Linux Foundation: Microsoft's OOXML Argument 'Ridiculous'

Linux document format XML

This week Microsoft is bringing its case to Geneva, Switzerland, where 87 national standards bodies, hosted by the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) and International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC), will decide whether or not to give the format a second chance at being approved as an internationally recognized document standard. In a September vote, Microsoft won 53 percent of the delegates' support. This week's vote is crucial to Microsoft's bid to be certified by the ISO.

"What I'd love to see is Microsoft adopt the already existing ISO standard," Zemlin says, referring to the OpenDocument Format (ODF) backed by Google and others. "It's akin to Microsoft going to the United States Congress and proposing an alternative bumper heights."

OOXML is the default file-saving format in Microsoft Office 2007, and critics say the format's complicated coding structure (over 6,000 pages) is likely to result in translation errors and increased complexity in translation. The ODF format, by comparison, has 860 pages of code.

"The cynic's mind can only believe that's the purpose of what Microsoft is proposing -- a standard based on their monopoly in office productively tools, [and they] will use that as a wedge to maintain that monopoly position," he says. "It is incredibly self-serving for them to say it should be based on their incumbent monopoly standard."

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Zemlin says Microsoft's strategy reminds him of similar overtures from the browser wars of the late 1990s when Microsoft employed an "embrace, extend, extinguish" strategy. He dismissed Microsoft's claim that multiple standards will foster competition and their argument that multiple standards are normal in the software industry.

"To claim that creating an additional standard promotes competition is completely ridiculous," he says. "The IT industry has the greatest success when it has clear standards for the critical elements of the industry."

The 87 national standards bodies that voted in September will have until March 29 to change their positions. Microsoft, the world's largest software company, needs a two-thirds majority to receive approval from the ISO. Zemler says he hopes that does not happen.

"Not only is the document not appropriate for an ISO standard to be workable, but in circumstances like this or, say, HTTP, or electrical sockets, these are things you don't need two standards for," he says. "OOXML is trying to put a square peg and a round hole here, and I hope the national bodies sober up and look at this in an even-keeled way, and I think they will."