Questions for Microsoft on OOXML

I posted these questions on Sean McBreen's blog over on MSDN, but he appears to have thought it was a bit too hot to handle... and hasn't given them moderator approval. I'll update this if he changes his mind and does the honourable thing...

My posting is a response to Sean's rather unsatisfying response to my first comment on his blog. The whole thing was triggered by the discussion on Rod Drury's blog related to his rather blind support for Microsoft's OOXML standardisation effort.

Hi Sean,

Thanks for your response. Unfortunately, I did not find your explanations sufficient to give me an true understanding of your position.

The following are a refined set of questions that I, with some input from my business colleagues, have developed in hopes that, by answering them, you and Microsoft can help us understand your position, as it currently does not make sense. I would appreciate it if you could answer with explanations rather than links (feel free to use links to point to supporting a response, but not instead of one):

1. Microsoft was involved in the OASIS committee which developed the official, approved ODF standard. Why does Microsoft need to introduce a new, incompatible, needlessly complex "standard" of office documents when there already is one?

2. What justification does Microsoft provide for not improving the ODF standard to meet its requirements? (see the link below)

3. As there are clearly no insurmountable technical issues in the way (given the degree to which ODF has been implemented up by other office packages) why doesn't Microsoft provide integrated ODF support on an equal basis with OOXML in MS Office 2007? It already supports legacy Microsoft formats, HTML, RTF and various other formats on a more or less equal basis. I would've thought, given the rise in use of ODF-based office packages that ODF compatibility would've been a major functional requirement for MS Office with or without OOXML. I know, were I able to run Microsoft Office on Linux, I would demand ODF compatibility, as I have to interoperate with colleagues and clients using OpenOffice, KOffice, NeoOffice, Lotus Smartsuite, Wordperfect, etc. who prefer ODF as a document interchange format.

4. Do you think it's appropriate for a standard to be approved before it's even got one working reference implementation? What do you think about the comment by the Netherlands standards organisation who recommended that in future ISO require "two interoperable and independent full implementations prior to accepting a submission" in conjunction with their "No" vote for the fact tracking of OOXML?

Full comment (translated): " recommends that the ISO procedures - and more specific the Fast Track procedure - be adapted significantly to better deal with controversial standards like DIS 29500/Office Open XML in order for ISO to maintain relevant. This includes demanding two interoperable and independent full implementations prior to accepting a submission for a Fast Track procedure."

5. I agree that no standard can be error free, as something always sneaks through accidentally despite everyone's best effort to ensure otherwise. I believe, however, that a proposed standard known to be significantly broken - as has been noted even by the standards bodies who have given a qualified "Yes" vote to OOXML - should be fixed *before* approval is given, not after. What do you think? Should a standard *known* to be broken be approved for consideration in the fast track process? Doesn't that significantly compromise the whole concept of standards?

6. OOXML supposedly provides backwards compatibility for older (still proprietary) MS Office file formats. Why does that matter? Why not simply document those older file formats as open standards? Do they even need to be standardised if OOXML will supersede them anyway? Businesses will still have to convert their legacy documents to ODF or OOXML. What is easier about going to OOXML rather than using the freely available bulk conversion mechanisms made available in to convert them to ODF? That's what I recommend to my customers who are migrating to ODF.

7. What do you say about the high profile No votes from countries like the Netherlands, India, and Brazil, who have in some cases voted unanimously against OOXML's standardisation?

8. Do you believe that Microsoft have acted ethically in the OOXML voting processes in other jurisdictions around the world? I'm pleased to see, that the SNZ meeting was by all reports relatively uncontroversial, although I still don't see what was gained by calling in Jim Donovan at the last minute...

My colleagues and I look forward to hearing from you.




I must say, I'm really curious about how Microsoft would respond to these questions (through Sean)...