The OOXML Standard Brouhaha

by on April 2, 2008 · 24 comments

Monday’s news indicating that ECMA’s Office Open XML (OOXML) standard will be approved has some people crying foul about the whole thing.

In case you haven’t been following things, OOXML is a document format up for approval before the International Organization for Standardization (ISO). It’s been a wild and politicized process for what one would think would be a relatively objective task of evaluating a technical standard.

OOXML was developed by Microsoft, so obviously Microsoft has been pushing for its approval. Companies like IBM and Sun, which developed ODF, an existing document format standard, have been lobbying against approval.

Nothing new under the sun, as my colleague Morgan Reed writes on the ACT blog. IBM’s been lobbying for state procurement preferences for ODF for the past few years:

ODF was built with the clear intent of creating a fulcrum point for government intervention. So while I don’t dislike ODF as a format, I find the fact that IBM was trying to manipulate governments into doing their dirty work for them reprehensible. Governments should not mandate any specific standard, including OOXML.

Morgan’s point (other than poking fun at IBM for its recent ethics charge) is that there’s a difference between lobbying for the creation of a standard through a private standards body and lobbying government for procurement preferences to promote the standard. Ideally, it should be up to market forces (consumers and developers), not governments, to dictate the implementation of standards.

I think it’s helpful to keep this distinction in mind when reading the OOXML international standard brouhaha.

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