As many people in the industry are following closely, Open XML has been discussed at the recent meeting of INCITS/V1. An important fact to understand is that this is NOT the official vote of the US National Body for the JTC-1 standardization of Ecma Open XML. This is a committee whose role it is to make a recommendation to the National Body for its vote. The committee failed to make any recommendation even with a majority of 15 yes, 10 no, 1 abstain.

 

The general discussion in the media and blogs has been about the vote itself, but Rob Weir from IBM came out with some comments that really should be addressed. Rob points out that membership in the V1 committee has changed in the past month, and the insinuation is that it is somehow inappropriate that companies and individuals would show up to voice their opinion. What’s particularly troubling is that this isn’t just happening with INCITS/V1 but Rob seems determined to question the motivations behind national body membership in Spain, Portugal and Italy as well.  So let’s take some facts into consideration.

 

Participation Hypocrisy:

·         IBM and ODF advocates (ODF Foundation, Andy Updegrove…) repeatedly have called for mobilization of those who opposed Open XML.

·         All over the world, IBM has been working to bring their business partners and organizations into the standards process in favor of their position.

·         Oracle and Red Hat (neither of whom have any work directly associated with Open XML) are among those who have recently joined the committee and both voted no.

·         Mr. Sutor (IBM) and other IBM representatives have continually raised concern that Ecma was not inclusive enough (even though more companies have directly participated in the Ecma TC-45 work than did in the OASIS ODF working group). Yet, now that more and more interested parties are seeking to participate that is a bad thing according to IBM.

So, I am a little confused. V1 committee participation has increased with organizations who have technical and business interests with the standard being discussed.  If IBM is such an advocate for open standards (meaning process and technology), why then be so concerned when it turns out that the openness invites participation of those who disagree with them?

 

Microsoft has repeatedly, and publically, discussed the fact that we are interested in maximizing choice and openness for document formats. Recall that we voted in favor of ANSI adoption of ODF, and that we have been building bridges between ODF and Open XML via translators, worked with OpenOffice distributors such as Novell, Linspire, Xandros and Turbolinux to improve coexistence between formats and office suites, that we support the work of China around UOF, sought to enable native PDF support in Office 2007…

 

IBM “Stacks The Deck” For Technical Review:

·         IBM claims that MS participation is too much by encouraging participation by those with business and technical interests in Open XML.

·         Yet, for the V1 committee there were 230 technical comments (rounding due to a .5 listed in the official report) – Rob Weir of IBM was responsible for 191 of them (83% of the total).

·         The head of the V1 committee was the technical editor of ODF.

·         Of the 224 general comments made – 171 were letters of support for Open XML, 31 were letters of general opposition to Open XML; with the remainder being 2 additional substantive questions, 17 more from Rob Weir, and 3 general cautions from the community.

So again, I’m a bit confused. As committee participation increased for V1, it did so with individuals from organizations who are very interested in commercial implementations of this technology. Their customers, their business opportunities, and their own use of technology will be improved by this move to greater openness in document formats. Yet, IBM seems to have taken the stance that their own opposition to this standard will be best served by overwhelming the committee with their issues and pushing for procedural challenges to the adoption of the standard. This is particuarly strange when you consider the fact that IBM is a member of Ecma and could have participated in the work of TC-45. TC-45 has a wide range of participants (including folks from OpenOffice.org). I look at the 171 community support letters to V1 as being a pretty strong statement that it is not just MS that is interested in the ISO/IEC adoption of Open XML. (Not to mention the 1700+ letters of support at the OpenXMLcommunity.org site.)

 

Opinions Differ:

IBM is welcome to their opinion of the standardization of Open XML. They are working in more than 100 countries to oppose its adoption and will push as hard as they can to achieve this goal. They are advocates for the technologies that best fit their products and business model – their actions regarding Open XML are in their best interests…not that of their customers. If they don’t want to support the Open XML standard in their products, they are not obliged to do so. Working to defeat the standard is 100% an industry competitive play and not about customer benefit.