I’m heading off to Seoul tomorrow for the ISO SC34 meeting. The Working Group I’m in (WG1) looks after ISO DSDL and office document formats. I’ve been embarrassing my Korean friends asking why they made James Brown their King, and whether their capital’s anthem is “Get on up”; soooo childish I know.
The office document format are an very entertaining sideshow at the moment. ODF is a format derived from Sun’s Star Office product and now being taken up by IBM; it is being standardized through ISO by fast tracking an OASIS specification. Open XML is a set of formats derived from Microsoft’s Office 2007 (but being retrofited to old Office products); it is being proposed for standardization through ISO by fasttracking an ECMA specification. Both use ZIP files (for which there is no open standard!), support common media types, MathML and Dublin Core metadata. Both are XML languages: ODF has a RELAX NG schema, and I expect Open XML will have both XSD and RELAX NG schemas.
They are generating lots of media attention, FUD and lobbeying; but it ODF and Open XML both represent a victory for universal, ubiquitous, standard generalized markup, which is what SC 34 is in large part about. I see Gartner has estimated a less than 70% chance of ISO ratifying two XML office formats. What rubbish. I’ll know more next week.
Ultimately, it is not WG1 or SC34 that makes the decision. It is the national votes of each of the voting members of ISO: the national standards organizations like Standards Australia, ANSI, and so on. While local committees may feel that Microsoft has been conspicuous in their absense, so have the other big companies in recent years: the standards participation focus shifted to W3C and OASIS. But these committees are not stacked with anti-Microsoft (or anti-Sun) people, but with organizations who need good interchange and also need an XML retrieval for legacy documents in proprietary formats (.DOC, etc.). So I find it very difficult to agree with Gartner’s 70%; I’d put it the other way, with a 70% likelihood of success, at least.
ISO is not an anti-monopoly court. It is there to help people who want to agree on technology, providing procedures, forums and a publishing house.
But the issue of having two office standards is a fair one. I think all Microsoft needs to do is to distinguish Open XML from ODF adequately and prove that it has a credible alternative constituency who would not be served well by ODF. That there is overlap is immaterial if there is a significant difference.
There is a total acceptance, I believe, in people from SGML backgrounds that custom schemas are necessary for certain jobs.You can use DOCBOOK, TEI, S1000D, and even XHTML for many of the same documents. But that doesn’t mean that there shouldn’t be multiple formats. SC 34 tends to take an “enabling” stance rather than a “restricting” stance: provide the facilities and let the market and time decide what works. On the other hand, there are comittee people who think that there should only be one of everything in a single category; so I expect Microsoft’s will have to play to its differences from ODF rather than its similarity. Good Arabicization (a weakness in ODF) and Internationalization are strong points; the archiving angle is a strong point (especially for exact/facsimile retrieval); the ability to contain the binaries for embedded objects is a weak point (almost a point against); examples of the ECMA process causing changes to drafts would be positive too.