Congrats to the OOXML Team!

Yes, Office Open XML is now (almost) a standard. Open source users are upset, which seems a natural course of events. Heck, I am too.

But I also wonder if the preliminary approval of OOXML as an ISO standard might not be the biggest gift to Linux and Open Software… ever.

I’ll admit it, I’m greatly disappointed in the move by the International Standards Organization (ISO) to formally approve the Office Open XML format as a standard.

A lot of people will read that statement and say, “yeah, just another Linux fanboi crying in his (free as in) beer. Wah, wah. Get over it.”

Perhaps, if I can be brutally candid, they would not be far wrong.

But, speaking for myself, there are more reasons why I am disappointed. Reasons that go beyond the knee-jerk Microsoft bashing that many in the Linux community employ.

Primarily, my biggest sense of disappointment comes from watching the ISO process itself. When I was a young physics major, I read about the holiest of holies: the standards that were kept (physically) at various locations around the world. You know, the standard gram weights and such kept locked away protected from the world at the International Bureau of Weights and Measures (BIPM), and used for the ultimate calibration of other objects.

I imagined what the process must have been like, determining just what would be the formal definition of a gram. Who decided that? I pictured an august body of learned men and women debating the topic, determining what would be the final definition of a gram.

Now, the BIPM is not the ISO. Still, I had this crazy notion that standards formed by the ISO would be approached with a similar determination and care.

Apparently not.

Over the course of this past year or so, we have all watched with dismay how political and business… acumen have effectively circumvented the whole point of the standards approval process. It was not just that the OOXML standard was from Microsoft. It was that expert after expert declared there were real technical problems with the format. It was that, for whatever reason, Microsoft felt the need to shove the standard through the fast track process, blithely ignoring calls that there were still technical concerns.

Well, I for one want to be the first to say to Microsoft congratulations, and thanks!

Thanks Microsoft, for demonstrating just how far you are willing to go to get your way in the marketplace. Having determined that your format could not be approved on technical merit, you blatantly gamed the ISO system to push it through anyway. Good for you.

Now you have given the world a standard that is cumbersome, possibly broken, and very likely not really open enough to be used by any company other than its author. Congratulations!

Because now, like it or not, you will ultimately be held responsible for your actions. Entire nations are looking askance at this standard and your practices. Very soon, I believe, entire nations are going to start looking for alternatives to your brand of software lock-in, as they discover just how “good” OOXML really is.

Several proponents of OOXML have indicated that the marketplace should decide which format they want to use. I would agree 100%, provided that the rules of the marketplace were not continually manipulated by those doing business within.

(Sidebar question: if OOXML was such a good format, why would it not stand on its own merits? Why did there have to be such committee loading? Oh, that’s right, the big bad IBM boogyman lobbying against OOXML. Still, one would think that a solid OOXML format would be able to withstand such lobbying. Huh, go figure.)

Hey, now the proponents have their wish… there are now two “open” document format standards. I’d like to see how the marketplace decides… if I could believe the marketplace would truly be left to its own devices. Which it won’t.

That’s Microsoft’s big problem now. Keep interfering, and risk the wrath of the EU nations (and perhaps others). Don’t interfere, and people may discover all the current faults in OOXML for themselves and seek out their own alternatives.

Sounds like a good thing for open source proponents to me.