MSOfficeXML ISO Standardization Saga · FileFormat.Info

MSOfficeXML ISO Standardization Saga

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9/1/2008 (updated 9/2/08)

The first round in the ISO standardization of Microsoft's new Office file formats in finally over: ISO 29500. The process was messy and complicated, with lots of conflicting claims, so I want to go over how I think the different players faired.

Microsoft: winners

The Microsoft sales team gets an ISO standard to use for rubber-stamping open access requirements. This was all they really wanted, and they got it.

However, the current version of Microsoft Office does not support the standard as ratified, if only anyone was paying attention.

Open Source: losers, but not that bad

They did force Microsoft to release the (rather poor) documentation for the original binary Office file formats (DOC/XLS/PPT), and they did get a few sane changes made to the specification.

However, they are going to waste time and effort supporting a whole series of Microsoft-only technologies that add little value overall.

ISO: losers

They showed just how easily they can be bought. Lots of backroom deals and unethical goings-on. Masterful use of rules and proceduces to force the pre-ordained result.

Users: break-even

More file format documentation means better interoperability and a better hope of long-term preservation. But having single standard that was universally supported would have been much better.

Buyers: losers

Having a Microsoft-controlled standard allows Microsoft to keep a firm grip on the Office software market. The lack of competition keeps prices high and innovation low.

As someone who uses both MSOffice and OpenOffice, I wonder why anyone would pay such a premium for MSOffice: lock-in? inertia? fear of change? kickbacks?

Tags: microsoft

File Formats: MSOfficeXML