OOXML Standardization: still ugly

Groklaw has an interesting article discussing one of the key problems with OOXML as a proposed standard. It quotes some ECMA-376 goings on in India:

While we wait, there is more on that front, this time from India, where the technical committee there is still considering Ecma-376 issues. Earlier, we mentioned to you some questions that Dr. G. Nagarjuna, Chairman FSF India, submitted to the Working Committee, Board of Indian Standards on Wordprocessing. In this Issue Sheet [PDF], we find answers from Microsoft’s Vijay Kapur, followed by responses from Dr. Nagarjuna.

For example, here’s one such exchange:

Backward compatibility for all vendors: Can any third party regardless of business model, without access to additional information and without the cooperation of Microsoft implement full backward compatibility and conversion of such legacy documents into MS-OOXML comparable to what Microsoft can offer?

Mr V. Kapur: Implementing backward compatibility is an application function not a file format specification requirement. The ECMA 376 specification is capable of faithfully representing information in the legacy binary file formats. This point was treated in detail in the response to the question raised by Dr. Nagarjuna. Microsoft can offer? Availability of Binary File Formats — It is to be noted that Microsoft has made the .doc, .xls, and .ppt binary file format specifications available under a royalty-free covenant not to sue to anyone who wishes to implement all or part of these specifications in their products. Anyone can get access to the specification now, using the method described in the following Knowledgebase article at the link: http://support.microsoft.com/default.aspx/kb/840817 – How to extract information from Office files by using Office file formats and schemas (relevant extract below)With both format specifications being available for a developer, a converter can be written in such a way that a DOC or XLS document can be converted into an Open XML document with content and representation intact. This point should be treated as closed as there is no contradiction.

Dr. Nagarjuna: Availability of the specification of binary formats does not solve the problem of another vendor’s ability to implement. What is required is a mapping between the existing proprietary formats and OOXML if the stated objective of OOXML, namely, to faithfully represent legacy formats in XML is to be met. The link provided by MS is not an article. It is misleading to say so. MS did not publish the specification of proprietary documents at any accessible place. They are promising to provide to those who sign an MOU with the company. This is unacceptable since, implementing this standard mandates the need for private understandings. That is not the purpose for which standards are specified. They are specified precisely to eliminate such a requirement. The question asked was a very serious and a CORE issue: the answer given is not satisfactory. A satisfactory answer to this consists in publishing the mapping between OOXML and proprietary documents. Since this is not the case, the issue is open, and forms a sufficient reason to vote against OOXML.

Pretty compelling stuff. The article also discusses Microsoft’s recent spin on the whole ballet-stuffing issue Rob Weir brought up so eloquently recently. This is the same issue I raised obliquely a few months back, because I didn’t have the evidence to back up the rumors I’d heard, and I’m glad to see that Rob and company have managed to shine some light here.

[Updated 6-22-2007] some text in the first paragraph was inexplicably missing. Copy/paste error? Not sure, but I’ve added it back…

[Updated 7-27-2007] In related news, more shenanigans in Spain and Portugal. The article is a bit overheated in its rhetoric, but it does look like there is some basis for the accusations.

~ by Andrew Shebanow on 20Jul07.

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