Jerry Fishenden : thoughts on Open XML

Jerry Fishenden has written quite a balanced view on OpenXML and the ISO standardisation process currently in the works. Jerry Microsoft UK’s lead technology advisor and spokesman on the value and implications of present and future technological developments. His blog on issues of technology and public policy can be found at

… There continues to be a lot of overly-emotional debate and confusion about Open XML, the office file formats currently under consideration to become an international open standard. The main assertion seems to be that since there is already an ISO/IEC document format – ODF, the Open Document Format – that another one is not needed.

The standards process has never been about having single standards in any particular area – it’s about ensuring that any standards that do exist, and which are adopted by ISO/IEC, are documented to a high level of consistency and integrity, and maintained in an open, inclusive way. And the BSI technical panel here in the UK has been doing precisely that: looking in detail at the specification and identifying editorial and other issues that need to be improved if Open XML is to be a worthy ISO/IEC standard. …

… And should the current ISO/IEC approval process be successful for Open XML, the maintenance of the resulting IS29500 standard will follow JTC rules. This will provide the many users, customers and partners with what they have asked for: for the Office file formats to be an open standard under the control of ISO.

So if anyone has doubts about whether Open XML is really “open” and independent of Microsoft control, my simple suggestion is that they should support it as part of the ISO/IEC process: that way they can be sure that it becomes an ISO/IEC standard and hence that ISO/IEC will have control over its development and maintenance. Letting ISO/IEC be in charge of Open XML seems to me the best way to put an end to the fear uncertainty and doubt being stirred up in some quarters once and for all. …

Read on : thoughts on Open XML

Peter de Haas
Peter de Haas

Peter is gedreven door de eindeloze mogelijkheden die technologische vooruitgang biedt. Met een scherp oog voor het herkennen van oplossingen waar anderen slechts problemen zien, is hij een expert in digitale transformaties. Peter zet zich met volle overgave in om individuen, teams en organisaties te begeleiden bij het ontwikkelen van nieuwe vaardigheden en het implementeren van innovatieve oplossingen.

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11 reacties

  1. The point is well made and underpins another fundamental value offered by International Standards, especially in the field of information technology.

  2. “In many areas (programming languages, graphics, CDs, DVDs, etc) multiple standards exist”
    I think the author makes the common mistake of confusing standards with products.
    CDs and DVDs? There’s only one standard for each of them that I’m aware of – for pre-recorded content, at least – and that fact allowed both technologies to flourish. For recordable DVD, there were, indeed, multiple standards: DVD-R, DVD+R (both with their rewriteable variants, DVD-RW and DVD+RW) and DVD-RAM. And what a pain in the arse it was for a long time, with nobody quite sure which type of recorder they should buy. Thankfully, the appearance of cheap multi-format recorders alleviated the problem, but it was one that should really not have occurred in the first place.
    Compare the growth of CD and DVD to the situation we have today with the new generation of DVD. We have two rival standards, Blu-ray and HD-DVD, and they’re totally incompatible. The result? The market’s stalled; nobody’s buying them until they sniff a winner. The winner becomes the single standard. The people want a single standard, get it?
    Multiple standards are generally a complete pain. Examples:
    * in the Netherlands you drive on the right hand side of the road. I’m used to driving on the left. Mulitple standards = pain. (Quite literally, on one occasion, when I came out of the ferry terminal on the wrong side of the road).
    * in the UK, electricity is 240 Volts and appliances have 3 pin plugs. In the US, electricity is 110 Volts, and appliances have 2 pin plugs. To whose advantage are these multiple standards? The manufacturer of converter plugs, and nobody else.
    * On a UK computer keyboard, the ” symbol is on the same key as the digit 2. In other countries, such as the one where I now reside, the @ symbol is on that key instead. How many times a day do I type ” instead of @, and vice versa? I’ve lost count. (I did it at least once when typing out this blog response).
    And do you think, Peter, that the Netherlands should have held on to the Gilder as its currency, rather than switch to the Euro: the single, common standard? After all, the UK held onto the Pound. Is it not a joy having to carry around two currencies when you visit the UK?
    – Mike

  3. Mike,
    I don’t agree with you.
    Many of the examples you use you put forward don’t offer this choice like the currency, the left-hand side driving, the electricity. They just show the UK as an Island doing almost everything different ;-).
    And when I visit the UK, I don’t bother with currencies, I use my creditcard 😉
    In the case of open standards I don’t associate multiple options with ‘pain’. The end-user has a choice and in almost all cases can choose which open standard he/she uses with their application for example.

  4. Peter,
    “Many of the examples you use you put forward don’t offer this choice”
    Correct. They don’t, and with good reason. If people were free to choose which side of the road they drove on then people would die, wouldn’t they? Better to have a standard. Better still to have the same standard the whole world over, and that the UK is “not doing almost everything different”. I don’t think it will happen in our life times though!
    “the end-user has a choice and in almost all cases can choose which open standard he/she uses”
    You contradict yourself here. After (correctly) observing that my examples offer no choice of standards (at least, on a per country basis), how can you then say that users “in almost all cases can choose” what standards they use? No, they can’t. If you’re in the UK, you cannot choose to use 110 Volts or drive on the right hand side of the road.
    You appear to equate freedom of choice in standards with freedom of choice in products (applications). As I know that you are not a stupid person, I can only assume that you do this deliberately. But these are different things, and common standards do not limit choice in products. Quite the opposite , in fact.
    For example, your credit card, which (clever fellow) you use to avoid the problems of changing currency when you visit the UK. There is, I believe, an ISO standard for credit card readers, and this allows you to swipe your card any country. Suppose, however, that there were more than one standard, and different countries had different types of credit card readers? Then you might find that you might not be able to use your Dutch credit card in the UK, after all. Would multiple formats limit choice or increase your choice in that case?
    – Mike

  5. Mike,
    It is clear you want 1 standard, we should all drive on the left side of the rtoad and pay in pounds ….
    I did not intend to contradict myself my example was with regards to the fileformats. Choice is good. I use the “non standard” .doc .xls .pdf . ppt for years and years now as do many other companies. In the future they may choose ODF or OpenXML or both. Freedom of choice with regards to fileformats does offer freedom of choice in product. Microsoft has set good steps by supporting ODF through 3rd Party solutions and also Novell is supporting OpenXML.
    IBM seems to hold onto ODF and does not support OpenXML in their Editors for obvious reasons.
    You should take also take a look at the OpenXML timeline which in my opinion clearly shows the development of OpenXML was not intended to compete, but to innovate. You don’t have to like the innovation and like the competition better, but I think OpenXML is going to be an ISO standard in the near term. The second ISO standard and for sure focus then will be on interoperability even stronger than today.
    I do agree that multiple standards are a burden in some cases; but never so much as when I go to the UK 😉 (that was a joke :-D)

  6. “with regards to the fileformats. Choice is good. I use the “non standard” .doc .xls .pdf . ppt for years and years now as do many other companies”
    Then we have no problem, do we? Because that’s the situation now: the user can choose from lots of different file formats. And if we have no problem now, then why do we need OOXML or ODF at all?
    “Microsoft has set good steps by supporting ODF through 3rd Party solutions”
    Hooray for Microsoft! It’s good to see them supporting ISO standards. And Novell too; nice to see them putting Microsoft’s money to good use. It will be interesting how well all this works though: not very well, something tells me.
    “IBM seems to hold onto ODF and does not support OpenXML in their Editors for obvious reasons”
    “Obvious reasons”, such as:
    * OOXML is full of errors, such as its handling of date and math functions. Hint: 1900 was *not* a leap year.
    * OOXML is not really open. It makes reference to binary formats that are proprietary to Microsoft.
    * OOXML is not fully documented. “Autospacelikeword95” is not described anywhere in the OOXML documentation, and means nothing to anybody outside of Microsoft.
    * The legal position of anybody attempting to implement OOOXML is not clear. Microsoft has some patent covenant “not to sue” thing, but apparently, it applies only to items that are “described in detail” in the “standard”. So, if somebody outside of the Microsoft did try to implement something like “Autospacelikeword95”, for example, Microsoft could still sue them.
    * Finally, OOXML is not an ISO standard. Oh and please, do not talk to me about Ecma, which is nothing more than a bought-and-paid-for rubber stamping service; any real standards organisation would never have validated a “standard” as full of problems as OOXML is.
    In short, OOXML is impossible for anybody to fully implement, except for Microsoft. This is, of course, exactly what Microsoft wants.
    “OpenXML was not intended to compete, but to innovate”
    OpenXML was not intended to compete, but to lock users into it, and the products that support it. For the reasons that I stated above, Microsoft products are the only ones that *will* be able to fully support OOXML. One can already hear Micosoft’s sales people telling companies “if you’re using the OOXML ‘standard’, you know that MS Office is the only product that *really* supports it”.
    – Mike

  7. Oops! Accidentally chopped this bit off my last post.
    “It is clear you want 1 standard, we should all drive on the left side of the road and pay in pounds”
    You have the wrong of the stick again, Peter. When I said “Better …that the UK is ‘not doing almost everything different'”, I actually meant that I’d prefer that the UK drove on the right and paid in Euros. At least, I prefer that would if I travelled to Europe much, but as I’m now located in Australia, it’s not a major problem for me any more!
    – Mike

  8. Mike,
    “Then we have no problem, do we?”
    To a certain extend I agree. The defacto standard is Office fileformats. Ofcourse they are seen as proprietary (they are) and not future proof by the opposition. “Open” and ISO certified give more guarantees perhaps.
    With regards to support for ODF and OOXML by parties like Novell you are sceptic. Let’s wait and see I agree. But anyway, it is available today and interop will be an important factor moving forward is my point of view.
    You are clearly much more up to par from a onesided perspective on OOXML and what’s wrong with it. We can go back and forth on this. Much discussion has been going on about that and I personally do not have the knowledge, nor the energy for a detailled discussion.
    On the adoption of OOXML by 3rd parties, I am quite confident this will increase over time. Until OOXML is ISO certifed I can personally understand certain 3rd parties holding back on it.
    Didn’t know you were from Australia. At least you can still drive on the lefthandside on the road 😀

  9. Peter,
    I certainly understand why you might not have “the energy for a detailed discussion ” of OOXML’s technical shortcomings. So, enjoy the rest of your holiday. I will now leave you in peace!
    – Mike

  10. Mike,
    Thanks. I couldn’t go fully ‘cold turkey’ with regards to not blogging for 3 weeks anyway.
    The energy remark by the way has nothing to do with your suggested OOXML’s technical shortcoming, but more with the fact that I respect your point of view and know mine. This is not about right or wrong its about different points of view. I anticipate a successful ISO approval (as I hope you understand);-).

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