OpenXML: Microsoft gets it right this time; Will India too?

What does being an Indian meant to me till now? I think it has been assimilating various cultures in my personal value systems and being better than all of them.. the sum of all is greater than cultures added together.

OpenXML is the same. It provides a culture new to us that promises efficiencies in the future. It is up to us to take up all that is there and make a story better than each of them put together, different cultures, different standards have been always beneficial for the world leading to choice & ensuring the survival of the fittest… if TCP/IP was not given a chance in the world dominated by Novell Netware’s XNS stack, would Internet ever be around?

OpenXML is the “opening” up of Microsoft Office. The earlier binary format of MS Office is now available for viewing & working upon by anyone. This has been a long way for Microsoft when in 2004 EU recommended that MS opens it Office formats. there may have been licenses granted to 3rd party developers for building products but OpenXML makes it available to all the developers of the Microsoft Technology ecosystem.

Microsoft does get things wrong; but with OpenXML it is bang on target ! Why shouldn’t it be when OpenXML was formulated out of concerns of the community that uses its products. MS first decided to present OpenXML as an ECMA standard in 2006. I had posted about OpenXML being adopted as an ECMA standard.

Next when it was put forward to be ratified as a standard from ISO, India decided to vote against the same in Sept 2007!

This I think is primarily against Indian values of giving everyone a fair chance! here are some of the reasons that India should reconsider their stand on OpenXML:

  1. Microsoft technologies are an ecosystem like any other technology. Killing a standard here amounts to killing an ecosystem! does india want its IT story to turn sour? Not only Microsoft ecosystem but also Java ecosystems as OpenXML can be leveraged from Java as well. Here is an example of using Java on OpenXML.
  2. OpenXML provides an opportunity to convert numerous Office documents of yesteryears to be converted to open format so that it be maintained and acted upon now and in future? OpenXML ensures long term preservation of content.
  3. OpenXML is technically superior to competing formats given it has support for custom schemas i.e. for any document format that your company devises. Not only this, it has great accessibility support and focuses on maintaining fidelity in the office documents.
  4. Does Govt. of India want to be seen as a closed economy or be seen as a cultivator of open economy encouraging better products and services?
  5. The OpenXML standard is available for FREE and there is no IP issues around the same. Given the freedom that OpenXML provides, what could be so wrong with OpenXML?
  6. Microsoft as a company has given many good products and technologies to the world (including the now famous AJAX)… why should a company with such wide penetration and technical depth be not supported in opening up its technologies to the world?

One does wonder though if OpenXML was developed by Microsoft to serve it “secret” purpose? In fact, the standard was developed in consultation with a lot of companies and many others have already implemented support in their products e.g. Apple, Corel, Novell, IBM (Websphere Portal, DB2 Content Manager V8.4, Lotus Quickr, Lotus Symphony & DB2 9 pureXML) & Google (use filetype:docx, filetype:xlsx, filetype:pptx in your search terms).. Now doesn’t it seem ironic that many of these companies are at forefront of opposing OpenXML standard?

There are primarily 2 reasons for this contradiction:

  1. Some companies want to use the standardization process as a barrier to trade.. getting a standard disapproved shields them from ever facing competitive threats in the Govt. procurement. this should never be allowed to happen!
  2. Given widespread adoption of MS Office technologies, these vendors don’t want to be cut off from the opportunity OpenXML brings about in the market.. we should welcome the move as it encourages competition.. what can be more exciting than an IBM product that does a better job handling Office formats than Microsoft does ?

So what is the current situation and do we have a second chance to correct our mistakes?

As of now, MS has provided solutions to all 3,522 comments that were raised on the specification by various national bodies. This gives India time will Feb 25th to study the specifications after which there will be a Ballot Resolution Meeting in Geneva from February 25 – 29. Following this conference, the National Bodies will then have 30 days to evaluate their final position on OpenXML as a standard.

Here’s the community that supports OpenXML:

I hope when the time comes to finally vote, we stand true to our character of being Indians & embrace all the variety that world has to offer to us.

Office Open XML Formats

The Open Document Format (ODF) proponents are opposing OOXML on the grounds that ‘multiple standards’ are not advisable. While Microsoft has been accused of influencing NGOs and Govt officials on their stand; its opponents havent really been lagging in this respect. Which way will the die be cast ? Which way should the die be cast?

Microsoft Senior Vice President Chris Capossela has just released a public statement, relative to the Open XML standards process. In this message, Capossela offers perspective on the rationale behind standardization for Open XML, the benefits afforded to the broader industry that is actively implementing the current Ecma specification, and Microsoft’s commitment to support the enhancements made to the current ISO specification under review.

There are now just two weeks remaining before the final collective decision from ISO/IEC’s 87 participating National Body members regarding the DIS 29500 ballot (Office Open XML file formats). Midnight CET (Geneva) on March 29, 2008 is the official deadline for National Body members to communicate (in writing) any changes to their formal position.

Microsoft relinquished the formal ownership of the formats, in Nov 15th, 2005, to Ecma International. The Co-sponsors have been Apple, Barclays Capital, BP, British Library, Essilor, Intel Corporation, Microsoft Corporation, NextPage Inc., Statoil ASA, Toshiba.

This standards process is both highly nuanced and political ! While Microsoft has been accused of influencing NGOs and Govt officials on their stand; readers may also want to check up this letter from Ashish Gautam, Open Standards Specialist – India, IBM India sent on March 15, 2007 to govt officials and others, which states:

“Please start influencing our national body – BIS, the press, STQC and state IT bodies. Also start asking BIS and MCIT to post all the documentation on their website and make it available to the public…This way you can point people to the documentation and they can become familiar with all of the information as we commence the balloting process…”

A lot of communities are already supporting OpenXML. Moreover, the community contribution to ISO ratification process has made the standard better with more than 98.4% comments addressed as covered.

And, underlining the relevance of Open XML formats to India, in application development, leading Indian IT solution providers are increasingly using Open XML as a preferred technology standard. One of the most compelling reasons for customers to migrate to Open XML formats is the openness of Office XML formats – the ability to integrate with custom schemas and be seamlessly interoperable. The other reason that rank high for choosing Open XML are its secure nature that makes it so easy for personally identifiable information and business sensitive information, such as user names, comments and file paths, to be easily identified and removed. The final benefit of all these is that the solutions built on open XML help customers save time and cost.

The Govt now needs to take a stand ! And act in the best interest on the end-user ! It should encourage multiple platforms and multiple standards so that benefits of innovation, may ultimately accrue to the end customer.

Authored By : Abhishek Kant.

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