Microsoft Fails the Standards Test

by Alex Brown 31. March 2010 14:47

The second anniversary of the approval of ISO/IEC 29500 (aka OOXML) is upon us. The initial version of OOXML (Ecma 376 1st Edition) was rejected by ISO and IEC members in September 2007, and it was only after extensive revisions and a bitter standards war in the following months that a revised format was finally approved on April 2, 2008.

The key breakthrough of the revision process was the splitting of the specification into two variant versions, called “Strict” and “Transitional”. The National Bodies confined all the technologies they found unacceptable to the Transitional format and dictated text to be included in the standard intended to prohibit its further use:

“The intent […] is to enable a transitional period during which existing binary documents being migrated to DIS 29500 can make use of legacy features to preserve their fidelity, while noting that new documents should not use them. […]

This annex is normative for the current edition of the Standard, but not guaranteed to be part of the Standard in future revisions. The intent is to enable the future DIS 29500 maintenance group to choose, at a later date, to remove this set of features from a revised version of DIS 29500.”

I was convinced at the time, and remain convinced today, that the division of OOXML into Strict and Transitional variants was the innovation which allowed the Standard to pass. Enough National Bodies could then vote in good conscience for OOXML knowing that their preferred, Strict, variant would be under their control into the future while the Transitional variant (which – remember – they had effectively rejected in 2007) would remain purely for the purpose of accurately specifying old documents: a useful aim in itself.

Promises and reality

Just before the final votes were counted, Microsoft made some commitments. Mr Chris Capossela (Senior VP, Microsoft Office) wrote an open letter promising what would happen if the Standard passed. Two years on, we can fill out a report card for a couple of these promises and determine how well Microsoft is doing …

Microsoft's promise on standards support in products

“We've listened to the global community and learned a lot, and we are committed to supporting the Open XML specification that is approved by ISO/IEC in our products.”

On this count Microsoft seems set for failure. In its pre-release form Office™ 2010 supports not the approved Strict variant of OOXML, but the very format the global community rejected in September 2007, and subsequently marked as not for use in new documents – the Transitional variant. Microsoft are behaving as if the JTC 1 standardisation process never happened, and using technologies (like VML) in a new product which even the text of the Standard itself describes as “deprecated” and “included […] for legacy reasons only” (see ISO/IEC 29500-1:2008, clause M.5.1).

Knowledgeable experts present at the Ballot Resolution Meeting, knowing what Microsoft planned, have publicly repeated the International consensus position in alarm. XML Standards guru Rick Jelliffe (an Australian delegate at the meeting) wrote:

“If [Microsoft’s] default format is OOXML Transitional, then they have abandoned support for an Open Standards process: OOXML was only made a standard because of the changes that were made at the BRM. The original ECMA version of OOXML (which is the basis of Transitional) was soundly rejected, let no-one forget.”

And Danish expert and BRM delegate Jesper Lund Stocholm, running an analysis of Office 2010 files wrote:

“It has been the fear of many that Microsoft will never, ever care at all about the strict conformance clause of ISO/IEC 29500, and my tests clearly [are] a sign that they were right.”

Microsoft, however, takes a different view to the independent experts. Their representatives will argue (with some justification) that terms like “legacy”, “deprecated”, and “new document” are tricky to define, but then this argument extends to the bizarre assertion that the Strict variant need never be supported. I believe, however, countries expect a more reasonable, plain-dealing approach to their clearly expressed intent – not this kind of wheedling sophistry. Mr Capossela writes that Microsoft has “learned a lot”; but on the evidence before us now, this was wishful thinking.

Microsoft's promise on standards maintenance

“We are committed to the healthy maintenance of the standard once ratification takes place so that it will continue to be useful and relevant to the rapidly growing number of implementers and users around the world.”

It all started so well – defect reports came in from many national bodies and (via Ecma) from Microsoft themselves. A number of useful improvements were made to the text correcting obvious defects, and (in the Transitional variant) fixing some of the evident mismatches between what the Standard said, and what legacy documents actually contained.

But as time has gone on, the situation has deteriorated. At the recent Stockholm meetings corrections agreed at the February 2007 Ballot Resolution Meeting were still being implemented, and while fixes which were evidently required for Office 2010’s headline conformance behaviour have been given the red carpet treatment, some other reports from National Bodies have been left to languish. Unusually, in Stockholm one of SC 34’s working groups (WG 2) recommended to the plenary that the OOXML maintenance group (WG 4) be reminded to answer overdue defect reports – in the ISO world that counts as a diplomatic incident!

Most worrying of all, it appears than Ecma have ceased any proactive attempt to improve the text, leaving just a handful of national experts wrestling with this activity. It seems to me that Microsoft/Ecma believe 95% of the work has been done to ensure the standard is “useful and relevant”. Looking at the text, I reckon it is more like 95% that remains to be done, as it is still lousy with defects.

Ironically, the failure to resource maintenance properly is only going to damage Microsoft Office in the longer term. The simple validators developed by me (Office-o-tron) and by Jesper Lund Stocholm (ISO/IEC 29500 Validator) reveal, to Microsoft's dismay, that the output documents of the Office 2010 Beta are non-conformant, and that this is in large part due to glaring uncorrected problems in the text (e.g. contradictory provisions). It is also a worrying commentary on the standards-savvyness of the Office developers that the first amateur attempts of part-time outsiders find problems with documents which Redmond’s internal QA processes have missed. I confidently predict that fuller validation of Office document is likely to reveal many problems both with those documents, and with the Standard itself, over the coming years.

So – while maintenance is happening, I think calling it “healthy maintenance” would be over-optimistic given the current circumstances.

Someone has blundered?

Microsoft has many enemies who will no doubt see the current state of affairs as proof that Microsoft never even intended to be good standards citizens. Indeed standards and XML veteran Tim Bray, writing shortly after the standard’s approval, made a prediction which could now seem impressively prophetic:

“It’s Kind of Sad • The coverage suggests that future enhancements to 29500, as worked through by a subcommittee of a subcommittee of a standards committee, are actually going to have some influence on Microsoft. Um, maybe there’s an alternate universe in which Redmond-based program managers and developers are interested in the opinions of a subgroup of ISO/IEC JTC 1/SC 34, but this isn’t it.

I suppose they’ll probably show up to the meetings and try to act interested, but it’s going to be a sideline and nobody important will be there. What Microsoft really wanted was that ISO stamp of approval to use as a marketing tool. And just like your mother told you, when they get what they want and have their way with you, they’re probably not gonna call you in the morning.”

For me, the puzzle of it is that in many respects, Microsoft does appear to get it. Senior management seems to want standards conformance, as Mr Capossela’s letter demonstrates – indeed strategically, playing fair by standards has always seemed like the most obvious way for the corporation to extract itself from the regulatory thickets that have entangled it over the past decade. Microsoft employs many eminent and standards-aware people of unimpeachable record – they also obviously “get it”. And on the ground in the standards committees there are many delightful, talented and diligent people who seem fully-signed up to a standards-aware (dare I say “non-evil”?) approach—as the SC 34 meetings in Stockholm again recently evidenced.

And if we look elsewhere within Microsoft we can see – for example from their engagement with HTML 5 and work on MSIE – that they can move in the right direction when the will is there.

So why – given the awareness Microsoft has at the top, at the bottom, and round the edges – does it still manage to behave as it does? Something, perhaps, is wrong at the centre — some kind of corporate dysfunction caused by a failure of executive oversight.

But whether Microsoft senior management have directed the company to behave badly, or whether they have failed to control a bad corporate impulse, is ultimately of no interest or concern to the National Bodies engaged in Standardization: for them, the effect is the same. Some responses will, however, be necessary.

Moving forward

If Microsoft ship Office 2010 to handle only the Transitional variant of ISO/IEC 29500 they should expect to be roundly condemned for breaking faith with the International Standards community. This is not the format “approved by ISO/IEC”, it is the format that was rejected.

However, it is foolish to believe they won’t ship it as is – and before long the world will be faced with responding to that release. In my view moving forward from there will be difficult …

  • Governmental, corporations, other large entities – in fact, anyone – procuring office systems with a requirement for standards-conformance need to have their eyes very wide open about what precisely they will be getting with systems which create new documents which are extended Transitional ISO/IEC 29500.
  • Microsoft Office 2007 (the current version) reads and emits unextended Transitional ISO/IEC 29500, and so – strangely – may represent a high-water mark of Microsoft Office standards conformance. Anybody wanting to work just with documents which (modulo defects) are fully specified by Standards wholly under International control may want to stick with this version of the software.
  • Microsoft should make a public open commitment to support OOXML Strict fully. A service pack bringing this support to Office should be developed as a priority.
  • JTC 1 explicitly created the Transitional variant with the intention they would “at a later date, […] remove this set of features”. Now is the time to start the wheels in motion for this removal (the text will of course remain available for the perfectly good reason that the legacy needs to be documented).
  • Any assurances Microsoft has given to regulatory bodies (such as the EU Commission) about standards conformance must be looked at very carefully giving full consideration to the circumstances of this release.
  • Ecma need to commit adequate resources to standards maintenance and pro-actively seek to improve the text, working together with SC 34, if there is any appetite to improve the Standard to the point where it can be a trouble-free, or even good, basis for interoperable office applications.

In short, we find ourselves at a crossroads, and it seems to me that without a change of direction the entire OOXML project is now surely heading for failure.


01/04/2010 08:38:14 #

Jesper Lund Stocholm

Hi Alex,

What a good post! I largely agree with most of your considerations, but I do find it silly (or unrealistic) to think that Microsoft Office 2010 would support OOXML< S >. The time frame from publication of 29500 until launch of Microsoft Office 2010 was simply too narrow, and I would never expect Microsoft to pull the plug on release of Microsoft Office 2010 (even though one might wish they had done so) to get full support for OOXML< S >.

I also find it puzzling to deal closely with Microsoft in this area – because as you point out, it is a like half of Microsoft “gets it” and the other half doesn’t. It can be really frustrating at times.

And finally – I completely agree that Microsoft should step forward and publicly commit to supporting OOXML< S >. When pitching this thought to Microsoft employees I usually get the answer that Microsoft will never talk about future products. That’s fine – I don’t expect them to – but this is “just” the file format. It won’t reveal anything about any new features of Microsoft Office to commit to supporting OOXML< S >. Microsoft has once shown that they are willing to break their internal rule about “not introducing new features in service packs” when it matters to them (ODF-support came with SP2 to Microsoft Office 2007). If they care about OOXML< S > I’m sure they can do it again.

Jesper Lund Stocholm Denmark

01/04/2010 08:56:57 #



Yes, it may have been unrealistic for anyone to expect MS would  implement Strict in Office 2010 -- but ultimately this is a question of corporate will. Is the will there? I think not.

Having taken the (no doubt commercially advantageous) route of targetting Transitional, MS now have to be prepared to take the hit for have shirked their responsibilities in regard to Standards support. After all, we as standardizers can't exempt implementors on the grounds that doing the right thing would have been too costly!

Alex United Kingdom

01/04/2010 09:19:26 #


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This post was mentioned on Twitter by al3xbrown: Microsoft Fails the Standards Test (blog post; not an April fool) #ooxml #sc34

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01/04/2010 13:49:12 #

Rob Weir

The interesting thing, I think, is how the situation is very different in the browser world, where it appears the Microsoft is taking standards seriously now.  Of course, in that area there is a single standard, and competition among the vendors to provide complete and conformant implementations.  I think the key thing was that there was a single standard (or family of standards) in a single organization, with many vendors involved.

Imagine how it could have turned out differently if instead of having a common HTML standard, Microsoft had pushed through a "Microsoft Open Web ML" pseudo-standard, full of legacy crud and vague promises about future improvements.  And if no other vendor except Microsoft implemented Microsoft's Web ML.  And if Microsoft stuffed the committees that control the Microsoft Web ML standard.  And if they arbitrarily added or removed features to Microsoft;s Web ML based on what Microsoft's plans were in the next release of Internet Explorer.  And if they rejected or failed to act on feature proposals that they did not originate.  I wonder how that would have turned out.

The situation with OOXML in SC34 is that Microsoft has no incentive to do anything more, and has sufficient dominance in that committee and in WG4 to ensure that nothing does happen. They have their ISO standard and the means to preserve it for their exclusive use.

Your sensibility on this topic is around three years too late.  You don't have the votes to ask for a glass of water in SC34 if Microsoft doesn't want you to have it.  "Why buy the cow when you can get the milk for free?"  Anyone who believed otherwise was a fool.  It is too late for remorse now.

Rob Weir United States

01/04/2010 14:46:54 #

Bjorn Sveinbjornsson

So. What will happen now?
What do ISO procedure rules say.

Could OOXML T be destandardized as mr. Jelliffe suggested some moons ago?

Bjorn Sveinbjornsson Sweden

01/04/2010 15:06:58 #


After a few lines into reading the post, I went back to check the date ( it was too close to April-1 ), and then finished reading.  Coming from the person who headed the BRM  this is pretty serious.

Gopal India

01/04/2010 15:17:19 #



It's not really an ISO issue. ISO makes standards and implementers may implement them (badly or well).

Sometimes market considerations may feed back into the process. For example if a standard in never implemented that is a good reason for withdrawing it -- but that applies (now) more to the Strict than the Transitional variant of OOXML.

Standards can be withdrawn at any time if that is the will of the Countries that participate ...

Alex United Kingdom

01/04/2010 15:41:14 #

A. Rebentisch

Come on! Didn't you notice that the EU committment settlement mentioned the ECMA version of the standard instead of ISO/IEC: ECMA 376? At least that committment is binding.

We currently have a debate in the EU concerning recognition of consortial standards. It makes sense to think more about the fundamental difference between de jure and market standards.

As of ISO/IEC 29500 the process was incapable to fix the standard. Insufficient review was already given on the ECMA "fast track" level. The question on how to improve documentation can also be addressed on the level of productivity tools for standard development, review and compliance.

Btw., in terms of hands-on:

A. Rebentisch Germany

01/04/2010 16:03:30 #



Ecma 376 is in step-lock with ISO/IEC 29500; they are effectively identical. In any case, I think the relevant clause is 17:

(17) Office Open XML. The “.docx, .xlsx and .pptx” file formats used in the Office 2007 version of Microsoft’s Primary PC Productivity Applications shall implement the ECMA 376 Specification. This commitment shall apply to successor versions of Microsoft’s Primary PC Productivity Applications with respect to IS 29500.

MS Office 2010 will be a "successor version" and so (by my reading), it shall implement IS 29500.

On consortia standards - my understanding with that the EU was already minded to recognize standards from a variety of sources (so, IETF for network standards). But then there's also the question of European-level standards (e.g. from CEN and CENELEC). Frankly, the politics and complexity of this topic keeps me well away from it!

I don't agree that JTC 1 maintenance process is insufficient - in fact I think JTC 1's maintenance processes are one of its strongest features. The problem here is not how the machine works, but that we need to be feeding a lot more into that machine ...

Granada - nope, can't make that. The Brussels one, maybe (that's an easy trip for me).

Alex United Kingdom

01/04/2010 16:34:39 #


Sorry for a stupid question beamed in from five years ago: But if Microsoft *wanted* to use a standardized document format (for regulatory, business or other reasons), why wouldn't they use ODF?

When the ISO standardization process was in full swing the answer was one of perceived pragmatism: They just won't and OOXML is much better than the old proprietary format, so let's not ask that question anymore.

Well, Microsoft came around on TCP/IP, they came around on the web and HTML, they will come around on HTML5 and the very second important customers demand it they will come around on ODF. I wouldn't be surprised if the ODF filter from Microsoft (wasn't that unthinkable a few years ago?) produced code closer to the standard than what Office OOXML does respectively.

Jonas Sweden

01/04/2010 16:54:07 #

Rick Jelliffe

Jesper: I don't know why it is unrealistic to expect Microsoft to accept and generate Strict OOXML in Office 2010: they have had more than two years already. Most of the changes are trivial or systematic or were well in progress (e.g., VML had mostly been dropped for DrawingML by 2007) or would be features required for better support of ODF/Open Formula anyway.

Rob: You mistake Alex's sensibility, I think. SC34 in general and Alex in particular has treated Ecma and Microsoft professionally, fairly and in an unprejudiced way, regardless of any expectations or MS' track record or the shrill innuendos of some of MS' competitors. (Alex of course is not speaking for SC34 in this blog.) And SC34 (and Alex) will continue to do so, I expect, just as it will continue to also treat OASIS in a professional and encouraging way, even though in *both* cases this may sometimes involve negotiating around different expectations about maintenance responsibilities and technical content, that may look like weaseling out of commitments to some, for example.

You seem to want SC34 to judge incoming standards on something else than technical content, but you know that isn't the way it is allowed to work. (You may reasonably disagree on the specifics of OOXML's technical content, of course.)

On your comment that no-one else has implemented OOXML, why don't you try OpenOffice? This is an open source product that claims to have OOXML import.

Alex: A standard can certainly be withdrawn if has been superceded by a new standard: that the old one has some market traction has never been enough to prevent new versions of standards. In the case of OOXML, it is just the withdrawal of a *part* that this is explicitly marked as not being suitable for new systems. (Though perhaps some NBs might prefer making Part 4 entirely non-normative or transfering it to a Technical Specification, rather than being entirely removed.)

Rick Jelliffe Australia

01/04/2010 17:20:56 #

Rob Weir

Rick, I would have been very pleased if you, Alex and several others NB experts in SC34 had judged OOXML purely on its technical merits.  But you didn't.  You fell into the false promises from Microsoft, that if you held your nose on this one, and approved all the legacy crap, that if you averted your eyes just this once and opened the doors, that the standard would be put under international control and evolved in an open, transparent and vendor neutral way.  But that isn't quite what happened.  They played you for Useful Idiots.  At least you, unlike Alex, got paid for your services.

Rob Weir United States

01/04/2010 18:07:08 #

Rick Jelliffe

Rob: What a vivid imagination.

IS 29500 mark 2 was approved by a large majority of National Bodies, not 'me, Alex and several other NB experts.'

If Microsoft was pulling all the strings, how come they didn't get the standard they wanted first time? Or even the second time: the standard they got, with the 'legacy crap' removed to the Transitional part and marked with a big sign (that Alex mentions above), is one MS are still pushing against, it seems.

Your claim that SC34 or experts should have one rule for Microsoft and one for everyone else doesn't wash. It is unprofessional. But you know that.  

(I hope no reader understands Rob's comment to mean that I was paid by MS for any lobbying activity at SC34 or Standards Australia or my blog, then or now, or to alter my opinions. I wasn't. Sticks and stones...)

Rick Jelliffe Australia

01/04/2010 18:21:27 #

Frank Warren

Dear Mr Weir and Mr Jelliffe,

My name is Frank Warren

Since the Joe Calzaghe fiasco, I need a big ticket event to get me back on track.

Do you have any interest in being involved in a bout in Las Vegas later this year?

Going by your long history of trash talk, it should be a mouth-watering prospect.


Frank Warren United Kingdom

01/04/2010 18:25:43 #



In many NBs the approval (or not) of OOXML was a policy decision, but even on technical grounds many NBs found the defects they had identified were satisfactorily addressed in the Fast Track process. Get over it.

(ODF was, of course, the ultimate "approved for policy reasons" JTC 1 Standard -- since few, if any, NBs bothered even to glance at the text before voting for it!)

OOXML does not have problem being "evolved in an open, transparent and vendor neutral way" (except of course, in the PR narratives of its enemies) -- the problem I am concerned with is the rate of evolution.

And - sigh - you continue the ugly pattern of behaviour demonizing independent experts whose views don't sit well with the IBM line. Rick has always been completely open, honest and up-front about his activities and is known and respected (among standardizers and FOSS developers anyway) as both a FOSS and Standards champion.

I don't know - I used the phrase "lack of executive oversight" about Microsoft in my post. When you get into your attack mode you are an in-person exemplification of the fact that IBM has the same kind of problem! -- and it's a shame, because in person you're a gent ...

Alex United Kingdom

01/04/2010 18:59:32 #


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01/04/2010 19:14:34 #

Rui Miguel Silva Seabra

«If Microsoft was pulling all the strings, how come they didn't get the standard they wanted first time? Or even the second time: the standard they got, with the 'legacy crap' removed to the Transitional part and marked with a big sign (that Alex mentions above), is one MS are still pushing against, it seems. »

Oh, it's very easy to explain that. Here in Portugal they almost succeeded to get almost unanimous approval at first time. They stuffed a committe in a 7 against 1 ratio.

When that 1 asked to enlarge the committee, they kept stuffing and eventually the committee refused SUN and IBM for «lack of chairs» which was a blatant and convenient lie. There were multiple people per Microsoft friendly entity and there was a much bigger room in the building.

The number one reason they didn't get it as they wanted it the first time, is that they found much more resistance than what they be expected.

They expected that just stuffing committees with friends would be enough to get a rubber stamp approval.

Rui Miguel Silva Seabra Portugal

01/04/2010 19:21:46 #

Jeremy Allison

Mr. Brown,

The outcome that many had predicted, yet you insisted would not occur, has now come to pass. Better late to the party than never, I suppose.

I'm a little sad it took a lack of Microsoft following through on their promises (so easily given) for you to get to this realization. Had you listened to others who have had much more experience than yourself in dealing with Microsoft, maybe you wouldn't now find yourself in this somewhat humiliating position.

What do you think should be done about this sorry state of affairs now ?

Jeremy Allison.

Jeremy Allison United States

01/04/2010 19:27:53 #


I don't know what the reasoning was with regard to the pragmatic impacts, but my impression is that there is an amendment to IS 29500 somewhere in the works that will change the namespace used for entirely-strict OOXML documents versus thost that bear transitional features.

While, technically, I think this is a good idea, I don't see how this is something Microsoft has had 2 years to deal with.  I'm fairly confident that this was not something that Microsoft perpetrated on itself via its alleged dominant control over SC34 WG4.  

I would hope that whenever Microsoft is able to recognize strict arrivals and optionally produce strict outputs for transitional arrivals, the juggling of namespaces will also work out.

I think caution is called for here.  I'm not that confident that the massive changes made to accomplish the separation of strict and transitional into separately-namespaced definitions has been achieved without new defects to deal with.  I just worked over a much smaller set of errata proposals for defects against ODF 1.0/IS 26300/ODF 1.1 and the mishap rate is surprisingly high.  Excruciating care is required and we don't seem to live in an era that has much tolerance for what that takes.

Going forward, I think the establishment of dual namespaces will be beneficial, but the transition in products is non-trivial (though maybe easier now).  I would also expect there to be support for transitional at least as long as there is product support for "Save as ... 97-2003 Document" and for the same customer-serving purpose.  To consider otherwise strikes me as absurdly disconnected from reality.

Expecting a way for a community of users to establish "Save as strict" as an option or even a configuration default or at least the default for updating an already-strict document is a different story.  I expect that this sort of thing will have to be accomplished carefully and delicately with adjustment over time as the community of users and further product releases/updates adjust around that objective.  I am not going to second-guess how Microsoft, or the communities that consider only strict as acceptable, will work their way to some accommodation en route to International Standard Valhalla.

orcmid United States

01/04/2010 19:38:49 #

Stephen Walli

I suspect I know what is "wrong at the centre" with respect to implementation problems and the like.  Blogged it here:  

Stephen Walli United States

01/04/2010 19:43:03 #


@Mr Allison

> The outcome that many had predicted, yet you
> insisted would not occur

Oh? I don't recall making predictions about Microsoft's behaviour? URL please!

> Had you listened to others who have had much
> more experience than yourself in dealing with Microsoft

What, you mean get some off-the-peg set of prejudices? I've noticed that's how some people prefer to proceed.

Don't you think corporations change? Google from wide-eyed startup to the new Big Brother megacorp; Sun from centre of the technical solar system to bin-end bargain; IBM from evil monopolist market-abuser to ... no, wait ... Wink

Standardizers should be skeptical of corporations, but even within corporations there are many different voices. I think the view that reduces corporate disputes to some kind of soap opera with "goodies" and "baddies" is reductive and unintelligent. And I think the view that holds every corporation to continual account for its worst past misdemeanor is an impediment to any kind of progress ...

Alex United Kingdom

01/04/2010 19:57:36 #

Jeremy Allison

Not some off-the-peg prejudices. 18 years of experience with them, dealing with compliance on network interoperability I'm afraid Smile.

My opinions on Microsoft are actually more nuanced than you might think. After dealing with them for so long my view of Microsoft is rather similar to Churchill's view of the Americans : "Americans can always be counted on to do the right thing...after they have exhausted all other possibilities."

I'm truly interested in what you think should be done about this.

Jeremy Allison.

Jeremy Allison United States

01/04/2010 20:03:46 #

Gareth Horton


As a member of WG4, I don't in any way see this as an "outcome". That implies a finality, whereas standards maintenance is a continuum (until they get stabilized/withdrawn).

In Alex's view, as a long time standards participant, the progress and modus operandi in WG4 seems to have worked counter to his experiences in other SC34 working groups.

As a relative newcomer to the standards work, it's difficult to know what the benchmark is.  I have worked with company internal people that have been less responsive and committed than the Microsoft people involved in WG4, so the problem is less clear cut than many are making it out to be.

It's easy to take the opportunity to use Alex's post as a gloatfest - fine, enjoy your moment of smugness.  

What I think is valuable from Alex's post is really trying to pinpoint the issues on this anniversary. As far as I am concerned it is a lack of resources, both from the ECMA/Microsoft side and the implementer side.  

There are very few technical experts involved from implementers that can help fix and improve the standard, as well as provide more balance within the working group.

The reasons for the known failures in validation are simple bugs, one in the text of the spec and one in the Office implementation (IMHO).  I know, as the testing I was doing against Alex's validator is the source of them. It is not, as far as I can see, due to abject apathy on the part of Microsoft.

I assume Samba has or has had bugs at some stage in the development process right?

So, the upshot of this is that Microsoft will be reminded of their commitments to the process and adjust their budgets accordingly, if they are indeed committed to the process.

I strongly feel that greater non-Microsoft participation is essential, both from the technical input perspective, as well as any political dynamics.

If people and organizations feel strongly about improving the standard and holding Microsoft to account, then they should participate.  Jeering from the sidelines is not going to change anything.  Dealing with ECMA/Microsoft as a member of a National Body with a vote is far more powerful platform.  

Alex's post as a key participant of the process holds more weight than any moaning from Groklaw and the other NOOOXML'ers and might actually help improve matters.


Gareth Horton United Kingdom

01/04/2010 20:08:56 #

Gareth Horton

@orcmid +1 Dennis, as usual.

@jeremy working well with them on Excel compatibility since 1991, so just a little less than your 18 years.  Maybe they just don't like you Wink

Gareth Horton United Kingdom

01/04/2010 20:24:04 #


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01/04/2010 20:26:03 #

Jim Smithers

"And - sigh - you continue the ugly pattern of behaviour demonizing independent experts whose views don't sit well with the IBM line. Rick has always been completely open, honest and up-front about his activities and is known and respected (among standardizers and FOSS developers anyway) as both a FOSS and Standards champion.

Read more:

As a avid open source user, I know this for the smell it emits. Your and Mr Jelliffe name sank below the bottom of the barrel for your part in the ooxml saga. This article was a small step back up the ladder. But the comments in reply to it still show you and Mr Jelliffe are still Microsoft fools.

Jim Smithers United States

01/04/2010 20:31:40 #

Alan Bell

Well as the date on the article is not the 1st of April I guess this is serious. I can well imagine the frustration of all the people working on the committees to try to make this whole thing work for the benefit of everyone. It seems that the conformance is close enough for marketing purposes and that is where it is destined to stay. How is their ODF support these days? I seem to recall predictions that Microsoft with their impressive development resources might end up making a stricter more accurate implementation of ODF than or anyone else.

Alan Bell United Kingdom

01/04/2010 20:40:46 #


@Stephen Walli - +1 for sure.  I missed that the first time.  The historical sleuthing around Unix/POSIX/Linux, how Microsoft was blind-sided, and the Java missteps is wonderful.  

[The only disconnect for me is that I saw OSF as an IBM-DEC Play against Sun dominance and a beautiful move regarding AIX.  Some DEC Hardware may have run a lot of Unix implementations, but I didn't know many folks who knew the name of DEC's version.  I knew people happily running (close-enough) Unix on Sun that resented IBM's disturbing arrival.  At the OSF announcement event I attended, there were many unhappy-faced old-guard IBM reps in the back of the room, too.]

orcmid United States

01/04/2010 20:41:26 #

Gareth Horton


Is "Microsoft fool" a new one?  You need to let Jesper know and update the scores.

@Jim Smithers - partying like it's 2007 with good old Roy Schestowitz I see.  You might want to check your open source software and rip out anything Rick might be responsible for - make sure your principles remain intact.


Gareth Horton United Kingdom

01/04/2010 21:01:26 #


[I've just deleted a comment. Jibes mentioning "thalidomide" cross the line.]

Alex United Kingdom

01/04/2010 21:08:00 #

Jomar Silva


Good to see that you're now seeing things that thousands had seen at that time... again, good to see that we're starting to agree more.

As I explained to you in Stocholm, BR is very concerned with the transitional-to-forever OOXML, and this is a joke that isn't fun anymore.

Worst than this, we now see WG4 reverting most of the decisions taken at the BRM regarding the Transitional... the ISO 8601 removal is the latest trick on that.

BTW, at that time I've had a good conversation with a friend that folowed all the development of the video and multimedia standards, and he told me several histories about Microsoft behavour in TCs... some of those histories are been reenacted right now.

I honestly don't understand why we need to still spend money and resources on a standard that was only sent to ISO to have the "status" as someone already comented... They still playing with us !

Jomar Silva Brazil

01/04/2010 21:21:00 #



The odd thing about the ISO 8601 reversion is that it is really nothing to do with Microsoft's wishes (in fact, in some senses, it is quite the opposite).

Check out Gareth's post here:

The push to revert this comes from the National Bodies who are concerned their users will get screwed by silent data loss if T files start to appear with ISO 8601 dates.

Microsoft had already written code in an Excel pre-release to use ISO 8601 dates. See Jesper's screen-shots at:

So, in fact, this was an argument where MS were broadly pro 8601, and the NBs were (broadly) saying no -- hence the upcoming proposed amendment to remove ISO 8601 dates from T (not S), which I hope Brazil will support for the safety of Excel users everywhere.

This is a real-world case which proves things are rather more complex than in Rob's fantasy-land of a working-group controlled by Microsoft!

Alex United Kingdom

01/04/2010 21:25:26 #


All of this high minded talk is nice, but it misses the key point: money. MS Office is worth a heck of a lot of MS's profits, because they can charge more having a close to a monopoly on it. If they go to a strict standard defined file format they open themselves up to competition and will have to cut prices, at a minimum. And if competitors are multi-platform customers may stray from the other big profit center: the Windows OS.

MS has always been brilliant at marketing. This allows them to claim the marketing plus of standards compliance without suffering from real standards and the competition that would ensue.

bob United States

01/04/2010 21:45:54 #

Stephen Walli

@Gareth:  You said There are very few technical experts involved from implementers that can help fix and improve the standard, as well as provide more balance within the working group.  This is the real problem.  A standard with only one serious conforming implementation isn't a standard, especially when they have their own product difficulties with which to contend.  Because of the way Microsoft played the early marketing game with claims of all the others "supporting" the standard rather than actual conformance, I'm betting there is little reason for the likes of Apple to continue to play on.  Without real implementer participation it will be very difficult to get the standard on track.  (I grumbled about this two years ago:

Stephen Walli United States

01/04/2010 21:57:08 #


You're dealing with a corporation, one that derives much of its profit from the difficulty of switching out their office products for competing products. You should not ever expect serious standards compliance until they face a loss of market share.

If OOXML-Strict compliance is important to you, help StarOffice / OpenOffice or WordPerfect or iWork to produce more-compliant documents and then promote those products instead of Microsoft's products. If you succeed, the loss of market share will cause them to pay attention. (As a side note, the effort spent improving the products' OOXML compliance may also benefit the products' ODF compliance, which is what I personally care about.)

Don't pretend that you did not expect this result. No one who watched the standards battle would believe you are that naive. Instead, focus on how to move forward from here.

Finally, Rob and Rick: It is possible to disagree about nearly everything and still maintain personal respect. You both have a lot to offer here. The way forward is not "us" versus "them", but a much larger "us" finding areas of agreement. Can we start by acknowledging that much?

W^L+ United States

01/04/2010 22:04:25 #



"The initial version of OOXML (Ecma 376 1st Edition) was rejected by ISO and IEC members in September 2007 ..."

For me, there's something too strenuous in the emphasis on rejection. It is clear that the the submission was not accepted, but it was also in the ball-park for ballot resolution.

Not being there, I don't quite know how to temper this but to observe that the BRM made changes that were acceptable enough to the objecting parties.

To suggest that OOXML was strongly rejected seems too much like the claims by some parties here that the American people strongly and resoundingly reject the Health Care Reform legislation that was finally passed here.

Having said that, I do recognize your concern for the pace of evolution toward a strict-OOXML world and even a time when there is a strict-OOXML opportunity.  The lack of a roadmap is not helpful.  On the other hand, maybe what's required is a little more sharpness about "support" in the Microsoft warrant that includes:

(iii)  Microsoft shall Support the ECMA 376 Specification in the .docx, .xlsx and .pptx file formats used by Word 2007, Excel 2007, and PowerPoint 2007;
(iv)  Microsoft shall Support IS 29500 in the .docx, .xlsx and .pptx file formats used by successor versions of Word 2007, Excel 2007, and PowerPoint 2007;

We could save up our allowances and paper-route money and maybe purchase one of those warranties with a rider about strict-versus-transitional?

orcmid United States

01/04/2010 22:09:19 #


Dear Mr. Brown :

I find it 'very' interesting where you state that "..In many NBs the approval (or not) of OOXML was a policy decision, but even on technical grounds many NBs found the defects they had identified were satisfactorily addressed in the Fast Track process..."

If I recall(based on reports) correctly, people were running out of the time to discuss the tech issues(and that there were many) -- A large portion of text were not even look at due to the lack of time.  So your stating that "on technical grounds many NBs found...were satisfactorily addressed" is, somewhat ishonest IMNSHO.

cheve Canada

01/04/2010 22:25:03 #

Rob Weir

Re-reading Alex's post I think he misplaces the blame, at least in part.  The fact that maintenance has not been staffed to his satisfaction -- this is not a Microsoft issue.  It is not an Ecma issue either.  Neither of them are assigned maintenance of ISO/IEC 29500.  That was assigned by JTC1 to SC34.  Alex described how control had been handed over back in 2008:

"JTC 1 have handed full responsibility for the standard over to SC 34"

Is there some part of "full responsibility" for 8000 pages of crud that makes you a bit uneasy now, Alex?

More from that post: "The passage of ISO/IEC 29500 has instituted a new era of standards activity in SC 34 related to document formats".


"SC 34 has a plan: it envisages taking control of OOXML"

A cunning plan, my lord.  But as I said before, it is more like Microsoft took control of SC34.

It seems to me that if the committee were not dominated by Microsoft (which I believe it is, but Alex denies) then there should be no problem staffing the work adequately without relying on Microsoft.  Maybe Alex can explain how Microsoft is now to blame for the slow progress of OOXML maintenance in a committee that has "full responsibility for the standard" and which had broad participation from non-Microsoft experts?  Does SC34 have responsibility or not? Does it have broad and active participation from non-Microsoft employees or not?  

And if you cannot handle the work for projects already assigned to SC34, then why are you proposing new work items like an ISO ZIP format?

I can appreciate that you think progress here is slow, but the blame appears to be entirely misplaced.  OOXML is your albatross now.

Rob Weir United States

01/04/2010 22:25:20 #



On "rejected" v "not accepted" - if the text had remained unchanged, the initial voting result would have stood (in that case no vote modification would have been permitted). So in terms of JTC 1 rules I'm comfortable with "rejected" being the right word for NB opinions on the Ecma 376 text as it was in September 2007.

I completely agree that a "roadmap" would be of immense value to moving things forward!

Alex United Kingdom

01/04/2010 22:27:26 #



You have your "reports"; I have my first-hand knowledge and second-hand accounts from the people involved.

If an NB felt there had been insufficient time to review the text, it was open to it to vote no. Some (e.g. India as I recall) did just that for this reason ...

Alex United Kingdom

01/04/2010 23:07:51 #


The MSFT standards campaign was simply window dressing to prevent uppity governments from rejecting the Window DOC[x] monopoly as non-standards compliant.

When the immediate danger that some activist government would emmulate Massachusettes, USA and similar municipalities, Microsoft dropped any concern for "standards".

The whole Doc format standard campaign was simply meant to avoid rejection of the proprietary format.  It worked, the political will to punish MSFT for trying to patent text authorship has passed into a vague, and confusing bramble of standards.

The unfortunate fellow travelers with Microsoft are now waking up to how simply they were co-opted by a monopolistic criminal organization.

Sorry guys, but you got used.

pan United States

01/04/2010 23:58:27 #


I note with interest the (so far at least) silence from Microsoft.

Alex, I am surprised, after all the allegations of stuffing, bribing and coercion of NB's that were, until DIS29500, uninterested in XML document standards, that you seem surprised at the outcome thus far.

TheOpenSourcerer United Kingdom

02/04/2010 00:24:01 #


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02/04/2010 02:45:33 #


Microsoft, being a corporation, does what it believes will earn it the most profits. For decades this has been maintaining a proprietary document standard. Apparently those with the authority to decide believe this is still the case.  If at some point in time it decides it would make more money converting to a standard it will do so.

Your error, Alex, was to fail to look at Microsoft's promises from this perspective.  Remember, past history (i.e Kerebos, the Java contract) makes clear that Microsoft will lie quite convincingly if it believes it is in its interest to do so (or do you think I am wrong about this?)  It would be helpful if you described what Microsoft said to persuade you of its good intentions, and why you believed it to be telling you the truth.

eduardo United Kingdom

02/04/2010 06:23:34 #


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02/04/2010 06:29:23 #


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02/04/2010 07:59:58 #


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02/04/2010 10:14:13 #



Well, a simple "Hello World" ODF file passes the Office-o-tron with no conformance errors, which is more than can be said for the same document from the latest ... so, watch this space in anticipation of more meaningful testing!

Alex United Kingdom

02/04/2010 10:31:33 #



What a strange comment.

You need to read that blog post of mine a bit more - especially the section entitled "Bringing Ecma In".

As you well know, Standards organisations ultimately rely on contributions from individuals and corporations to progress technical work. It is not a tap they can turn on and off. The fact that Microsoft provides resources through Ecma is to be welcomed. The fact that any corporations provide resources to standards bodies is to be welcomed - bravo I say! But I am greedy: I want more.

In International standards committees (like SC 34) liaisons and corporations members have no power of decision-making: the framework is there to handle this well.

The view (from certain corporations) that certain other corporations should not make contributions to standards activity is, in my view, very short-sighted and ultimately anti-standards.

If WG 4 is not sufficiently resourced then we have a problem. We might find ourselves getting into a situation where - I don't know - maybe it would take us 5 years to get a modest update out of the door. Imagine that!

As to ISO ZIP -- that would not be a WG 4 project and so the concerns of my blog don't really apply. If it can't be resourced it won't be done. However, since it's likely to be only 20-40 pages, and since - informally - I've already heard offers of help from several sources, I don't think that will be a problem. Perhaps an IBM guy might like to contribute? If so, I would again say bravo!

Alex United Kingdom

02/04/2010 10:35:19 #


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02/04/2010 10:53:23 #


@eduardo @pan @Sourcerer

I think there's a misconception at large that NBs voted in favour of OOXML because they somehow "trusted Microsoft". As far as I'm aware this is a long way from being true. If anything, some positive votes may have been motivated more by a distrust of Microsoft!

Remember that the maintenance regime of OOXML took decision-making away from Ecma/Microsoft and placed it in the hands of the National Bodies. The international community controls the OOXML standard (beware spin from MS competitors saying otherwise: they fear of course the same wrenching of control may happen to them), but the international community does not "pick winners" or necessarily even concern itself over-much with what Microsoft does. Those concerns are more properly dealy with by market regulators, not standardizers.

For myself, I have always advocated taking a skeptical view to corporations and putting more faith in conformance testing. See for example what I wrote here before about interoperability testing:

When it come to Office Document interoperability we do not need to rely on bitter blog exchanges, the warm words of press releases, or even on the success (or not) of workshops in Redmond. Questions of interoperability will be decided by the cold hard fact that certain bytes arranged in certain ways will betoken good behaviour; other arrangements will betoken bad behaviour. We, the users, can measure which is which, and we, the users, can improve the tests by making the standards that govern office document more thorough. If we deal honestly and standardise well, the optimal outcome for us is within reach.


Alex United Kingdom

02/04/2010 11:24:26 #

A. Rebentisch

Whatever the standard says, the simple task of office applications and office productivity tools out there is to ensure compatibility with the original format. In this sense it seemed important in the process to get certain deliverables and ensure the white angel gets taped when it is butchered by the dark knight. Despite Sohne in Kenya of course no one physically died.

A. Rebentisch France

02/04/2010 13:10:22 #


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02/04/2010 13:28:45 #

Rob Weir

Alex, I think you overestimate the value of the ISO imprimatur. I cannot think of any large corporation that would consider it a fair trade to hand over control of a critical part of their technology to a cabal of petty consultants, especially ones with such a poor reputation. Anyone who thinks the contrary is a fool.  No one is going to hand over control of their technology to a bunch of loose cannons that run alternatively hot and cold, who make up the rules as they go, that whine and moan and run to the press whenever they feel that their dignity as International Grand Poobahs is impugned.

You seem to want to play ODF and OOXML off each other, in hopes that you can force concessions, hoping that continual threats against both standards will ensure that the midget in the middle can control both.  That might have worked before, but we're all on to your little game.  Remember, ISO approval is worth only a small amount of inconvenience.  And there always remains the possibility of both ODF and OOXML removing themselves from ISO, at which point SC34, as well as you yourself, would just descend back into its original and justifiable obscurity.  

So whenever you start making demands on a large international corporation, I suggest you think more like a salesman, and tell them why this is to their benefit, what value they would get, why it is worth their trouble.  If the best you can do is to lead with idle threats about withdrawing their standard, then you are making a weak argument.  This hooliganism is also causing S34's future pipeline to dry up.  Microsoft was once going to send along XPS from Ecma for Fast Track processing in JTC1.  They backed off that, no doubt evaluating the cost and the benefit and deciding that working with SC34 on this is simply not worth the trouble.  I cannot find fault with that calculus.  

Rob Weir United States

02/04/2010 13:46:43 #

Laszlo Kurti

Oh Microsoft really don't give a s...t for there own promises? What a surprise! Oh common. Considering the circumstances of OOXML voting it was more than obvious that MS want the ISO standard for marketing reasons only. MS feared of the growing impact of OO.o (ODF) and wanted there own standard in any price. If the OOXML would have been "standard ready" at that time than why were many strange activities within different National Bodies such as in Italy, Sweden, Hungary, not to mention many African countries which are never been near by ISO. Sorry to say but the story so far is if you have enough money than you can buy your own standard, from ISO as well.
Did you really believe that MS just changed? You are really surprised that MS just left ISO (you) alone? Hey wake up, it's all about money, as the OOXML prove it clearly.

Laszlo Kurti Hungary

02/04/2010 15:01:12 #


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02/04/2010 15:40:57 #


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02/04/2010 15:59:53 #


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02/04/2010 16:05:31 #


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02/04/2010 16:18:42 #


ISO OOXML convener: Microsoft's format "heading for failure"

Although Microsoft's Office Open XML (OOXML) document format became an ISO standard two years ago

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02/04/2010 16:34:42 #


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02/04/2010 16:38:00 #


This situation needs fixing. An open standard with no reference open implementation is a problem. An "open" standard with not even one proprietary implementation from the standard's main promoter is a disgrace and a joke.

Microsoft abused the ISO process, and the ISO committees let themselves be bamboozled.

The lesson are:
- MS is not to be trusted,
- ISO is weak.

The actions needed are:
- repeal of the OOXML standard, or at least the transitional part, so that MS cannot benefit from its lies
- perfect treatment of the remaining "true" OOXML format, including adamantly requiring a very clear spec and one open-source implementation.
- official reprimand to MS
- internal ISO restructuring to make any further such incidents impossible.

Anything less would be still more hypocritical kow-towing to the lying bully.

Olivier France

02/04/2010 16:42:19 #


"And if we look elsewhere within Microsoft we can see – for example from their engagement with HTML 5 and work on MSIE – that they can move in the right direction when the will is there."

You mean... like the 55/100 result in the ACID test Microsoft proudly displays on their web site? Link:

No, Microsoft is not interested in standards. They want to control the platform, and let everyone play catch up.

foo United Kingdom

02/04/2010 16:50:04 #


Regarding the "how come MS did not get the standard they wanted ?"... This question shows how naive you are.

MS did not want a specific standard. They wanted anything that vaguely looked like a standard so that their salespeople could counter ODF. Actually they're very happy with the standard they got, with its 2 versions, one of them un-implementable by anyone else and the other un-implemented even by themselves.

That way the "open" check box on governments' and Big Corps' purchase-approval checklist are ticked, but they remain locked-in to MS's proprietary formats. Best of both world.

Olivier France

02/04/2010 16:56:39 #


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02/04/2010 16:59:48 #


@foo [not your real name]

I did say "move in the right direction" - and MSIE is a Hell of a lot better than it used to be ... (MSIE 6 anyone?)

Alex United Kingdom

02/04/2010 17:13:00 #

Sebastian Gomez

Many previous posts said it was unrealistic to expect microsoft to implement proper support in Office 2010. I think what is unrealistic is expecting microsoft to implement any kind of standards.

The only time they will implement anything that is standards compliant is when they have no choice. Think about IE. It took 15 years to get them to implement standards in IE (In IE9) and they only did so because Mozilla, Apple, Opera and Google forced them. Only after they lost significant marketshare against this companies that they implemented HTML5. And, remember, embrace, extend, extinguish. IE9 is only phase1 (Embrace). In a year or so, we'll see IE9 marketshare grow, and the proprietary extensions will start rolling. In a few years, It'll be 2001 all over again. IE15 will be as incompatible as IE6 was.

This is microsoft. That's what they do. They won't change. They are the most hostile company I've ever seen. They blatantly attack the rest of the industry, and as long as people put up with it and buy their products, they have no reason to change their tactics. They've worked well for them for almost 3 decades.

Sebastian Gomez Argentina

02/04/2010 17:13:12 #

Common Sense

microsoft ditching open in favor of proprietary.... only fools expected otherwise. ISO got bent over like countless techies said they would. end of story. ISO now supports closed proprietary formats as "open".

Common Sense United States

02/04/2010 17:20:57 #


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02/04/2010 17:24:07 #



I'm not sure who was "expecting" Microsoft to implement OOXML Strict in Office 2010; though certainly many hoped they would. However what MS does (or does not do) is not the business of the standards organisations.


OOXML Transitional unimplementable? I think not. If you're interested in office suites then will read it, and check out SoftMaker Office ( - I know I will soon. (And of course these formats are used in the tool chains of countless back-office and enterprise systems the world over).

@Common Sense

This isn't an open/proprietary issue, it's an issue about standards variants and conformance.

Alex United Kingdom

02/04/2010 17:47:17 #


"OOXML Transitional unimplementable? ...I think not... will read it, and ... SoftMaker Office... (And ...tool chains...)", plenty of competing Office software and other apps also import "regular" MS formats. Does that mean they are standards ? The point of an official standard is not to be able to kinda read/write a subset of a format for kinda OK results.

A standard is a complete and unambiguous spec, with a reference (open if possible) implementation, more is better. Transitional is not a standard, it's much too vague for that. Yes, you can import and manipulate a subset of it. No, it does not guarantee interoperability. Nowhere near, actually.

Olivier France

02/04/2010 17:59:27 #



Well, you said T was unimplementable - now you're on to a different topic.

In JTC 1 there are no reference implementations, instead the emphasis is on the text of the Standard being entire unto itself.

I think that document format standardisation is a fairly immature discipline and this is reflected in the standards themselves and in the level of interoperability between implementations of them. It's an interesting question whether sending out a .docx file (say) will result in greater fidelity when opened with MS Office/SoftMaker Office/OO.o as an equivalent ODF file would opened with OO.o/KOffice/MS Office.

Alex United Kingdom

02/04/2010 18:05:11 #

Sebastian Gomez


You are suggesting people to checkout other privative software like softmaker? All that'll do is perpetuate this problem.

Emacs is all you need people. If you want formatting, use TEX. d

Sebastian Gomez Argentina

02/04/2010 18:08:03 #


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02/04/2010 18:10:01 #


Rick Jelliffe: Open Office doesn't actually support the OOXML ISO standard, or at least didn't last time I checked. Instead it supports the OOXML that Microsoft Office actually produces and reads. The developers concluded that support for the ISO standard was useless since nothing was likely to actually read or write it, and it'd just confuse people expecting to be able to exchange documents with Microsoft Office.

All the non-Microsoft applications that might add ISO OOXML support are far better served by ODF already.

makomk United States

02/04/2010 18:10:28 #


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02/04/2010 18:14:20 #



I don't see why - I asssume you mean - commercial software will perpetuate any 'problem'.

I somehow can't see the proposition of shifting a workforce of office document users over to TeX being particularly easy to follow-through on!

Alex United Kingdom

02/04/2010 18:23:01 #


I'm trying to make the point that some level of interoperability ( your "OO.o and others open OOXML") does not a standard make. Hence my counter example of other formats OO.O and others can work with, which are NOT standards. A standard has to ensure almost perfect interoperability; When, as in Transitional's case, the specs are at best unclear, and on top of the there are 3rd party (let alone open) implemetations, there is a problem. Strict's case is even worse, with neither implementation nor much confidence in the specs.

As for you cop-out that other standards are screwed, too... I can't politely react to that. I guess I'm gonna go steal some money now, but less than others, so that's OK...

Olivier France

02/04/2010 18:25:28 #


Mr. Brown, you are a tool.  This is exactly the behavior one should expect from a convicted, but not punished, monopolist.  You and the ISO have been had, and have given Microsoft no reason to change their abusive tactics.

Freedom United States

02/04/2010 18:27:20 #

Ian Lynch

MSFT has a commercial interest in holding out against interoperability as far as they credibly can and for as long as they can. They need to buy time because their desktop monopoly is going to die a death of 1000 cuts with migration to the web rather than competing desktop technologies. Problem is that it is difficult to see how they could replace the Windows/Office combination as a cash cow but everything has its day and change is inevitable. Really we should have one ISO document standard and that should be odf.

Ian Lynch United Kingdom

02/04/2010 18:35:54 #



> A standard has to ensure almost perfect interoperability

Yup - but dream on. ISO/IEC 26300 (ODF 1.0) has no spreadsheet formulas for example! As I say, immature standards.


ISO makes standards; it does not regulate markets. You confuse these activities.


Why do I have this sudden sense of déjà vu? Wink

Alex United Kingdom

02/04/2010 18:39:47 #

Doug Mahugh

Hi Alex and others. Interesting post, and interesting discussion.

I’d like to respond in some detail, and will do so in a blog post early next week.  Have a great holiday weekend everyone, and I look forward to your feedback next week.

Doug Mahugh United States

02/04/2010 18:45:34 #


At least ODF has an open source reference implementation, which is the second-best thing.

And, once again, you're using others' issues as a cop out. Those "morals" are extremely easy to live by. I feel I'm hearing my kid explain that his E is pretty good, because someone else got an F.

And by the way, that's an F you got.

Olivier France

02/04/2010 18:49:17 #


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02/04/2010 18:51:07 #


For many who followed this from the beginning, I find it rather amusing you seem surprised by the current situation Alex.

I've never previously followed an ISO standard, so perhaps all the ballot stuffing and irregularities are common; personally I found them shocking, and even more so how people involved such as yourself seemed to simply turn a blind eye to the whole mess.

Jamie Canada

02/04/2010 18:52:22 #

Ian Lynch


There will be a lot of deja vu simply because the issues are not going to go away and they will be constantly revisited. In the end the trend is to open standards and interoperability, particularly in document and web related formats. The discussion is really in how long legacy de facto standards and their control by particular interests can be maintained. Personally I'm finding I'm using WP a lot less and publishing direct to web pages, sharing spreadsheets on Google Docs etc. We encourage schools to teach more of this to prepare their learners for the future.

Ian Lynch United Kingdom

02/04/2010 19:00:55 #


Forgive my ignorance, but does this mean that OOXML's status as a recognized ISO standard could be withdrawn?

Peter Taiwan

02/04/2010 19:10:35 #

Rick Jelliffe

Jeremy: It seemed to me that your position against a standard for OOXML at ISO was to some degree at odds with the struggles in the rest of your SAMBA career to get better more complete documentation, better IP disentangling, and to get competitors or other stakeholders at the table discussing technical details and how to get the rough edges and legacy kludges cleaned up.

For years, we in the document industry have been demanding the same kinds of things, but in relation to Office file formats. When the EU made its call for MS to use XML and submit their formats for standardization, were we really supposed to say "Oh, after calling for this for all these years, we don't really want it or need it?"

If MS had come to the SAMBA people 10 years ago and voluntarily submitted to internationally QA'ed open scrutiny on their documentation and its completeness, devoting substantial resources to put out so much documentation (remembering that OOXML went from around 2000 pages to around 8000 pages in response to requests for information by standards bodies) that people even began to complain it was too big, would you really have turned around and said "Oh, no, we didn't mean it, we would prefer the status quo where we have to be satisfied with whatever partial crumbs that they post on their website!"?

I suspect most people would have said "Lets raid the chicken
coop while the gate is open!"... Lets get that documentation vetted and published and the parties into some kind of dialog.

Corporations always blow hot and cold with standards, and shop around for the most suitable standards bodies. Take Google's Ian Hickson's efforts with HTML5 and the WHATWG for example. Indeed, XML itself is the poster child for this, when Sun's Jon Bosak took the development of the SGML profile from ISO to W3C, taking many of us with him. I came back to SC34 by invitation, largely after becoming disenchanted with what I saw as domination by two large corporations (not Google or Microsoft or IBM sort of) in a particular W3C standard, in effect denying a whole set of use cases that didn't fit in with these companies technologies.

A necessary but not sufficient tool for dismantling the grip of a monopoly or oligopoly technologies is to have a viable FOSS alternative, which is what SC34 did when making alternative schema languages available. It is not up to experts to decide that ODF is better than OOXML or OOXML is better than ODF; it is the market and time and procurers. We are better off with competition and real alternatives, not monocultures. We were better off having both TCP/IP and OSI rather than just one (imagine if it was OSI!)

Many of us, I think, have had confidence that ODF would progressively be capable of providing that alternative, and that the ODF/OOXML kerfuffle was, as Alex memorable put it, a phoney war. I have every confidence that ODF will continue to thrive, and that it will completely displace DOC/RTF/DOCX for simple editable public documents; but this will happen not because ODF was standardized nor held up because OOXML has been also standardized, but when market decides that implementations have good enough interoperability (which *then* relies, in turn, on the base standard being good enough.)  [[Indeed, ISO SGML was mandated for DoD use in the USA but never successfully transitioned from aircraft manuals to the desktop because the applications were not available.]] All standardization does in this case is to help the documentation for both to get better QA, and to help some of the wrinkles in feature sets to get ironed out: they have to duke it out in real implementations.

So the fact that Microsoft would sooner or later blow cold (if indeed it has, at least in its conformance for OOXML, which remains to be seen) is no surprise or mystery or embarrassment. The precursor to SC34 was largely supported by IBM, now some IBM-ers are not so keen, but in the future other personalities may find SC34 a useful forum again. The wheel will turn. We may see Google keen and participating at SC34 on some technology at some time: why not? There are lots of useful things to do in lots of areas where Google is getting an interest, and sooner or later SC34 may be an appropriate forum.

Rick Jelliffe Australia

02/04/2010 19:16:38 #

Mark Pellegrini

@Gareth - "So, the upshot of this is that Microsoft will be reminded of their commitments to the process and adjust their budgets accordingly, if they are indeed committed to the process." - that was gracious of you to rebut your own comment and save everyone else the job of pointing out the obvious.

Mark Pellegrini United States

02/04/2010 19:32:50 #


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02/04/2010 20:21:30 #

Rob Weir

Thanks, Rick.  That takes the prize for the most idiotic thing I've read today.  It was a competitive day, but you managed to pull ahead.  Congrats.

Now it is obvious to all that SAMBA is not based on a standard.  It is based on proprietary Microsoft networking protocols.  So the connection to OOXML is not apt.  I and many others have said that having technical documentation on OOXML was a good thing, but standardizing it was not.  

You mention that IDABC asked Microsoft to standardize OOXML.  This is not quite true.  They "urged Microsoft to publish and provide non-discriminatory access to future versions of its Office document specifications" in 2006 but only asked them to "consider" submitting them for standardization.  In any case, if you look at the progress of Microsoft technical disclosures and the EC over the past 4 years, you see that they have not asked Microsoft to standardize anything else.  All of the agreements since then have been around private publication of their proprietary interfaces.  The EC appears to have progressed in their thinking in this area and learned from past mistakes.  Why haven't you?

You (and Alex) also err when you suggest that standardization stands outside of the market and is not involved in picking winners and losers.  Baloney.  Look at ISO's own definition of a standard where it says "Standards should be based on the consolidated results of science, technology and experience, and aimed at the promotion of optimum community benefits".  If you are not making decisions, rejecting the bad ideas and promoting the good ones, then you are failing at standardization.  You are looking toward a plot of dirt filled with weeds and calling it a garden that the magical market will figure out.

Take the VML example, that Alex is complaining about.  The W3C rejected it years ago.  Yes, they picked winners and losers, and the winner was SVG and the loser was VML.  But SC34 came about, with Microsoft apologists/contractors like you, and approved VML as part of an ISO standard. And now you have the gall to complain that Microsoft is still using VML?  Well enjoy your unweeded garden, Rick.  You deserve it and its fruits.

Rob Weir United States

02/04/2010 20:36:13 #



"I somehow can't see the proposition of shifting a workforce of office document users over to TeX being particularly easy to follow-through on!"

Why not? There are nice programs available now that use it on the back end to serve as examples of how easy it can be. LyX, for example. It doesn't have to be any harder to transition to and to use than it was to move workers from typewriters to computer-based word processors.

That was achieved through training and/or brute force, and I believe it was a much harder transition than this one would be.

The key difference between using TeX and the usual practices of most word processor users is shifting from a formatting mentality to a semantic markup mentality. Initially it would be jarring to many people. But, they would quickly get over it when they realize that they don't have to think about the mundane details of fonts and margins any more.

Today's word processors are, to put it bluntly, stupid. The work of formatting documents should have been delegated to the machine years ago. Instead, the typewriter was virtualized as the word processor, right down to leaving it to the typist to decide where on the page text should appear, what font and point size it should appear in, etc.

It's funny that a technology from the 1970's holds the promise of correcting the blunders of today's technology, yet it is so easily dismissed as being to hard to implement. It's a good thing businesses didn't think that way about introducing computers to their work forces in the 1980's and 1990's, or this discussion would only be possible in the letters column of some print magazine or newspaper.

Scott United States

02/04/2010 21:12:29 #

Rick Jelliffe

Rob: My pleasure.

So ISO standardization is involved in "picking winners" after all, is it? I thought you wrote earlier that Alex "overestimated the value of the ISO imprimatur" and its influence was only worth a small amount of inconvenience?

Your comment "No one is going to hand over control of their technology to a bunch of loose cannons that run alternatively hot and cold" is particularly revealing on many levels: I thought we were supposed to be compliant apologists.

Your comment "You seem to want to play ODF and OOXML off each other, in hopes that you can force concessions, hoping that continual threats against both standards will ensure that the midget in the middle can control both.  That might have worked before, but we're all on to your little game."  But the midget is a forum of the National Standards Bodies of multiple nations of the world.

From what I can see, it is legitimate for SC34 to want for parties to stick to the agreements they made or have good-faith negotiations out if circumstances change. Last year it was with ODF issues, and it embarrassed you; this year it may be with OOXML issues, and it may embarrass Microsoft. You complain that SC34 is some kind of passive lapdog, and yet you also complain that it has its own bark and agenda independent of your large US corporations. Err, that rather the point of its existence.

Rick Jelliffe Australia

02/04/2010 21:30:48 #

Jeremy Allison


I wasn't opposed to Microsoft documenting OOXML, I was opposed to them getting ISO to declare it a "standard". You can have one without the other you know.

I once compared OOXML to "good MSDN documentation, but not in the same realm as a standards doc.". I still stick to that assessment. I would have been really happy with the OOXML spec. published on msdn, just like the "Workgroup and Server Protocol Docs.". I even help report bugs in them to Microsoft. Not a standard of course, but then they never claimed them to be.

As Alex has now discovered, having worked on getting whatever document was necessary to get the marketing "ISO standard" stamp of approval, Microsoft has *no* interest in implementing whatever it is, and could care less. Try explaining the difference between "strict" and "transitional" to any government body and watch their eyes glaze over. In fact try explaining it to anyone but a standards wonk.

No, all they care about is being able to say "What Microsoft Office emits is an ISO standard, just like OpenOffice". The truth of it doesn't matter.

You and Alex helped them do that, after being told many times that this would be the outcome, and now we all have to live with your choices. I'm unhappy about that, and I have a right to be.


Jeremy Allison United States

02/04/2010 21:44:01 #

Mark Pellegrini

"Forgive my ignorance, but does this mean that OOXML's status as a recognized ISO standard could be withdrawn?" - I, for one, am waiting with bated breath for Alex to answer this question.

Mark Pellegrini United States

02/04/2010 22:04:43 #


Let's take the facts here - no media involved.
Microsoft, by fair means or fail, get an ISO standard in one of their file formats.
They then proceed to fail to properly implement it as their promise to ISO (all subsequent versions...)
ISO recognize this.

Does this mean ISO have learned that Microsoft need a lot more attention apposed to other companies when it comes to standards? If Microsoft brought out a new "open" file format tomorrow, and wanted fast-track, would they get it? Or would ISO force Microsoft through the proper channels? I hope for all our sakes further caution is used in future.

Can you promise us that Alex?

TGM United Kingdom

02/04/2010 22:31:16 #


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02/04/2010 22:46:52 #

Dean Edmonds

You seem puzzled by Microsoft's reluctance to move more swiftly toward Strict compliance, saying:

"playing fair by standards has always seemed like the most obvious way for the corporation to extract itself from the regulatory thickets that have entangled it over the past decade"

The costs to Microsoft of those "regulatory thickets" are nothing compared to the enormous rents it continues to extract from customers locked into its proprietary formats. All they needed from ISO was a stamp of approval. Having gotten that, it remains in their best interest to delay the implementation of a fully open standard for as long as possible. The surprise is not that they are staffing the standardization effort so poorly, but that they are staffing it at all.

Dean Edmonds Canada

02/04/2010 22:54:34 #

Chas Bloom

Your first mistake was believing Microsoft was some sort of decent company.  Your second mistake was granting them a standard.  Your third mistake is refusing to immediately revoke this standard.

You are tools.

Chas Bloom United States

02/04/2010 23:09:51 #

A. Rebentisch

@RobWeir: IDABC was an administrative programme of the EU-Commission DG Informatics for pan-European egovernment services. Very low-level, without real "political governance", but quite efficient in terms of deliverables and pragmatism. The project which "forced" them to standardize was < 100 000 EUR/anno.

IDABC is succeeded now by ISA, also just 164 Mio EUR, focussed on interoperability, openness, reuse and so forth. What made IDABC very famous was the disproportionate lobbying effort dumped on a harmless programme which was mostly about writing some broschures and guidelines, or development of administrative software e.g. for document management. The primary reasons was that they wanted to do "open source", what apparently the company saw as a bridge head that required a deterrence strategy.

Other EC market organization interventions are so to speak from a totally different department, on the real political level or from competition authorities, e.g. DG Competition in the Samba case as a competent competition authority, of which players from oversees failed to understand that it acts like a Court, so parties are expected to show respect and do what they are told.
And the standard policy portfolio is with DG Enterprise, laid doen by laws.

IDABC/PEGSO on the other hand had formally no authority to command anything.

Btw, maybe you want to contribute to the Interoperability Strategy consultation?

A. Rebentisch France

02/04/2010 23:10:01 #

Rob Weir

Rick, I said standardization is about picking winners and losers.  This is any standardization, not just ISO.  The fact that SC34 does it so poorly makes that venue less useful and the imprimatur less valuable.  

But let's take the contrary view and play with it for a moment and see where it leads. The comments on the OOXML DIS ballot, approximately 1,000 unique ones, were for the most part rejected by Ecma, and the rejections were approved at Alex's BRM on that controversial batch ballot on the final day.  Wasn't that picking winners and losers?  What if we didn't do that, and instead took all suggestions equally?  What would that lead to?  Or are you just in favor of standardizing bad ideas if they come with their own cover sheet?  OK.  What if we took all 700+ rejected comments, and added a cover sheet to them?  Would you favor approving them as an ISO standard?  And then doing the same with every comment on every amendment and corrigenda that has come up?  Anyone who disagrees with a proposal gets their own standard.  So no winners, and no losers?  And then do this not only for OOXML, but for ODF as well.  And bring in other legacy formats, WordPerfect, Ami Pro, WordStar, etc.  Every file format becomes an ISO standard and every time someone doesn't like the direction one of them is going, we fork it to create another standard.  If you are not willing to pick winners and losers that is what you end up with.  

This is not "consolidated results of science, technology and experience, and aimed at the promotion of optimum community benefits".  This is just making extra employment for standards consultants and editors like you and Alex.  But is it a good thing for anyone else?  I don't think so.

The point is every time you make a non-unanimous decision, a standards body is picking winners and losers.  You can't avoid this.  You just either do it well or poorly.  Picking winners and losers within part of standard, between revisions of a standard, between conformance classes in a standard, or between standards, it is all the same thing.  You are selecting what provisions will be standardized, and deselecting what will not.

As for SC34, I'll just note that there are two kinds of committees: those designed to get work done and those designed not to get work done. There appears to be a disagreement among participants exactly which class of committee WG4 was designed to be.  I would not automatically take the large number of Microsoft employees in WG4 as evidence that it was designed to accomplish great things.

You call SC34 a "forum of the National Standards Bodies of multiple nations of the world".  I call you bluff and pull aside the curtain and instead of the Great and Omnipotent Oz, I see mainly Microsoft employees, partners and consultants.  Of course, I no longer count you since Australia is no longer a member of SC34.

Remember, the fact that Alex is complaining on his blog rather than getting a resolution in SC34 last week suggests that he has insufficient support to raise the issue there.  If he had the votes, he'd be telling us how this was resolved, not just whining about it.

Rob Weir United States

02/04/2010 23:10:37 #


Looking at Mr Brown's résumé, I'm not that surprised at the process and end result. No insult, but Goody-two-shoes engineer 0 - Wicked businessmen 1.

Jean-Bernard Morocco

03/04/2010 01:04:59 #

Mike Brown

Standardizers should be skeptical of corporations ... I think the view that reduces corporate disputes to some kind of soap opera with "goodies" and "baddies" is reductive and unintelligent

I appreciate that treating the likes of Microsoft with a Jeremy "why is this lying bastard lying to me?" Paxman approach is a luxury not available to a neutral body such as ISO. Even if that had been your thoughts at the time, you still had to treat all parties fairly and equally.  It's like how we vote for politicians based on what's in their manifestos, even though we know that they probably won't keep too many of their promises once they're in power.  (Just occasionally though, they do come through, e.g. Obama's Health Bill.)

By the same token, however, you didn't have to bend over backwards to help Microsoft get their standard approved either.  For surely, that is what you did.  Rather than following your own (very sound) advice to be "skeptical of corporations", you displayed an unbelievable naivety in trusting that Microsoft would make any serious attempt to fix its problems once the company had obtained the coveted ISO stamp of approval.

By any objective view of the text, as it existed at the time of the BRM, the standard should have failed.  Five days was never enough time to fix its mountain of problems.  Game over.  Do not pass Go.  Do not collect $200.  Fail.

But by splitting the standard into Transitional and Strict versions, the BRM found a way, perhaps the only way, of getting it through.  You also proposed the "all or nothing" vote, when it became clear that there was not enough time to discuss all the NB's issues on an individual basis.  Did ISO rules require you to come up with this?  I think that they did not.  You appear to have interpreted your role as to find the best way to get the standard passed, come whatever.  That was *your* choice and ultimately it was your failure.

Mike Brown Australia

03/04/2010 01:05:19 #


@Alex: I think there's a misconception at large that NBs voted in favour of OOXML because they somehow "trusted Microsoft". As far as I'm aware this is a long way from being true. If anything, some positive votes may have been motivated more by a distrust of Microsoft!

Remember that the maintenance regime of OOXML took decision-making away from Ecma/Microsoft and placed it in the hands of the National Bodies."

The whole immense effort was completely pointless unless Microsoft actually went ahead and followed the standard. That you put in so much time and effort indicates you thought it would. And as I recall, you were scornful of those who thought it wouldn't.

Alex, are you certain that Microsoft top management intended from the beginning to follow the standard, or do you think it is at least possible it was a fraud from the start?

eduardo United Kingdom

03/04/2010 05:07:15 #

Rick Jelliffe

Rob: In fact, SC34 has a tradition of providing standards to compete against the currently 'winning' technology. Take SGML for example: it worked against first the presentation-oriented markup languages (troff, TeX etc), then the efficient binary formats (ODA, DOC etc), then the WYSYWIG formats and pioneered linking, separate stylesheets and so on, in each case 'losing' the mass market (until XML, HTML, ODF and OOXML put it into the centre.)

It was a useful and successful standard even though it never made it to the desktop or the magazine covers, and was limited to a niche area in industrial publishing large document collections (legal, reference, technical, aerospace, weapons systems, pharma, IC documentation, etc.)  

Of course standardizing existing technology (the normal case) involves deciding which parts are in or out or need tweaking, but "picking winners" as a goal, in the sense that only technologies that get mass acceptance. A standard does not need to be a 'winner' it just needs to be useful and get uptake in its particular niche.

The point is to ensure breadth, where any niche area of interest of interest to NBs has an appropriate technology, by not to pick single 'winners'. The point has never been either to pick winners nor to be contrarian: the point is breadth.

Schematron, RELAX NG and even ODF can be seen in this light. OOXML is the exception not because it involves "picking a winner" to exclude others, but because it involves providing breadth using a technology that could reasonably be the mass-market dominator as well as being useful for niche requirements (such as SGML-style automated document production.)

But arguments based on "this will entrench Office" are rather meaningless when it is already so deeply entrenched in the mass market: the lazy tactic of trying to change the status quo of document formats by merely repeating variations of "They are EVIL" has failed in the past, is failing now, and has slim chances of succeeding in the future. It is because of standardization that we can hold OOXML and ODF implementers up to objective scrutiny about their actual support for open formats: in particular using the objective metric of validation.

And what are the best tools for validating documents? SC34's DSDL schema languages (RELAX NG, Schematron, NVDL, etc) in most publishing-oriented cases, and in some niche cases W3C's XML Schemas (and in some niche cases OASIS CAM, or OData CSDL, etc). The DSDL schema languages are certainly not the winner in the commercial market: major corporations invested deeply in XSD, and many subsequently have regretted it. According to Rob's logic, I think, either SC34 should not have standardized any of the DSDL languages, because W3C XSD was the winner, or it was wrong-headed to standardize DSDL, because it has not become the 'winner'. But it is just corporatist nonsense: standards don't have to be about the next big thing, nor even the next little thing: they need to ensure a breadth of viable technologies, as far as standardization is capable of doing this.

Rick Jelliffe Australia

03/04/2010 05:31:18 #

Rick Jelliffe

Jeremy: What standardization gives us, which merely publishing things on websites does not, is the position we are at now: where the international community can objectively say "This is what you promised, this is what we were willing to live with, and this is what you have delivered" and be on objective grounds using tools like validation.

I certainly agree that standardization without effective review with broad participation, without ongoing maintenance, without irksome formal procedures to prevent controversial discussions sinking into rabble-rousing, and without objective (and machine-validate-able) conformance criteria is not much better than just putting information up on a website.

And I agree (and commented so at the time) that it would have been better for ODF and OOXML to be Technical Specifications rather than International Standards: SC34 had a practice that it provided 'enabling' technoligies (infrastructure) because end-technologies (e.g. specific schemas) were asking for trouble. SC34 did not ask for ODF and it did not ask for OOXML, remember. SC34's (and its officers') primary obligation was fairness, which it certainly fulfilled.

But the option of being a Technical Standard was not the one on the table, was it? If the choices were A) no standard, B) a standard with ongoing maintenance now, and C) a technical report at some vague stage down the track with no commitment to maintenance, then the National Bodies chose B, which I think was the reasonable decision, but of course reasonable people can differ.

Standardization of OOXML is a win for the community regardless of which way Microsoft goes: if they implement OOXML Strict thoroughly and as their default save format, it is a win because the worst carbuncles as raised at the BRM will have been dealt with; if they don't implement OOXML Strict it is a win because communities with requirements for Open Formats can then insist on ODF compliance. Either way, the situation is an improvement on the status quo of a couple of years ago; just not on the timetable that some ODF boosters pretended was possible.

Rick Jelliffe Australia

03/04/2010 06:23:19 #


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03/04/2010 06:51:04 #

Mike Brown


if they [Microsoft] don't implement OOXML Strict it is a win because communities with requirements for Open Formats can then insist on ODF compliance

That's assuming that those "communities" care or even know about the difference between Strict and Transitional.

And if Microsoft only supports OOXML Transitional in Office 2010, as is now looking likely, you think that the product won't have "produces ISO-approved, standard documents" plastered on the side of its box, regardless?

I mean, who's going to stop Microsoft from doing that?  Does ISO have the will or even the authority?

Mike Brown Australia

03/04/2010 08:46:54 #

Ian Lynch

It is exactly because those in political power are unaware of the difference between formats and the importance of open standards that those that do know and are involved in the process have to act with ethics at the forefront. A standard has to be fit for purpose and undue influence by specific commercial interests makes it unfit for purpose by definition.  

Ian Lynch United Kingdom

03/04/2010 09:40:17 #


It appears Mr. Alex Brown and Mr. Rick Jelliffe have selective memory of the history of 29500. For refreshing those memories, or doing other research regarding OOXML, I recommend:

and for the (so far) 5 years of OOXML's history in news and blogs:

grouch United States

03/04/2010 10:24:03 #

A. Rebentisch

"...those that do know and are involved in the process have to act with ethics at the forefront."

@Lynch: I was impressed by the IEEE ethics:
ISO/IEC should enter that in their standards directives, in particular: "to seek, accept, and offer honest criticism of technical work, to acknowledge and correct errors, and to credit properly the contributions of others;"
So to speak the antithesis of what happened on the national level, with a few exceptions such as the UK.

A. Rebentisch France

03/04/2010 10:39:39 #

Ian Lynch

The snag in the UK is that although the tide is turning and government officials are becoming more aware, implementation of policy is slow. This is why I say the long term outcome is inevitable. Open standards will become the norm in mature technologies. The issue is time scale. The quicker we get there the less expensive it will be. That is why I think there is a need to maintain the pressure on companies that clearly have self-interest in maintaining the status quo and obfuscating the rationale for change. ISO as an organisation has a specific responsibility in all this which I think was badly executed with OOXML. The end result was predictable at the time.

Ian Lynch United Kingdom

03/04/2010 14:39:13 #



> At least ODF has an open source reference implementation

News to me. What’s that then?


> does this mean that OOXML's status as a recognized ISO
> standard could be withdrawn?

Any International Standard can be withdrawn if that is the will of the nations. I don’t expect anything to happen to OOXML any time soon.


I sympathise with your TeX enthusiasm, but I can am confident in saying TeX has had its day.


> Try explaining the difference between "strict" and "transitional"
> to any government body and watch their eyes glaze over.
> In fact try explaining it to anyone but a standards wonk.

Not sure it’s as clear-cut as that. The Danish govt for example has been flirting with the idea of specifying OOXML Strict for procurement purposes. Besides, standards activity can hardly be expected to proceed purely based on second-guesses about how ignorant government officials might be! (though marketing activity might).

As it happens, I have raised in WG 4 the possibility of requiring better “conformance labelling” for applications that claim to implement OOXML – so that consumers know precisely if they’re getting strict/transitional, extended/unextended, standard/custom, etc.


> Can you promise us that Alex?

How can I promise what the combined 86 member countries of JTC 1 will decide? It’s their consensus that decides everything. The nature of International standardisation is such that (as Alexander Pope had it) “whatever IS, is RIGHT”.


> Alex is complaining on his blog rather than
> getting a resolution in SC34 last week

As you surely well know, JTC 1 is in no position, at any level, to pass judgement on claimed implementations of its standards.

@Mike Brown

You should remember the purpose of the BRM was not to “pass” or “fail” OOXML, but to improve the text. My role was to facilitate that. Most people seemed reasonably accepting of the outcome until the overall result one month later, and then I got it in the neck from the camp that “lost”. I predicted this childish behaviour before  the BRM:

Tweedledum believes their DIS is so good that only a “failure of process” can thwart it; Tweedledee, however, is convinced that the DIS is so deeply flawed that only a “failure of process” could allow it to become standard.

And so, while I have up till now thought that a solid grounding in the JTC 1 Directives and meeting procedures would be a good education for convening the coming BRM, I am coming to believe that in fact the best preparation is being a father of two small children, both of whom are sometimes prone to intemperate outbreaks of sibling-rivalry. Inevitably, when this ends with one of them feeling they have “lost” a dispute, the complaint will be “it’s not fair”. I am fully expecting something equivalent when this standardisation process produces a result.


My children have matured past this stage now. Shame that's not true for the OOXML complainers.

Speaking to others who have been in similar situations, I believe it’s a useful truth that if you chair a controversial meeting, you should expect to have shit thrown at you :-(

The ISO and IEC members subsequently decided whether they wanted OOXML as an ISO/IEC standard, or not. And it turns out they did. End of.


I have no special insight to the collective thinking of Microsoft – if they have any collective thinking, that is. (I think the nickname MS have of “The Borg” is so wrong – it seems to me they are a highly federated company and that lack of unity of purpose is more a characteristic.)

Alex United Kingdom

03/04/2010 15:57:51 #

Rob Weir

Rick, you are making a false dichotomy and beating up on a straw man of your own invention.  I never said that there were no areas of standardization where it is advantageous to have multiple standards.  I don't think that is a tenable position.  But I do believe that there are some areas of standardization where a single standard is the optimal outcome.  And I believe that it is not a respectable position to suggest that there are no areas of standardization where a single standard is optimal, which is what you seem to be stating.  Discernment is required, and is in practice applied most every day by standards committees when they pick the winners and losers.

And save your "SC34 tradition" for the history books.  SC34 today is mainly Microsoft employees, business partners and consultants, and has been so since 2007.  The new tradition in SC34 is to do whatever Microsoft wants.  SC34's best days, like Ecma's, are behind it.  It is at the periphery of the markup world.  List the top 20 markup standards in use today.  How many are from SC34?  Aside from ODF, OOXML and maybe Relax NG, the market relevance of SC34 is minute, and the pipeline is even smaller.

Rob Weir United States

03/04/2010 16:19:12 #


Hmm me thinks that all of you miss the point. MS is all about standards - thier standards; and interoperability - as long as everyone interoperates with their products.. all shall be well - according to the management of Microsoft.

It's all part of the grand plan to continue their monopoly and to make everyone vertically integrate into it.

To the stooges who pushed MS's agenda for them, and the idiots who went along with it - well what does anyone expect? Bullshit begets bullshit - and the ISO committee is sufficiently stupid enough to prove it.

MSSUX Australia

03/04/2010 16:52:32 #


"Any International Standard can be withdrawn if that is the will of the nations. I don’t expect anything to happen to OOXML any time soon."

Thanks Alex, for addressing that question. I'm trying to understand this better and I've got rather naive questions (sorry to bore the experts). But here's where I'm confused:

The ISO/IEC 29500 standard is actually *two* standards? That is, the "transitional" and the "strict"? Or have I misunderstood? If I haven't, how can we call two different things one thing? I also don't understand how a standard can be considered a standard if it exists only for "legacy" documents. That seems contradictory.

Will the ISO/IEC 29500 standard eventually be split into 2 documents - one describing an approved standard that is appropriate to implement for the foreseeable future and a second document describing an old (but now unapproved) ISO/IEC standard? It would seem that if this "innovative" split is to work, there needs to be a reasonable deadline to remove the "traditional" strain from the process entirely. This deadline should be set regardless of what Microsoft does with their products.

Then again, splitting the standard seems like a questionable decision in the first place. Or have I misunderstood something?

Peter Taiwan

03/04/2010 17:04:06 #



Oh dear - you asked for it Smile

OOXML is actually four standards - or, to be more precise it is a four-part multi-part Standard.

Part 1 is the description of the core markup languages for office documents

Part 2 is the description of the packaging mechanism (OPC, or Open Packaging Convention), a ZIP-based format which is shared with XPS

Part 3 describes extensibility mechanisms

Part 4 is a set of additions and overrides for Part 1 for "Transitional Migration Features".

So when we talk of OOXML Strict we means Parts 1, 2 & 3.

Wehn we talk of OOXML Transitional we mean Parts 1, 2 & 3 taking account of the additions and overrides of Part 4.

The Transitional variants of OOXML could therefore be withdrawn by withdrawing Part 4 of the Standard.

Alex United Kingdom

03/04/2010 17:57:25 #

Rick Jelliffe

Rob: Sour grapes?

On the contrary, WC34 WG1 (Schema and markup), WG2 (Information Presentation), WG3 (Information Association), WG5 (Document Interoperability, and WG6 (ODF) are not stuffed full of Microsoft employees, as far as I am aware: are you claiming MS has a plurality in all or any of those WGs?  WG4 (OOXML) indeed has had many ECMA and Microsoft people involved, as is only to be expected: is it a plurality? If we exclude MS partners, who you find so sinister, should we also exclude IBM partners? The resolutions from the plenary lists participation by "Brazil, Canada, China, Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Japan, Korea (Republic of), Netherland, Norway, Sweden, UK, USA, Ecma International, OASIS, W3C and XML Guild". Which of these NBs had a plurality of MS employees in their delegations at the plenary?  Or is it the mirror committees at the domestic NBs?

As far as SC34 standards not having the top 20 markup standards, err that is because SC34 doesn't try standardize end-user markup standards in that sense, as I mentioned. SC34 is not OASIS or W3C because it has never wanted to be. (Nor would it be very good at it.) Indeed, SC34 sometimes even sloughs off technologies that get too close to applications or have viable maintenance prospects in more agile organizations: we handed over maintenance of the public entity sets for special characters to the W3C MathML WG for example. XML is another example.

SC34 has the reverse of an empire-building mentality, which must puzzle a hyper-competitive corporatist.

But when you look at the number of important standards that are defined using RELAX NG (e.g., ODF and multiple SC34 recommendation), or the impact of the OpenFont standard, then certainly SC34 has very successful standards. A little standard like Schematron keeps planes from colliding over Europe, checks criminal data in the UK, vets transactions coming into the greatest insurance market in the world, and checks naming rules in the US NIEM schemas: to say these standards lack market relevance shows a phenomenal but ignorant aggressiveness.

This is probably difficult to grasp for an inveterate factionalist, but SC34 is not about standards that "win" in the sense Rob seems to put it  at all. That Alex is talking about de-standardizing Part 4 of OOXML, which has tremendous 'market relevance' and is, in broad strokes, the 'winner' shows that being number 1 is not what SC34's focus has ever been about, at least in my sporadic but long experience of it.

Rick Jelliffe Australia

03/04/2010 18:37:21 #

A. Rebentisch

Just as a question, how does the i4i case affect ISO Open XML?

A. Rebentisch France

03/04/2010 19:00:28 #

Rob Weir

Rick, you say "not stuffed full of Microsoft employees, as far as I am aware".  But the problem is you are not aware.  Have you even attended an SC34 Plenary since Microsoft ended their contract with you?  Australia's participation in SC34 has disappeared altogether.  If SC34 is so relevant, then why is your own NB not even an O-member?  

But don't take my word for.  Sneak into an SC34 Plenary sometime and ask others.  At the last two I've been approached by delegates from various NBs dismayed by how many Microsoft employees were there.

To your other point, if you suggest that SC34 is all about picking losers, then touché, Rick.  My point merely was that SC34 doesn't have what it takes to make market-relevant standards.  It fails predominately because it lacks the confidence and participation of major vendors, without which it can only eek out a meager existence on the fringes of the markup world. Even with a large number of Microsoft employees present and voting, SC34 is not exactly their preferred venue for standardization.  They tolerate it.  And honestly, if they decided they had enough with the nonsense in SC34, and withdraw OOXML, I'd need to consider recommending the same for ODF.

Rob Weir United States

03/04/2010 19:19:51 #



"I sympathise with your TeX enthusiasm, but I can am confident in saying TeX has had its day."

My enthusiasm is not for TeX, so much as it is for a semantic work flow that de-focuses on formatting details. TeX may have had its day, but semantic markup and semantic work flow have yet to have theirs. I'm just saying that the way today's document preparation systems are typically used leaves much to be desired and that much can be learned from TeX and from programs such as LyX.

Your dismissive attitude contributes nothing to the discussion.

Scott United States

03/04/2010 19:36:05 #



I'm all for semantic markup, and I agree that from a conceptual viewpoint office documents are fairly dumb. However I simply don't believe we can expect the disciplines of semantic markup to be broadly adopted in maintstream document workflows - not for documents, and especially not for spreashseets and presentations.

Alex United Kingdom

03/04/2010 19:55:48 #



I covered the i4i patent in a recent post:


Now I'm intrigued. How, procedurally, would a corporation like Microsoft go about withdawing OOXML?

Interesting to see you'll be taking your cue from what Microsoft does -- when the vendors close ranks we can be sure we're on the right track!

Alex United Kingdom

03/04/2010 22:40:37 #

Rob Weir

@Alex, there are ways.  Remember, SC34 is only one of many ISO/IEC SC's, and ISO/IEC is only one of four places where International Standards are maintained.

Rob Weir United States

03/04/2010 23:49:52 #



"I'm all for semantic markup, and I agree that from a conceptual viewpoint office documents are fairly dumb. However I simply don't believe we can expect the disciplines of semantic markup to be broadly adopted in maintstream document workflows - not for documents, and especially not for spreashseets and presentations."

I cannot agree with you here. If all that mattered is how a document appears when printed, I could. But increasingly, documents target multiple mediums, and direct formatting falls apart quickly when that's the case. I think we can expect that as more experience with this is gained, that the benefits of semantic markup will become clearer and more desirable. It's still too early to declare it too hard to implement.

Scott United States

04/04/2010 00:39:54 #

Mike Brown


Thanks for the explanation of the differences between Strict and Transitional.

Is there a point in time at which Microsoft (or anybody else for that matter) can no longer claim compliance with the ISO standard if they're only adhering to the Transitional rather than the Strict version?

Surely, the Transitional version must come to an end at some point.  Otherwise, it's not really transitional, is it?

Mike Brown Australia

04/04/2010 00:58:33 #


As far as I Known no application supports either the Strict or the Transitional part of the standard.

If anybody knows of one please tell.

Since it's not implemented by anyone and it will induce in error those who think that it has any merit (like governments) wouldn't be correct and honest to retract its ISO certification?

Not doing that is not only dishonest but criminal!

It's sad hiding behind consensus when there's none.

The only power that ISO has is that of revoking ISO status; if not what's the point of having a standard.

Anyone can and will claim that they have when they in fact don't. Like Microsoft. But also, those that Alex Brown mentioned. Not one supports either standard.

The ISO certification was farcical.
The implementation of the standard is also farcical.

It's time to put an end to this!

We already have a standard for documents, why are we wasting our time with this?

Doesn't ISO or the people working for them care about their credibility?

Jack United States

04/04/2010 01:06:04 #


...we can be sure we're on the right track!

Do you really though that you were on the right track anytime during this process? Really!?

A redundant format that nobody was interested in implementing, that a majority of independent technical people found lacking.

You are on the right track to waste a lot people a lot of time and money that could be spent doing more important things.

Being involved in a "Document File Format Soap Opera" is not something one should be proud of.

The fact that nobody besides Microsoft cronies comes to the meetings is telling. Don't you ever asked yourself: What the hell am I doing here? What the purpose of this? Travel expenses? Like The British MPs?

Jack United States

04/04/2010 06:31:05 #


Pingback from

Microsoft Office 2010 non salva documenti ISO -

04/04/2010 07:14:53 #


Thanks Alex, for explaining in detail the Transitional vs. Strict parts of the standard.

Yes, the process of removing the transitional part of the standard should occur immediately. Office 2010 should not be allowed to ship claiming it adheres to an ISO standard.

What do you think the likelihood is of getting the transitional part removed before Office 2010 ships?

Peter Taiwan

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Are the fiefdoms so strong in the Office team that no external input or constraints can possibly be tolerated? Microsoft has such an investment, it will be interesting to see if they throw it away because of sabotage by internal personalities who may see the standards requirements as challenges to their power rather than an opportunity to break up old logjams.

Rick Jelliffe


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