Microsoft’s application to the ISO to have its OOXML document format approved alongside the existing open document format (ODF) through a fast-tracked process has been rejected by the body. The Shuttleworth Foundation supports this ruling, based on the negative impact that the approval of two incomplete standards would have on open access. Microsoft has developed its own open document format in the form of OOXML, despite the prior existence of a community-developed standard, in the form of ODF.
Says Andrew Rens, Intellectual Property Fellow for the Shuttleworth Foundation: "The use of two different document standards by governments, for example, would create a barrier to citizens being able to effectively access government information. It would also hinder the general sharing of information because it would create technical difficulties for people using different formats."
ISO has already adopted the ODF format and its member organisations see no need for a second open document format to exist. Despite this, Microsoft has developed its own format, which is not fully open, according to Rens, and which it wanted adopted as an official standard alongside ODF.
The outcome of the OOXML fast track ballot conducted by ISO, which has resulted in this decision, can be viewed online at http//www.iso.org/iso/pressrelease.htm?refid$>Ref1070
"A ballot on whether to publish the draft standard ISO/IEC DIS 29500, Information technology – Office Open XML file formats, as an International Standard by ISO and IEC (International Electrotechnical Commission) has not achieved the required number of votes for approval," reads the official report.
Rens explains that prior to the ISO ballot closing on September 2, a technical sub-committee of the South African Bureau of Standards (SABS) rejected the Microsoft standard by 13 votes to 4. On July 18, this technical sub-committee resolved to recommend that SA should vote against the adoption of OOXML as an international standard. The proposed standard was rejected for a number of technical reasons, amongst them concerns about possible intellectual property rights claims against those implementing OOXML, he adds.
"OOXML is based on proprietary software," states Rens. "Internationally a number of doubts have been raised as to whether the intellectual property undertakings by Microsoft not to litigate against users of the proposed standard are sufficient," he continues.
"In SA there is an additional problem, because Microsoft has a number of patent claims in respect of XML formatting that it does not hold in other countries, such as the USA. For South Africans to be able to use the format without fear of being sued by Microsoft, those claims would have to be dealt with appropriately."
Rens explains that having two opposing open document standards would re-introduce an age-old problem where documents created in the one standard are not adequately compatible with the other. Instead of introducing a second standard, it would be more productive for vendors to contribute to the existing standard. This view was supported by the voting members of ISO. However, the ruling made by ISO is a tentative one and OOXML can still be considered by ISO as part of a longer process.