back to article Microsoft spins standards defeat into victory

Microsoft's PR machine is spinning a major setback into a minor victory for ratification of its proposed OOXML specification as an international standard. The software giant has been left to draw comfort from the high level of voter turnout by standards aficionados across the globe, rather than applaud the hoped for, speeded up …


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  1. Martin Eddington

    OSI ?

    ... think the last sentence should read ISO not OSI ;-)

  2. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Don't forget Poland, you're forgetting Poland

    "Drafted by Microsoft and backed by a strange troop of supporters, OOXML was first adopted by the European Computer Manufacturers' Association (ECMA)"

    Yeh, don't forget Poland in that 'Coallition of the Willing'. Their scheduled standard committee for this KT 171 voted against it, so a new committee was given the job instead KT 182 and voted for it!

    A final decision was made *after* the voting to use the KT182 vote, rather than the 171 vote.

    Anyone care to touch OOXML? If they can do that to the ISO what can they do to your little business?

    I wonder also if the BBC are watching this. They made a very strange decision recently by opting for Windows Media, which limits their market to PCs only (no Tivos, Digital Video recorders, portable players, iPods, Video smartphones etc. etc.) and even then only Windows PCs. Perhaps you should revisit those decisions and the people who made them in the light of what's been going on in ISO?

  3. Greg


    "it fell to Microsoft's general manger for interoperability and standards, Tim Robertson, to say through gritted teeth: "Given how encouraging today's results were, we believe that the final tally in early 2008 will result in the ratification of Open XML as an ISO standard." "

    In other words, "we'll try even harder to rig the vote next time."

  4. Andrew Cannon

    And we're surprised by MS's activities?

    MS has tried to do what it always does, stronarm the body that could irrevocably harm it's biggest cash cow after Windows.

    The fact that they haven't yet got an ISO standard for an Office format will not worry them, until the February vote. If that goes against them, then we can expect to see lots of negative PR about standards bodies, rival formats and rival programs.

    Why? Well, if MS have to impliment an ISO standard that they haven't got control of, there is no "vendor lock in". No reason to use MS Office and every reason to save lots and lots of money (even if you use Star Office, you're saving 75-90% of your Office package outlay). Governments have mandated that their software should use ISO standards (note, not Open Standards, that's different), so why should the Office software be any different?

  5. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    The September Progress Report!

    "Given how encouraging today's results were"....

    Tim Robertson as the new General Petraeus?

  6. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Balmers influence

    Just when you thought MS might, just might, start to show signs of maturity and co-operation, here they are with a monumental tantrum, toys out of the pram and a major PR problem on their hands.


  7. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    The only sensible modification

    "The ISO now plans a meeting next February on possible modifications to OOXML. "

    Will somebody please tell them that the only acceptable modifiction is to delete *everything* thats MS-inspired in its entirety, and replace it lock stock and barrel by the existing Open-Office based standard.

    Microsoft, remember, is the company that loves standards so much that whenever it comes across one, it tries its hardest to invent a DIFFERENT one.

  8. James Anderson

    European Computer Manufacturers' Association

    .... but like the Barabados Skilift Operators Association then.

  9. Chris Cheale


    Origin Strategic Interactive - used to do Ultima Online before EA took over. Everyone knows it takes memebers of the MMOG community to get international standards ratified... doesn't it?

  10. SImon Hobson Bronze badge

    The last cry of a once respected body ?

    I am personally amazed that this application has had as much support as it has - even putting aside my personal loathing of MS products, this standard is rubbish. It really is a pile of excrement and many reviewers have said so (though in less colourful terms).

    It absolutely is NOT an open standard as it specifically references closed and proprietry formats. Even leaving that out, it's internally inconsistent and seeks to perpetuate old bugs !

    If this gets approved as an ISO standards then ISO is dead - it's opinion won't count for anything in the future.

  11. M


    ...are nothing but damn lies!!

  12. Christopher

    Stats on the voting countries

    Rob Weir has a great comparison of the voting habits of the countries Microsoft allegedly brought on-board, along with the perceived levels of corruption for the countries involved.

  13. Peter Gathercole Silver badge


    It depends if you are using the English or French name of the organisation. Generally in Europe, the French name is used.

  14. BitTwister

    Good Riddance

    Very pleased that sanity has prevailed and this dog's breakfast, this car crash, this unqualified MESS of a "standard" has received what it so richly deserved.

    What needs to be seriously addressed now are the attempts made by a convicted monopolist to muscle in and force a 'yes' vote for what is supposed to be a carefully considered and immaculately defined world standard.

    This 6,000-page pile of proprietary waffle is nothing more than an attempt to standardize Microsoft's ill-defined software kludges to suppress the already approved (and with zero 'no' votes) standard: ODF.

    The Microsoft OOXML "specification" does give a toe-curling insight into their quality control which, as Windows users will know, simply doesn't exist.

    How else could a "professional" company like MS include (amongst many, many others) little gems such as these:

    === [p740, 0xEE]

    This value is said to signify “an Eastern European character set”. There is no such thing. First, “Eastern Europe” is not unambiguously delineated. Second, this region uses many character scripts, including Roman, Cyrillic, Arabic, Armenian, etc.

    Proposed change: Explain what is meant by “an Eastern European character set”. [p740, 2]

    The default character set is said to be “the ANSI character set”. But ANSI has standards for many character sets. Do you mean ANSI 209-1992 “Matrix Character Set for OCR”? Probably not. So a normative reference to a specific standard is required.

    Proposed change: Provide normative reference for “the ANSI character set”. [p1378]

    The “autoSpaceLikeWord95” element is defined in terms of mimicking a legacy application's behavior. The standard contains insufficient detail on how to replicate this behavior.

    Proposed change: Define the intended behavior.

    2.16.1 [p1487]

    The production rule for field-switch-character is defined as: “field-switch-character: ! one or two Latin letters” However, “Latin letters” is not defined in this specification. Are we to take this literally as only allowing the letters used in Latin, i.e., capital letters A-Z excluding J, U and W? Or is meant the ISO 8859-1, the Latin-1 character set? Or is something else meant?

    Proposed change: Provide a precise definition for this production rule.


    {from }

    Remember folks; this standard "definition" is supposed to allow *everyone else* to unambiguously implement it and provide fully operational compatibility with it.

    Methods are already standardized to allow certain extensions but MS chooses to completely ignore that route.

    They can't even handle their own specification.

    Here's what happens when an application - touted by (guess who) as a shining example of interoperability - is actually used:

    Another rather embarrassing mess:

    Nothing changes at Redmond except the audacity and level of bullying.

  15. Keith Doyle

    Microsoft got what they wanted...

    They may not have been able to fast track as much as they wanted, but as long as they get their own standard eventually, that will be enough to undermine ODFs inroads into many organizations-- as it is, ODF was chosen in many cases with a narrow margin. Once Microsoft can say, "Here is this other *open* standard that you can choose," they undermine the primary argument in favor of ODF. The fact that OOXML is harder to implement or the ugliness or impracticality of other technical details is beyond the scope of the discussions held by the decision makers who decide to "standardize" on an "open" standard.

  16. J


    If they got beaten even cheating, imagine what'd happen had they been honest... (crazy thought, I know, but imagine it anyway)

  17. Steve


    The organization is always ISO, which somehow stands for the International Organization for Standardization. In French it becomes

    Organisation internationale de normalisation but remains ISO.

    OSI is the Open Systems Interconnection reference model, not the same thing at all, although OSI is a standard maintained by the ISO

  18. Luther Blissett

    How to sink it

    It needs someone highly knowledgable to sit down with the OOXML document, edit it selectively in ways Microsoft software does not meet conformance, present it. and have it passed as the OOXML standard. Then we could all get on with real open standards.

  19. Don Mitchell

    In support of capitalism

    "...the only acceptable modifiction is to delete *everything* thats MS-inspired"

    That pretty much says it all. It's not about open standards, its about bashing Microsoft. ODF and Open Office is entirely based on the inspection and reverse engineering of Microsoft Office and its basic functionality. Microsoft invested enormous time and resources into the R&D for their Office software, which the open source community was free to copy on the cheap.

    Now to add insult to injury, the free software zealots wants governments and agencies to ban MS formats and software, so their competing software can take over.

    As an economic conservative, I see real danger here. This is undermining the incentives for creating new software by punishing anyone who has an idea and tries to profit from it. The message is, you must give away your software and intellectual property, or we will try to put you out of business.

  20. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Six months or one year...

    Jason Matusow: "The next 6 months will be where the rubber really meets the road for the work on Open XML."

    One Friedman unit for this surge, please!

  21. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    v0t3 fvR oOxNNl

    I u5e OoXml.1111111e9 a1l t-he t i m e likewin95(). W0tz the proB7em* ?likeWord97 ????????????

  22. David Tonhofer Silver badge

    I suspect "capitalism" is like "freedom", it can be had any way you want.

    Don, either:

    - you are not exactly knowledgeable about software


    - you have information about how software is built that eludes me, like, totally.

    Please explain:

    - Why you are talking about MS being forced to "give away its software" while this is actually all about opening up interface definitions.

    - How it is that, while "Microsoft invests enormous time and resources into the R&D for their Office software" (and I thought they were all just chilling at the Coke machine), the Open Source community somehow unfairly profits because it can "copy [the Office software] on the cheap". You do know that warez is different from work-alike software written from scratch?

    - How you know that ODF and Open Office are "entirely based on the inspection and reverse engineering of Microsoft Office and its basic functionality"? Same assembler code in both, right?

    - Why "banning MS formats" is somehow "adding insult to injury". Formats must be open, well documented and have clear semantics (see other posters for "not well documented and unclear semantics") otherwise they are dangerous now and probably useless twenty years down the road. Don't tell me your company is keeping Word Documents for the long run?

    - Why having the biggest monopolist in town play nice "is undermining the incentives for creating new software" and akin to "punishement"?

    Still, I gracefully concede your bashing thing.

  23. John Stirling

    @Don Mitchell


    You have specified your situation - an economic conservative, rather than claiming any actual knowledge, implying a lack of technical know how in this matter. Whilst the MS bashing can get somewhat over the top at times, there are very very sound technical reasons for open standards - open standards promote a free market, and allow competition, allowing those with an idea to invest and profit from it.

    Closed standards prevent new entrants to the market, removing the incentive from the incumbents to invest in development.

    Any economic conservative should support open standards unless they are truly messianic regarding a complete lack of market interference, and those ones pretty much should disapprove of government, law, and the concept of a state too.

    I have sympathy with your concerns, but I am afraid you really really need to go and research the matter in some depth before simply plumping for the incumbent. Unfortunately for your argument, whilst a collection of very technical people can get a little self referentially hysterical regarding things they perceive as 'unfair' (and acknowledged illegal practices confirmed in court to protect a monopoly position would fit into this description), nonetheless they are rarely actually wrong in consensus.

    Certainly I would trust a collection of bright technical types with their politically naive views over a more savvy bunch of bright economic conservatives, if only because of the more intact sense of honesty that tends to exist within the technorati.

    I am not implying anything regarding your own intellectual honesty, but I am quite happy to make a number of specific and definite accusations of many economic conservatives regarding their honesty which would be actionable if found to be untrue, whereas the number of 'geeks' who that could be done for are few. and generally it's their sense of reality you'd be challenging, not their honesty.

    No, open standards are the technical equivalent of 'the market'. Without them no true market for technical development can exist.

  24. Flapping to Prawn

    To Don Mitchell

    "The message is, you must give away your software and intellectual property, or we will try to put you out of business."

    Is that Microsoft you're talking about?

  25. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Capitalism Mr Mitchell?

    Mr Mitchell: I've seen a claim somewhere that the natural endpoint of capitalism is monopoly. Is that what you are defending? Monopoly by Microsoft? It sure seems like it.

    I prefer capitalism oriented toward competition among a fairly large number of companies to supply compatible products. That way, if my state decides to use product XYZ to create government documents, I'm not forced to buy that same product in order to view them. THAT is what standards are for. The standard should insure interoperability by being completely open. Anyone should be free to implement the standard.

    Yes, we want to ban Microsoft formats from being required in any government operation. Why should our public data be held hostage by Microsoft?

    Microsoft is completely free to implement the ODF formats in their products. They refuse to do so. Microsoft is completely free (indeed, was encouraged) to participate in the definition (and future evolution) of ODF. They refused. If they have some features that can't be supported in ODF, I am confident that the committees maintaining ODF would be happy to consider and refine proposals from Microsoft that would extend ODF in a way that permitted Microsoft (and any other vendor) to implement those features in ODF-stored files.

    Note that nobody is saying that Microsoft has to give away their software secrets. Nobody is saying that Microsoft cannot implement any private storage formats that they care to. The issue is that public data MUST be stored in completely open formats so that our data cannot be held hostage to Microsoft's business plans. OOXML is not even close to an open format.

    ISO and its member bodies really shouldn't waste their time on this sham. Unfortunately, they will be forced to waste lots more time on this. In the end, I expect you and Microsoft will get your way and Microsoft's proprietary specification will be given an ISO standard number. Microsoft no doubt will pressure, bribe, threaten, smear enough people to wear down the opposition. I only hope that enough public attention will be kept on the whole, sordid campaign that people and their governments will realize that choosing to store their documents in OOXML is a bad long-term choice for them and will start to declare their independence from Microsoft by switching to software that natively uses ODF.

  26. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    @Don Mitchell

    Oh, on top of everything else, in the original post where you quote:

    "...the only acceptable modifiction is to delete *everything* thats MS-inspired"

    The full quote is:

    "Will somebody please tell them that the only acceptable modifiction is to delete *everything* thats MS-inspired in its entirety, and replace it lock stock and barrel by the existing Open-Office based standard."

    Making it clear that this is only in reference to the proposed ISO standard, not any actual software packages. He may feel that way about Microsoft in general, but that's not what he said here, and given the scope of this conversation, we shouldn't assume he's talking about more than the document format unless he says he is. In addition, from a purely technical perspective, I half agree. Microsoft's proposal is so bad that I suspect it was on purpose, but it doesn't really matter. What matters is that the entire proposed "standard" should be binned. I wouldn't personally suggest that Microsoft's only option be to adopt ODF (though I do think it would a good idea), they would be doing everyone - including their own internal developers - a huge favour if they would either pick an existing standard such as ODF, or design a properly interoperable format from the ground up.

  27. Hugh_Pym

    To clarify the Open Standards debate

    It is like Henry Ford setting the standard for early motoring with the Model T but somehow keeping the way roads work as a trade secret. I know it's difficult to imagine how to keep road information secret but I can't think of a better analogy so please just stick with it.

    Sure, anyone is free to make a car to compete with Ford but their car will need it's own set of roads. How can they compete when the consumer already has roads that are local and well used. What benefit is there for the driver?

    So what sort of car would we be driving now if Ford had been able to protect his market in this way. Well I think, as there would be no incentive to take commercial risks on radical re-designs, it would be built by extending the existing model. As others came up with features that might give competitive advantage Ford would add these features on to the basic machine. By now we would have a model T chassis with everything bolted on to the outside. A great lumbering beast the size of a quarry truck, a huge inefficient engine to pull it all and a massively complex subsystem stop the whole thing wobbling into the ditch when you go for a drive.

    Competition among manufacturers has given far more progress in the automotive world than Ford would have made alone but it didn't make Henry the richest man in the world. Sharing the roads may not have been in Fords interest but it certainly benefits the consumer. Not sharing them protects a monopoly and kills creativity AND capitalism.

    The PC has progressed a great deal since the original IBM PC. That's because IBM (for various reasons) couldn't stop others from making their own version and extending the model. MS Office hasn't progressed nearly as fast, though every few years a new version is available with certain incompatibilities that force us to 'upgrade'.

    Cars are faster, safer, more efficient and cheaper than ever before. PC's are faster, safer, more efficient and cheaper than ever before. Open source software is faster, safer, more efficient and cheaper than ever before. Windows and MS office are none of the above. Now get into your sleek and shiny BMW, sit in it's air conditioned, sound insulated, blaupunkt stereo'd opulence and reflect on why some people seem to hate Microsoft so much.

  28. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Other Operating Systems

    I presume all other non-Windows operating systems will be locked out of , or do I mean by, the OOXML ISO Standard, not to mention alternative office programmes.

    Correct me in I'm wrong, as no comment has addressed this directly, but the implication is strongly inferred.

    Time for a Class Action, perhaps!

  29. BitTwister

    @Don Mitchell

    >>"...the only acceptable modifiction is to delete *everything* thats MS-inspired"

    >That pretty much says it all. It's not about open standards, its about bashing Microsoft.

    Hah - I didn't think it would take too long before a Microsoft apologist popped out of the woodwork.

    Don, it's actually *everything* about open standards - and the document MS submitted failed miserably not just because they're trying to muscle in and foist yet another pile of proprietary garbage onto their handcuffed users - but because it was woefully, WOEFULLY incomplete.

    These definitions are supposed to be complete and whilst the odd technical twiddle might be needed to bang it into a polished state, it is expected that the basic groundwork will already have been done before submitting it for approval and that there are no glaringly obvious "exactly what is meant by this?" or "how can that be implemented without additional (unprovided) data?" -type questions remaining.

    This doesn't really have very much to do with the technicalities of *what* is being proposed by the standard, so no detailed understanding of software/computing etc. is necessarily required to ratify it - just a great attention to detail. There should be no holes; no missing descriptions which would prevent *anyone* from actually doing the really technical part and write code which performs actions *as defined in the standard*.

    Also, this MS-bashing you seem to see is all in your mind, mate - it's perfectly possible for a company to define their own proprietary extensions but the point is that there is a standard way of doing this. Which, as usual, was trampled on and proprietary material (ie. not possible to be replicated by others) is brazenly pushed forward into the mainstream specification.

    It failed to be ratified as an open standard because as presented, it would be utterly impossible for it to be implemented openly, by others. That's the point of having an open standard: think Redbook audio CDs - anyone can produce a CD which will be playable anywhere *because* the standard is well-defined.

    > ODF and Open Office is entirely based on the inspection and reverse engineering of Microsoft Office

    This is unfounded and irrational nonsense. There is nothing about Microsoft Office which is special, unique and er, "innovative". I don't suppose you've heard of Visicalc, WordStar and a shedload of other software which predates Microsoft? Or are you trying to say that the ability to format a document, change font size/style etc. etc. is entirely a Microsoft "innovation"?

    Hmm, I thought so...

  30. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    @Hugh Pym - Comments...

    "...It is like Henry Ford setting the standard for early motoring with the Model T but somehow keeping the way roads work as a trade secret. I know it's difficult to imagine how to keep road information secret but I can't think of a better analogy so please just stick with it...."

    It's nothing like that, that's a rubbish analogy.

    Office is an application that runs on a computer, so in your car analogy Office would be similar to something that a car supports, which isn't essential to the operation of the car. Maybe ABS, sat nav, remote control locking or Air Con, something like that. I think that you'll find that the standards that govern these sorts of devices are pretty much (but not always) treated as trade secrets. Having said that it's a rubbish analogy so trying to make sense of it isn't gong to really work.

    You then go on to state that the PC has developed quickly, but office hasn't - in what way could Moore's law be applied to any office suite? You don't get a doubling of required features or required speed in Office every 18months. Having said that if you go back to the DOS office programs, you'll find that a whole load of improvements have in fact been made. You probably aren't even aware of half of the features in Office, it really is very large/complex, probably too large for most non-corporate users to bother with.

    You state that OSS is cheaper faster better than ever before, but this is not really the case, it is, just like MS and UNIX software getting bigger and needing bigger more powerfull systems to run on. There are updates all the time, just like MS and UNIX, of varying importance. It is entirely aregueable that MS systems are not as secure as Linux, but then again Linux has nothing on z/OS or even the more locked down BSDs. You also forget that when MS came along they were the smaller, faster cheaper upstarts that barged Mainframe & UNIX out of the 100% datacentre stranglehold. Back then people hated IBM in the same way that people hate Microsoft now. IBM did similar things, keeping their protocols secret, changing them all the time (SNA for instance), but now IBM are darlings of the FOSS community because they support Linux on their big iron. I suspect it's probably going to be the same deal with MS, they'll start producing software for UNIX/Linux at some point.

    Make no mistake though, most of the people that really hate microsoft do so because they are a big company and all of the software coming out of a big company must be perfect code. No updates required, no mistakes. The problems that people have with windows are always MS' fault, never ill educated users. You move to Linux and people will put up with a whole lot more shit to get things working than they ever would with MS. (I am guilty of this myself.)

  31. Hugh_Pym

    @ fraser

    'Office is an application that runs on a computer, so in your car analogy Office would be similar to something that a car supports'

    I don't agree. You could just as easily say that a car is an application running on the internal combustion engine platform.

    The point is you don't need roads to run a car but because everybody uses the same roads, because there is no lock in, the industry as a whole is free to innovate to the benefit of the consumer. If the roads were proprietary it would be to the detriment of the industry and consumer and would only benefit the single manufacturer.

    I know that office apps power cannot double every eighteen months but I also know that even so a 'new' version is pushed at us every couple of years even though there is nothing of great value to us and the reason most people upgrade is to avoid incompatibilities with earlier version.

    In your hurry to defend of Microsoft (who are quite capable of defending themselves) you have ignored the main point.

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