Ecma moves ahead with OpenXML standards process

Ecma International Thursday formed a technical committee to evaluate Microsoft's OpenXML as a standard technology.

An international standards organization Thursday decided to move ahead with the process of standardizing Microsoft's OpenXML document formats even as the company faced fresh criticism for the guidelines it presented for that process.

Ecma International formed a technical committee to evaluate OpenXML after a vote on the technology Thursday, according to IBM, a member of the Geneva standards organization. IBM cast the only "nay" vote on moving ahead with the process, a company spokesman said.

Ecma didn't immediately return requests for comment.

Late Wednesday, an industry group published a letter on its Web site to attempt to persuade Ecma to reject Microsoft's proposal to standardize the OpenXML formats for Word, Excel and PowerPoint. In the letter, the Computer & Communications Industry Association (CCIA) said it objects to the "Terms of Reference" Microsoft submitted to Ecma as the guidelines for how OpenXML formats will be standardized because they indicate that Microsoft may still retain ultimate control of the formats.

Earlier this week, Boston-based attorney Andrew Updegrove, who represents standards groups, also publicly criticized Microsoft for these same terms of reference because he said they appear to reflect proprietary Microsoft interests, and not those of the entire industry.

Microsoft announced its plan to submit the document file formats to Ecma on Nov. 21. At the time, some saw the move as an attempt to counter the growing momentum behind Open Document Format for Office Applications (ODF), a specification that is overseen by the Organization for the Advancement of Structured Information Standards (OASIS) consortium and supported by a host of vendors as a global standard for Office documents. A high-profile technology proposal in the U.S. state of Massachusetts also may result in the state's government agencies phasing out Microsoft Office in favor of software that supports ODF.

Technology vendors such as IBM, Sun Microsystems, Apple Computer, Google and Red Hat have backed ODF, and some have competing software suites to Microsoft Office that support the standard. Microsoft does not support ODF because it is implementing OpenXML in the next version of Office, code-named Office 12, instead.

Ecma is expected to evaluate OpenXML and then submit the format to the International Standards Organization, which would finalize it as a standard.

In its letter, CCIA said that Microsoft's submission to Ecma "does not meet the principles" of open-standard technology since, among other things, it does not indicate that the company will support the final OpenXML formats once they have been reviewed and possibly altered by Ecma.

"[The proposal] provides no assurances as to third-party access or implementation of the standard," CCIA wrote in the letter. "[It] does not call for open management and control. In fact, it indicates that no one can introduce or remove features from Office 12 save Microsoft itself. Lastly, there is no assurance that Microsoft will actually support the standard should it disagree with actions taken by Ecma."

Updegrove, a partner with Gesmer Updegrove LLC, also said he has viewed the terms for OpenXML standards submission that Microsoft sent to Ecma and believes Microsoft's interest in making OpenXML a standard through the organization seems to be for its own benefit, not in the spirit of true openness.

Updegrove criticized Microsoft's OpenXML submission in a blog posting Dec. 6 on the Web site, a resource for industry standard groups (

In an e-mail interview late Wednesday, he reiterated his view that Microsoft's submission of OpenXML formats does not fit the general definition of "openness" in terms of technology formats. He said most agreed-upon definitions of "openness" include these points: anyone can participate in a technology's standardization process; anyone can implement the result of that process; the process of adopting the standard is open and transparent; and no single company or group of companies can control the standard.

Updegrove said that Microsoft's plan to standardize OpenXML, as evidenced in the Terms of Reference submitted to Ecma, supports all but the last definition criterion. "It is unclear how much control, as a practical matter, Microsoft might exercise in the long run," he said in an e-mail. "For example, it hasn't committed to support the resulting standard itself in the long term. One might assume, 'of course it will,' which would be true, if the goal is to introduce the standard to the marketplace."

However, Updegrove said that the answer to that question might be "no" if Microsoft's intention in submitting OpenXML formats to Ecma is, as many believe, merely to break the momentum of ODF in the marketplace.

Microsoft's public relations firm Waggener Edstrom didn't immediately return requests for comment.

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