December 08, 2005

Ecma Rubber-Stamps the MS XML Proposal

Industry sources indicated Thursday that Ecma International has voted to create the Technical Committee and move ahead with submission of Microsoft's "Open"XML to that standards body. The one dissenting vote -- the lone dissenting vote -- among members of the TC was IBM's. hp abstained, which is equivalent according to Ecma rules to a "no" vote.

There are standards and there are sub-standards: facts tell which kind Microsoft is putting together. The company's lunge at Ecma is proving what many suspected even before all the details were available, that Microsoft's Ecma submission equates to only superficial change in the status quo: that Microsoft's file format for Office 2003 (and for the next version, Office "12") remains effectively proprietary.

The Terms of Reference in the Ecma submission betray a sneering measure to cloak a proprietary technology in the false mantle of collaboration and openness. Microsoft is calling their file format "open" while it will lack several important requirements that would justify the tag.

The Terms of Reference answer several of the glaring questions begged by Microsoft's Thanksgiving-week public relations extravaganza, which amounted to a Pre-Announcement of this pretend opening of their file format. Here are some of the conclusions we can now make in question & answer format:

1. Who controls MS XML after Ecma International takes on the specification?

Microsoft only (with moral support from a list of partners & customers with no public evidence of contributions to the design, some of whom have been contributing publicly to the OpenDocument specification, too).

The Ecma submission gets the technology-to-standards body relationship promiscuously BACKWARDS. The language in the Terms of Reference, "a. Produce a standard which is fully compatible with the Office Open XML Formats..." [italics added], indicates that the "standard" intends to be derived from existing technology.

Appropriate standards work -- like that of the OASIS OpenDocument TC, for example -- involves public people and organizations working together to come up with technology that satisfies the requirements of a document format that will be used by an infinite number of software developers and solve a long continuum or problems proposed by anybody, collaboratively.

In glaring contrast to the empty roster of contributors to the MS XML format, OpenDocument has had many important contributors to its creation & specification though OASIS:

Vendors Who Added to the Specification
End-Users Who Added to the Specification
2. Who (what vendors) are extending the MS XML file format to implement it in their own software?


Rest assured, however, that Microsoft will inform the world press as soon as a vendor comes on board to embrace their new "open" proprietary format in its software. I don't expect any to show up, because no organization or financial institution in recent years has been willing to finance a play that competes head-to-head with Microsoft in a landscape dictated by Microsoft.

MS XML exists in the current Office 2003 product, but this is not the format that will compete with OpenDocument. The format that will compete with OpenDocument is approximately one year from public release and over 24 months from reaching OpenDocument's current level of accomplishment with respect to OpenDocument's relationship -- ratification complete -- with its respective standards body.

Please mind also that the technology of OpenDocument has been used and tested for about 5 years, well more than twice as long and with approximately twice as many users globally as have ever touched MS XML.

Conversely, thanks to the confidence behind a sincerely open process, OpenDocument has a growing list of vendors deploying its open file format:
(For a current list, see Wikipedia's entry for OpenDocument. The list grows weekly.)

This list is why Microsoft blinked in Massachusetts; the list is really a reflection that the market demands a sincerely open file format now, and it reflects why Microsoft is making all appearances that they have one too. Personally, I find it comically absurd, but you should feel free to assert your own opinion. (Please do, by the way, in my Comments section, below.)

3. Who (what customers) are adopting MS XML (the relevant one that would be available in Office "12")?

There are none. The specification for Office "12" is not published yet, the software is not available and there are no use cases.

Ostensibly the customers who endorsed the Ecma/ISO concept would be among the first customers to adopt Microsoft's new phoney "open" file format, however, we have already seen that examples such as The British Library, whose esteemed name was referenced in the early public relations work, will be adopting many formats -- most prominently ODF!

Conversely, the list of actual OpenDocument adherents is now quite large and growing (many pro-active organizations have not published that they are standardizing on OpenDocument-ready office suite is a partial list off the top of my head):
  • Adobe
  • City of Bergen, Norway
  • City of Mannheim, Germany
  • City of Munich, Germany
  • City of Vienna, Austria
  • Earnie Ball Strings
  • The Executive Branch of The Commonwealth of Massachusetts
  • The Gendarmerie
  • Google
  • HLB International (a Melbourne accountancy)
  • International Business Machines
  • The Library of Congress
  • The Reichtag
  • Scalix
  • Sun Microsystems
  • Tadpole Computer
  • Telstra
  • Verizon

Wrapping Up

The initial list of participants on Ecma's new MS XML TC includes Microsoft friends, partners & competitors, some which have asserted a significant influence also on the strict requirements of openness embodied by OpenDocument. They include:
  • Apple
  • Barclays Capital
  • BP
  • British Library
  • Essilor
  • IBM
  • Intel Corporation
  • Microsoft Corporation
  • NextPage Inc.
  • Statoil ASA
  • Toshiba
(Thank you, Pamela Jones | Groklaw)

The MS Office XML proposal rests measurably beneath the high-water mark set by OpenDocument at OASIS for an open standard. And there -- according to new information stated as well as implied in the Terms of Reference to the Ecma submission -- it will likely remain until the market asserts its view as to its preference for either an open or a proprietary file format.


At 7:41 AM, Blogger lp said...

Have you seen this FrameMaker and XML / DITA event in the UK.
FrameMaker XML Publishing

Its being held at Adobe UK offices in March


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