Open XML: The BRM...The BRM...Oh My!...The BRM

After more than a year of writing about standardization of document formats, we sit on the verge of the ballot resolution meeting in Geneva next week. As expected, there is a great deal of kafluffle surround the event. The anti-Open XML folks are doing what they can to distract the BRM delegates from the work with the OFE event, and those interested in the success of Open XML are working equally hard to keep people focused on the positive work around the standard. Hmmm...predictable? I say yes.

My humble analysis of this whole situation leads me to the following conclusions:

  1. No matter what the outcome of the BRM and the following month of ballot consideration brings, Open XML is a stronger, better specification than before the JTC 1 process began.
  2. Open XML and ODF will both continue to see use in the marketplace and ongoing improvement to the specifications.
  3. Microsoft has learned a great deal about what is expected of us in the international standards arena...we will continue to listen and learn.
  4. Increased openness in document formats has received the most powerful endorsement possible. Customers, software providers, governments, individual developers, etc. will all benefit from this over the long-term.


Open XML has been improved due to the ISO/IEC process

As a specification, Ecma 376/DIS 29500 (AKA Open XML), has received more engineering rigor and attention than any ICT standard in the history of JTC 1. Open XML now has independent implementations on Windows, Linux, IBM z/OS, Palm OS, the iPhone, etc. No matter what happens following the BRM, the specification is arguably the best documented, most scrutinized document format ever. The quality and quantity of work done by the project editor and Ecma TC-45 has been outstanding by any measure of standards work.

Frankly, if the specification is adopted as an ISO/IEC IS (international standard), my guess is that it will drop off the face of the planet as far as the media is concerned. The broad adoption of Open XML will continue based on the fact that it is a very strong INDUSTRY STANDARD (Ecma 376) and has opened the door on business opportunities for literally thousands of ISVs. If it is not adopted by ISO/IEC as a standard, then IBM and SUN will flog that for all its worth in order to drive greater differentiation about their products - which just goes to prove what I have said all along about this whole thing regarding commercial interests. I wouldn't mind that if they didn't insist on going down the mandatory procurement road for governments. I think that is the worst possible outcome for everyone (including IBM and SUN).

Open XML and ODF will both improve and see adoption

If you haven't read the open letter from Patrick Durusau (the project editor who will be driving the move of ODF 1.2 and 1.3 up to ISO/IEC), you really should. I have pointed this out many times that ODF 1.0 was the ISO/IEC spec and is no longer current. Significant improvements have been made to the specification in its later iterations at OASIS. A reoccurring argument about Open XML was that as a spec it was not mature enough for standardization. This is a strange argument to be made from folks who endorsed ODF 1.0 given how significant the changes are to its later versions.

Again - I DON"T HAVE A PROBLEM with the idea that ODF is being improved and updated. Bonny for ODF. That is the whole point of standards work - the specifications are meant to be improved upon. There are "maintenance agreements" put in place and significant processes in place to deal with improvements. That is also why "extensibility" is built in as a consideration when creating specifications. You want to enable a spec to be "futurizable" in a positive, constructive manner.

Open XML and ODF will both see adoption by different software providers and customers. There is no suspense in that. There is no conflict between the two, they are simply two XML formats in an ever-growing space of XML-based formats. Ain't competition grand?

Microsoft has learned much about international standardization

I'm privileged to work with a great group of standards professionals at Microsoft. I don't consider myself to be a standards professional as much as a standards groupie. (I aspire to greatness. Would you believe that this is what I said I wanted to be in kindergarten?) But there have been some clear lessons from the whole process and we are taking them to heart.

The coming years are likely to see an increase in importance of ISO/IEC JTC 1 standards. The US software industry has long focused on industry consortia as a primary driver of standards creation, and that is not likely to slack off in the least. The question is, how many more specifications are likely to move into the international standards arena than in the past? Will there be an increase in standards creation work at the ISO/IEC level? And, what will that mean for customers, governments, and the industry as a whole? This is too much to blog about here, but it is a really important question that we are paying close attention to.

We have heard clearly that national standards bodies are looking for greater collaboration, they welcome more participation, and they are eager to connect their work on specifications to real-world success/opportunity for their citizens. I will be paying much closer attention to this over the coming months and will comment more on it. As with any issue with global reach, Microsoft's engagement with national standards bodies and the international standards organizations is complex. We are constantly receiving feedback and take the input very seriously.

Openness of document formats is good. <full stop>

I have written about this before - but it is worth saying again. The best outcome from this whole experience is that document formats are being opened up across the industry. You own your data - the openness in document formats is a huge step forward for control of that data independent of vendor implementations. We are witnessing the 15 year runway of the original XML specification and the possibilities it suggested. Clearly there is more to be seen with XML-based protocols (for another day), but all of this attention being paid to document formats is a really good thing overall.