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Anti-Microsoft Office campaign gathers pace

By Simon Aughton

Posted on 13 Jul 2007 at 15:06

More than 20,000 people have put their names to a web petition opposing Microsoft's attempts to have its new Office file format accepted as an international standard.

The petition calls on members of the ISO (International Organization for Standardization) to vote against accepting Open XML, which it says Microsoft is trying to fast-track through the approval process

"People are outraged by what's going on," said petition author Benjamin Henrion. "Not since the software patents fight have we seen such a reaction from the online community. And it's gone global. Users are happy with the existing international standard for documents, and can't see why Microsoft is forcing its own standard except in pure self-interest."

Henrion says that Microsoft's specification is closed, protected by patents and secrets. The petition lists eight objections. Others have pointed to serious bugs, such as the format's inability to handle dates before 1900.

The Foundation for a Free Information Infrastructure (FFII), which set up the No OOXML campaign, insists that Microsoft has not answered its accusations that OOXML is what FFII president Pieter Hintjens describes as a low-quality closed specification.

"Instead it lobbies to subvert the term 'open standard' to include non-open patented formats like OOXML,' Hintjens said. "It justifies its cynical violation of ISO by claiming that 'users demand multiple standards', that more standards means more choice. It's ironic that Microsoft's business in fact depends on taking real choice away from its customers. Let me be clear: an open standard is unpatented and is free to all. Email is an open standard. HTTP is an open standard. OOXML is not."

Microsoft insists that opposition to OOXML is "a blatant attempt to use the standards process to limit choice in the marketplace" and rejects the argument that because the ODF format has already been accepted as a standard, that precludes any alternative. Tom Robertson, Microsoft's GM for Interoperability & Standards says that it's important to recognise that ODF and Open XML were created with very different design goals: ODF is closely tied to OpenOffice and reflects the functionality in that product.

"If successful, the campaign to block consideration of Open XML could create a dynamic where the first technology to the standards body, regardless of technical merit, gets to preclude other related ones from being considered," said Robertson. "In XML-based file formats, which can easily interoperate through translators and be implemented side by side in productivity software, this exclusivity makes no sense - except to those who lack confidence in their ability to compete in the marketplace on the technical merits of their alternative standard. This campaign to limit choice and force their single standard on consumers should be resisted."

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