Saturday, November 22, 2008

ISO/IEC Publishes Office Open XML Standard

ISO/IEC on Tuesday published the Office Open XML (OOXML) file format standard, formally known as ISO/IEC 29500:2008. It describes file formats originally designed by Microsoft for its Office 2007 productivity suite, which are used in presentation, spreadsheet and word processing applications.

The main goal in promoting OOXML as an international standard was to support document preservation. Governments and organizations currently use older binary or "legacy" document formats that may be unsupported by present-day or future commercial software applications.

The standardization process for OOXML through the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) was filled with contention. A report by analyst firm Gartner, hosted by Microsoft (PDF), depicted the tension surrounding the standardization of ISO/IEC 29500:2008 as largely due to vendor squabbles and positioning.

"ISO's approval of OOXML on 2 April 2008 capped more than 18 months of bitter arguments motivated largely by vendor interests (and came nearly two years after ISO approved ODF as a standard)," wrote Gartner analyst Michael Silver in the report, "ISO Standard 'Office' Formats Overpromise Compatibility."

ODF, or OpenDocument Format, is an ISO standard that similarly describes file formats used for presentations, spreadsheets and word processing. ODF is backed notably by IBM and Sun Microsystems, both of which offer free Office-like productivity suites.

Silver's report notes that neither ODF nor OOXML ensures "100 percent fidelity." A document created in application using one format will lose some details and visual presentation when opened in a similar application using the other document format.

Silver's report doesn't mention complaints about the ISO fast-track process itself, which involved studying a document of more than 6,000 pages. Participating members complained about not seeing the final changes before voting. There also were questions about why the publication of the ISO/IEC 29500:2008 standard was delayed after approval.

In September, five months after ISO/IEC 29500:2008 was approved, IBM issued an announcement stating that it would review its participation in standards bodies "based on the quality and openness of their processes, membership rules, and intellectual property policies." The company planned a November summit to release its recommendations.

IBM's announcement does not mention complaints about the OOXML ISO process as a reason for its review. However, observers involved in the ISO/IEC 29500 process, such as Alex Brown, convener of ISO/IEC JTC 1 SC3 4 WG1, made that link.

Microsoft's original OOXML spec is different from the ISO/IEC 29500:2008 standard. The international standard is the product of months of feedback from technical committees and final votes by participating-member countries. OOXML was fast-tracked according to ISO's Joint Technical Committee 1 rules. It had been recommended to ISO by Ecma International, which had earlier approved it as an Ecma standard.

The four-part ISO/IEC 29500:2008 document is currently available for purchase for $279.13 (342 Swiss francs) from the ISO Store. The total number of pages, with all four parts, is 7,229 pages.

A description of the ISO/IEC 29500:2008 document is provided in ISO's press release.

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