Because of the way ongoing works I need fairly short headlines, which is a pity, because for this piece I wanted to use The European Commission Makes Extremely Smart Moves Concerning Open XML-Based Office Document Formats and Browbeats Vendors Deftly; As a Result the Open Office XML Format Will Probably Become an ISO Standard.
This story started for me back in March when an OpenOffice team and a Microsoft team were invited to present to the European Commission on the relative merits of their XML-based office document formats. You can read about the arguments here and what the EC’s response was here and if you care about these things and haven’t already, you probably should.
The Letter · The next step happened in mid-July when the EC wrote a formal letter to the participants in the March meeting (Sun and Microsoft), informing them of the outcome and highlighting a couple of key points. The Sun letter, which was addressed to Jonathan, made two specific requests:
That we consider taking the Open Office XML Format, currently under construction at OASIS, to ISO for consideration as an International Standard.
That we implement a set of filters to allow software to interoperate between the Open Office and Microsoft Office XML file formats.
The letter also contained the following paragraph which I think ought to be posted on the office walls wherever IT strategists gather:
Transparency and accessibility requirements dictate that public information and government transactions avoid depending on technologies that imply or impose a specific product or platform on businesses or citizens.
The Response · By sometime around now, our official response should be in the EC’s hands, but it won’t come as a surprise, because at a breakfast meeting on my recent trip to Brussels, I presented it to a gathering of EC luminaries at a breakfast meeting. The answer is “OK, and OK”. Specifically:
On September 1st, we proposed the idea of taking the OASIS spec, once it’s finished, to ISO. The committee seems to like that idea and so does the OASIS management, so apparently the chances are good.
We’ve built filters for MSWordML and ExcelML and they’ll be in the next releases not only of our own StarOffice but in the mainstream OpenOffice.org open-source code, so anyone can use them.
I must say, it was just a total delight to be able to stand up and give the good news there in Brussels. Frankly, I wasn’t convinced at first that going to ISO would help the Open Office format, but my management kicked me in the head and said “It can’t hurt, it doesn’t cost much, and the customer wants it, stupid.” Which are good arguments. And now having had the pleasure of being the message-bearer, it’s obvious that the customer and the management were right.
Note: Sun doesn’t control the OASIS TC, and doesn’t control OASIS, and doesn’t even have a vote at ISO (although OASIS has what’s called “PAS Status”, which helps), so there’s no guarantee that just because Sun and the EC agree on this, it will happen. Still, the indications are good.
The System is Working · There is room for endless debate as to the proper role of the public and private sectors in a well-governed society. But this just seems to me like a complete no-brainer. Vendors will as a matter of course attempt to achieve lock-in whenever they get a chance, unless they’re willing to take the long bet on enlarging the whole market (the reason I work here is that Sun usually likes that kind of bet).
So it seems to me entirely appropriate for governments to lay down the law to fight lock-in and send letters to executives and use their massive purchasing power in support. We all come out ahead.
The Other Letter · I’d just love to know which of the EC recommendations were highlighted in the letter that Microsoft got. I hope that they included either submitting their Office XML formats to a standards body or joining the existing standards work in the area.
If so, I agree. While we haven’t taken it up formally in-house, I bet Sun probably agrees too. How about it?