CyberTech Rambler

December 8, 2005

Microsoft ECMA process, a mockery of standardization?

Filed under: Uncategorized — ctrambler @ 12:27 pm

Microsoft’s ECMA Process for Office XML

For an overview of ECMA process, read Pamela Jone’s Groklaw article (Second Half) . In the same article, PJ do discuss the Terms of Reference for the process and good Andy Updegrove have an analysis of the Terms of Reference. A Term of Reference, as I understand it, set out the goals for a particular committee, in this case, the “Technical Committee” in ECMA for Office XML format. CCIA’s letter asking ECMA to reject the proposal is a must read.

The first thing that strike anyone who read the Term of Reference is how many times the word Microsoft is used. The second thing that strike me the strange goal of defining a format that “conforms” to Microsoft’s XML format. The goal is strange because normally it is a proprietary format that have to conform with International Standard, not the other way round as described in this terms of reference. It also means the goal of the Technical Committee is to chase behind and play catch up to Microsoft’s Office XML format. Andy Updegrove express this very well when he imply this is really a pervesion of the standardization process.

Lets also have a look at the composition of the Technical Committee. A good committee is one that contains both technical expert (in this case, office software vendors) and users (software users). There is no members there that is another serious vendor of office productivity software. Apple’s involvement looks to be to be a “user” rather than a “developer”. There is nothing much to talk about Apple’s expertise in developing office productivity software. Microsoft is the solo expert here. This in normal circumstances give it a lot of clout already, not to mention a process that is geared strongly to give it an advantage. The lack of a second serious technical expert is glaring, even after taking into account that SUN and Corel, two major players in office productivity would not be expected to join this Technical Committee because of their involvement in OpenDocumentFormat (ODF). I would expect secondary players, such as vendors of complementary software in the Technical Committee. Contrast this with the ODF process. Here we see involvement of smaller players such as KDE and IBM. [IBM was a surprise to me. IBM’s commitment to ODF is serious. They promoted it and even went to the length of writing a letter to Massachusetts’s Governor estolling their support and have Bob Sutor writes a blog entry about the importance of openness and what it means. However, as I do not see any office productivity software on offer from them at present, hence, until next year when the first copy of of Workspace Managed Client software that do actually read/write in ODF is sold, IBM is, in my opinion, not a player in office productivity software]

The composition of “users” in the technical committee is not as impressive as ODF’s committee. British Library is the big name here, but British Library’s Adam Farquhar comment , as analyzed by Updegrove implies that they are simply happy to be able to offer another format to their users, they are not as enthusiastic as Microsoft’s implies in their initial Press Release announcing this standardization effort. Although the British Library is capable for bring their expertise on archiving documents to the table, I just have this gut feeling that they would not and this is really a pity. I am also rather unsure what expertise Toshiba and Apple is bringing to the table.

Since Microsoft is very late to bring its format to the standardization process, this Technical Committee looks like a “Rubber Stamping” committee to endorse Microsoft Office XML format. In fact, the emphasis on creating “a standard that conform to Microsoft Office XML Standard” in the Terms of Reference suggest that the easiest way for the Technical Committee to reach its aim is to beg/bribe Microsoft to put its Office XML Standard in the folder where the proposed standard is supposed to be stored. The best that can come out of the process is better documentation of the Office XML Standard, and we do not really need a Technical Committee to write the documentation, Microsoft can do it itself.

Given that the current Office XML format development is virtually completed, it is not very difficult for me to accept and rubberstamp Office XML Standard as it is currently available *on the proviso that”, the next revision should allow British Library and other members to bring in their expertise to bear. It iis difficult to see how this is possible from the Terms of Refence as it is written in such a way that in effect says that this is not the task for this Technical Committee. The pessimist in me will say that this is a Technical committee that will simply convene to “rubber stamp” the next Office XML standard again.

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