This is a rant and it is my opinion and does not reflect that of Microsoft or others - It is my Opinion!
From 1992 to 1995 I had to write document converters - I had to pick apart binary file formats and translate them to another format. It was hard work and I JUST WISHED people would create a largely encompassing standard for documents that was documented so I did not have to do all the work myself. Role forward to today, Office is still the prominent document format (which is now documented on http://msdn.microsoft.com), but there is a new kid in town that encompass everything that an Office document is and more. This is the Open XML document format.
People have cried for years that they wanted the Office Document standard to become more than a defacto standard, they wanted it to become a format an open standard. It was always going to be large, but to cover all the features and functions available in Office, it would have to be. There is no point in the standard being something different to that used in Office as it would be useless. Today, something like 600 million people use the Office document standard and Open XML format is growing too with tools existing for previous versions of Office prior to 2007 to make the use of the ECMA standard seamless for users.
So what happens, Microsoft submits their file formats to the standards bodies and while it is accepted by ECMA a HUGE POLITICAL effort is made to stop it becoming an ISO standard. I don't mind people saying they want more documentation, but the only reason I can think why people want to stop it becoming an ISO standard is because they don't want it to be easier for people to use Office documents - they want it to be hard, to make use of Office harder for developers, not easier. This means that those who said "make it a standard" really meant "don't use it because it is not a standard and that is the only weapon we have as to why you should not use it". You may disagree with me, but a while ago I tried to enter the discussion with some very loud opponents to Open XML and the strange thing was that they refuse to post my blog questions onto their blogs. Why was asking some honest questions seen as so bad that no only were they moderated, but actually never published? This is where politics came in - they did not want my opinion getting an airing and certainly did not want an open discussion.
Now, lets move through the standards process a bit more - Microsoft is new to the document standard arena, as are other people who work with Microsoft, so this means they are new to the standards bodies. So they join the standards bodies to voice their needs and opinions and suddenly there is noise that these people shouldn't be there, because they were not there 5 years ago. Why should they have been there 5 years ago - there was nothing to discuss that impacted them then! Now, when they arrive, they should behave as new members and make sure they work to ingratiate themselves with the existing members. I don't know if they did this or not, but it reminds me of the stories I have heard from my wife about her family moving to a new village. They had to work hard to be accepted and people treated them with some suspicion until they got to know them more. I don't know how the new partners conducted themselves, but if they felt the sort of frustration I do when trying to engage with non-Open XML evangelists, I suspect it must have been trying. However, for all I know, they could have just been rude and loud. I don't know.
One thing that has been bothering me is the fact that the standard is said by some to not be complete - well, most aren't in their 1st pass. Look of ODF - it doesn't even bother to state what functions are available in the spreadsheet, so every implementation can invent any spreadsheet function they want to make their documents standard compliant, but completely proprietary forcing you to buy one persons package to use it. It has many other flaws, but that is fine, the standard will get revised over time to fix this. Why the same grace could not be provided to Open XML is beyond me!
Finally on this, for those who say the standard is too big or complex, well, that is because the offerings from Microsoft Office 2003 / 2007 are many. Are you saying that functions should be cut to enable a simpler standard? No, well then, get real!
Where does this leave me - well, I think Microsoft has been damned in the past for not trying to make the Office documents a standard and open to creation, access and updates from non-Microsoft packages and some are trying to damn them now for trying to make the Open XML file format available to others. The file format is still in the hands of the ECMA body and will evolve from there, but people seem to just want to roadblock Microsoft rather than free developers to make documents better for all users. This is of course the nature of politics and competition, but I wish people would stop hiding behind the standards committees and just be honest about it.
I have no doubt that the ECMA standard, with even more documentation will become an ISO standard in time and then everyone will wonder why all the fuss to stop it being so.
Thu, Sep 6 2007 11:21 PM