Everyone seems to think that caring about standards is someone else's job but that is just the technical equivalent of political apathy.  The debate over the ISO ratification of document formats might sound a dense subject for the mere mortal but make no mistake, it will affect you eventually.

This week, Ecma reported that the Ecma Open XML standard has passed into the fast track 5 month review process by the ISO.  But there I go, I'm already using jargon, so let's review the story so far and a hat tip to Steve Clayton who has summarised this so neatly I won't try and improve on it.  Having said I can't improve on it, i have a duty to point out that the file compatibility pack provides compatibility to Office 2003, Office XP and even to Office 2000.  I wrote all about this in my office babelfish post.

Open Source and Open Standards

These are often confused and it is worth clarifying - Open Standards, like Ecma Open XML, like TCP/IP, like ASCII are something that Microsoft believes in very passionately.  Open Standards provide a way for the industry to create products that interoperate smoothly.  This is good for the customer and good for companies that write applications because more stuff just works without lots of translation layers.  Open Standards paves the way for lower TCO.

Open Source is something else - the idea that free software is the way forward.  I'm not going to get into that here but a quick search turned up an interesting presentation from 2004 that presents the same arguement we still make today - so we are consistent in our belief that commercial software results in better quality and TCO for customers than open source. 

Whatever you think about that last point (park it for now), it is important to realise the distinction.  Everyone agrees that Open Standards are a good thing.

This is not a standards war

I wholeheartedly agree with Brian Jones on this point - we do not want people to see our support for Ecma Open XML as being at odds with the great work done to create the Open Document Format.  This is about using the right standard for the right job.  Choice is a good thing.

The 6000 pages debate

We've come under criticism for doing too good a job on documenting Open XML - I find this a bizarre reaction.  Brian has another excellent post on this.

So why should I care?

We believe in:

· Freedom to choose a format that suits the needs of the task at hand

· Document formats that can be easily exchanged by many applications and systems

· Freedom from dependence on specific applications, vendors or platforms to exchange documents

· Maximum compatibility with existing documents

· Preserving documents for records management and archival purposes

· Document formats that support the breadth of language and assistive technology requirements

· Protecting information stored in documents from unwanted usage

If these matter to you too and you back our efforts to pursue openness and standard file formats then take a few seconds and add yourself to our simple petition.  We want the powers that be to see that we are not alone in the belief that choice and openness can go hand in hand.

Support Ecma Open XML:  Sign the petition today