The bumpy ride to ISO standardisation of Microsoft Office Open XML is receiving a lot of attention here on XML.com, and drawing out a lot of strong opinions on both sides of the issue. Frankly, the intense coverage given to every minor detail in the specification bores me to tears, even though I see the need for it, and I think that there is a larger story behind these events that is not receiving enough attention.
Open standards are great!
Firstly, it’s worth noting that with the push to standardise OOXML, Microsoft has made a clear statement that customer data shouldn’t be controlled by a single vendor, and that the entire world should have a voice in shaping the formats used to store and transmit it. This is a strong statement from one of the most powerful software vendors on the planet, and it’s a huge change from the approach taken by most vendors a few years ago. I just hope this attitude towards open standards spreads; the Windows media developers don’t seem to have got the memo yet, perhaps because Microsoft still dreams of controlling the media delivery pipeline.
But aren’t we forgetting something?
More worryingly, the framing of the debate as being a choice between two almost identical office suites seems like a huge step backwards. While it’s true that improving interoperability between legacy desktop applications is an important task, we should also be looking ahead to a future that isn’t dominated by the quirks of WYSIWYG word processors.
Today if you want to publish some information, you put it on the web. There are even tools like Prince that can print HTML to PDF, so web content works just as well on paper as it does on your PC or mobile phone. [disclaimer: since I work on Prince, it’s understandable that I think it’s awesome].
For those looking for an easy migration away from desktop office suites, Google Docs (formerly Writely) provides a web-enabled alternative, while newer and edgier sites like Jottit offer a more spartan approach for editing on the web. However, these are still barely scratching the surface of what’s possible on the web, and with hindsight I think that we will look back on the flurry of standardisation activity around OOXML and see it as the “final and finest expression of a doomed technology”. 
 Alan Cooper, About Face, discussing the hierarchical menus of Lotus 1-2-3 as being the last gasp of the character-based user interface.