A little-noticed item is big news for Microsoft: The The International Organization for Standardization (ISO) is putting Microsoft Office 2007’s Open XML format on a fast track to become an ISO standard. This may not sound like much, but big money is involved.
What’s the big deal about becoming an ISO standard? Plenty. Government agencies around the world are increasingly looking to create interoperable systems. That means proprietary file formats such as the long-standing Word .doc format are becoming less-than-welcome, in favor of ISO formats. That, in turn, means that governments may choose non Microsoft Office suites, which handle ISO formats,
That’s exactly what was happening in Massachusetts, which decided to standardize on the XML-based file formats of Open Office.org. Once the Office Open XML format becomes standard, that becomes moot.
It’s pretty obvious what went on here — somehow or other Microsoft applied behind-the-scenes muscle to get its standard onto the fast track. After all, given that there’s an ISO standard for an XML format, the approval of a new one could well lead to confusion. And the Microsoft XML format is more complicated than the existing one because it has to support Word’s myriad features.
Is the pending approval a good thing or a bad one? I’m torn. On the one hand, no single vendor should be able to push through a standard. On the other, the new standard recognizes a simple fact: Most of the world uses Word. If the Microsoft standard wasn’t approved, there would ultimately be no XML format in widespread use, because most of the world is not about to switch their word processors simply to comply with an internationally recognized format.