OSIA takes issue with OOXML, lobbies Standards Australia

The Open Source Industry of Australia (OSIA) has formally contacted Standards Australia, requesting that Microsoft's Office Open XML (OOXML) format not be endorsed by the body as an ISO standard.

Opposition to the potential endorsement was announced on July 31, and is attributed to several factors.

"Quite apart from the technical problems with OOXML, the main problem from OSIA's point of view is a substantive one - the 'standard' is designed so that it can only be implemented by a single vendor", said Brendan Scott, Director of Open Source Industry Australia. "So, while in theory a third party could create an independent implementation, in practice it is very unlikely", he said.

"It is extremely long (over 6,000 pages - almost ten times longer than the specification for Open Document Format, the ISO Standard) and it is written in a manner which not only tracks a specific product (Office 2007) but includes undocumented features (such as binary blobs and requirements for backwards compatibility with file formats which are not documented)", Scott said.

Opposition to the endorsement of the program comes on top of the suspected stacking by Microsoft of a variety of standards bodies in order to get OOXML approved as the ISO standard. "This was not part of OSIA's submission and is not anything OSIA has direct knowledge of", said Scott. "However, there are a number of people who assert that Microsoft is doing as you suggest", he said.

Scott believes that if OOXML is endorsed by Standards Australia, it will cause confusion to Australian consumers as they are likely to confuse the program for the ISO standard.

He further argues that consumers are likely to believe documents stored in the ISO standard can be accurately converted to and from OOXML, and that they will expect documents in OOXML to be read by third party applications. Both of these operations are not currently possible.

"Australian vendors are placed at a special disadvantage because of the sheer mass of the specification. It is so enormous that simply understanding it will take a lot of time and effort - ensuring compliance will require even more time.

"The typical Australian vendor will not have the size and resources to come to grips with the standard", Scott said. "This is to be contrasted with the ISO Standard, for which many reference implementations exist, some of which may be reused under free software licences", he said.

"There already exists an ISO standard for office documents (OpenDocumentv1.0/International Standard ISO/IEC 26300:2006), also called Open Document Format (or ODF). As a general statement, having two standards for the same thing means that neither of them is a standard. For this reason alone OSIA opposes the creation of (the) competing standard. That said, OSIA would not oppose properly considered and freely implementable extensions of ISO Standard", he said.

Scott also believes that the potential endorsement may be in breach of the Trade Practices Act.

"Section 52 of the Trade Practices Act prohibits companies engaging in conduct which is misleading or deceptive in the course of trade or commerce. OSIA believes that there is a substantial risk of consumers being mislead, and of the Trade Practices Act being breached, through consumers believing that documents stored in OOXML are portable to third party applications; or documents stored in OOXML are able to be interoperable with documents stored in the current ISO Standard format", he said.

OSIA's opposition to OOXML comes in the midst of a variety of documents attempting to become the 'open standard' for the industry. The issue is of concern to a variety of businesses as the final standard will determine the length of time that documents are easily accessible, as well as affecting the type of software package used.

Copyright © 2007 IDG Communications, Inc.

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