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InfoQ Homepage News ECMA Passes OpenXML Standard to the Chagrin of ODF Supporters

ECMA Passes OpenXML Standard to the Chagrin of ODF Supporters

ECMA has passed Microsoft's Open XML standard. This format, original conceived as an XML version of the various Microsoft Office formats. While some are rejoicing at the prospect of Microsoft loosening its grip on the industry, others see it as an abuse of the process.

Strongly against the standard is Bob Sutor, the Vice President of Open Source and Standards for IBM. He explains why IBM voted against the standard and what IBM plans to do next.

We voted "no" because we fundamentally believe that this is doing nothing more than "standardizing" Microsoft’s formats for its own products and that’s not how the industry should be behaving in 2006.

Let me also clear up one last thing, something I more or less said in a comment a little while ago. I would like nothing better to see Microsoft try to provide the best native and well integrated implementation of ODF on the planet. It would represent a real change in the industry regarding community developed and maintained open standards.

ODF, or OpenDocument Format, is a rival format endorsed by several major players including Sun, Google, and IBM. While in theory any application, open source or otherwise, can support ODF, most are derivates of OpenOffice.

Rob Weir, also of IBM, points out a concrete issue with basing the standard on an existing product.

Datetimes in Excel are represented as date serial numbers, where dates are counted from an origin, sometimes called an epoch, of January 1st, 1900. The problem is that from the earliest implementations Excel got it wrong. It thinks that 1900 was a leap year, when clearly it isn't, under Gregorian rules since it is not divisible by 400. This error causes functions like the WEEKDAY() spreadsheet function to return incorrect values in some cases. See the Microsoft support article on this issue.

In an interview with eWeek, Alan Yates, general manager of Information Worker Business Strategy at Microsoft, responds:

I can't imagine our customers asking us to create a specification that was not backward-compatible with the options they have used," he said. "The British Library and the Library of Congress were pushing us for more and more detail as they want to make sure that the documents they have, if they go forward into this new format, are rendered with high fidelity in truth to the original.

Yates also mentioned some serious problems with the ODF standard; particularly that it currently does not support formulas. The OASIS Office Formula Subcommittee's wiki page (last updated in September) states that support for formulas saw its first draft in February 2005 and will be fully drafted by October 2006 and in QA by December. Considering that the current version is listed as "a preliminary unapproved sketch, outline, or version", the draft probably won't be ready by year's end.

Currently there are no announcements from IBM, maker of Workplace or Sun, maker of StarOffice, regarding support for OpenXML. Likewise, Microsoft doesn't plan on supporting ODF.

Other vendors are taking a more pragmatic approach. Corel, maker of WordPerfect, is taking no chances and plans on supporting both ODF and OpenXML in mid-2007. WordPerfect already supports a wide variety of formats including Abode's PDF and Microsoft Word's binary format. Novell also plans on supporting OpenXML in it's product,

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