of Open XML over ODF.

The company set the stage for a long-term battle over document formats by forming a technical community of developers to promote Open XML, called the Open XML Formats Developer Group. The group rivals the ODF Alliance, an organisation spearheaded by Sun and IBM to promote ODF.

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