On Wednesday the 18th the SC34 mirror committee for South Africa held a meeting that, as I understand it, was originally intended to be informational but instead resulted in vote and the conclusion that the SC34 mirror committee was not the right entity to be casting the official vote for South Africa. In other words, it will be another 3-4 weeks before South Africa casts its ballot, and just like all national body votes, will be part of the ballot resolution process that may not happen until early 2008.

 

Many countries will vote yes, some will vote abstain, and some will vote no. Those that vote no will likely include comments and those comments are the primary focus of the ballot resolution meeting. Following that, some of the no votes may move to yes. In other words, it is best to keep your eye on the long-term picture in this process.

 

The Ecma Office Open XML File Format is an international standard today and is being independently implemented by software vendors all over the world. The standard is under the maintenance of TC-45 at Ecma where Microsoft has just one vote of the 20+ members. We have committed to providing supported products that utilize the standard and are actively working with a large community of businesses and developers regarding the specification.

 

Then, there are the top-level considerations:

·        Greater openness of document formats is a good thing – period. All governments I have spoken with (and I have spent far too much time on airplanes) echo this and feel it is in their best national interest to encourage vendors towards greater openness.

·        All customers want greater choice and competition for the applications they purchase – period.  Moving the world to a single document format will have an artificial dampening effect on innovation of applications. This is not in the best interest of customers.

·        Translation provides interoperability and flexibility – period. Translation has always been the best way to achieve interop for formats. Just look at digital images as an analog to this discussion to see that you can easily translate between formats. There are open source translators from multiple vendors already out there for ODF to Open XML translation. There is no conflict between the two formats coexisting on the same machine or across the same network.

 

I would obviously have liked to see a different outcome in South Africa from yesterday’s meeting. But it was not a final vote, and it is just one step in a longer process.