November 25, 2005

"ECMA" - Questions Remain about MS XML Openness

I confess that I possess fear, uncertainty & doubt about the meaning of "ECMA." There isn't, in fact, much to go on.

The ECMA/ISO announcement reflects Microsoft's work to mitigate certain problems customers have voiced about the difficulty, in some cases impossibility, of implementing MS XML Reference Schemas.

There have been concerns over Microsoft's patents in the schemas and over the license of the schemas, which prohibits them from being implemented within office suite software that uses Open Source & Free Software licensing.

Questions remain about these and other many questions that it is impossible to comment without speculating.

Proprietary Dependencies

Will there be, for example, calls from MS XML files on proprietary applications? How will MS XML implement DRM, for example, or other binary elements like OLE objects or VBA projects? Developers and users are rightly concerned that an "open" standard file format of Microsoft's does not have so many proprietary dependencies that its "openness" is just another tag.

Intellectual Property

Microsoft's covenant not to sue was just published. It created this "ECMA" discussion. It does exist, but it only applies to MS Office 2003; what are we to imagine the implications are for Microsoft's next-version office suite product, Office "12", the one that will be available around the time the schemas ostensibly come out of the standards organizations? At this point, imagine is all we can do until the specification for the relevant MS XML Reference Schemas are published. When will that be? We are left wondering.


When will Microsoft release the MS XML specification that's being submitted to Ecma and ISO? Soon? Or will developers need to wait the year and a half until Ecma signs off, then ISO? Additionally, what is the MS XML specification as it pertains to Office "12"? Until these are made public, these announcements have a vaporous air about them.

Standard Development Process

Submission to Ecma International is pending, so we don't know if Ecma will accept MS XML. Then, the same sequence will be necessary to get it into ISO -- for submission and approval. We know precious little about the style of the would be Ecma Technical Committee, its composition, the rules of process, the intellectual property rights policies or governance policies of this body. Will there be a collaborative meeting process that is open for public participation; will individuals and companies be able to openly submit ideas to the specification? Will there be a public or industry concensus in the ongoing formulation of this new standard?

If the movement of Microsoft to open its file format is to be credible, these questions need to be addressed specifically to be put to bed.

Once they are addressed (we estimate things won't be suitably transparent until late-2006 or early-2007), then customers should be trusted to be able to compare a Microsoft "open" file format with the available alternative.

Today, however, customers can move into a complete, fully articulated implementation of an open XML file format, OpenDocument, which is available in numerous different office suite applications (ratification by ISO pending).

OpenDocument sponsors none of the fear, uncertainty or doubt associated with MS XML and its wished for relationships with standards organizations.


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