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NLnet Press-release

NLnet again calls Microsoft for more openness "Non-disclosure will hurt standardisation OOXML"

American software vendor Microsoft announced this week --under pressure from the market-- that the company will be publishing some of its documentation on the specifications of its older, binary file formats next month. It persists in not providing a direct mapping of its new OOXML format to those same formats. NLnet Foundation, a societal investor and member of the ECMA TC45 that is led by Microsoft, is much dissatisfied with Microsoft's lack of cooperation in both areas.

"It is too little, too late. This is old stuff that is vastly incomplete and totally illegible. Anybody wanting to read his own documents in another application is dependant on lots of reverse engineering by someone, as these documents are just the tip of the iceberg," states Michiel Leenaars, strategy manager at NLnet and member of the Netherlands mirror committee for ISO/JTC1 SC34.

The Foundation points to the similarities with the SMB-case where after five years of lawsuits Microsoft was forced by the European Commission to release 15,000 pages of information to its competitors --about a technically much simpler specification than OOXML. NLnet thinks that this time the market will not wait, because Microsoft has a much weaker position that its uncooperative behaviour now assumes. "The lack of respect of Microsoft for the interests of its customers is actually hurting Microsoft itself the most. You would think they would want to shun any more controversy around OOXML if it is to become an ISO archiving standard." The foundation thinks that the national standards bodies --that explicitly requested the different binary file formats to be released in time for them to take along with their analysis of the dispositions-- are in for a suprise and that the documentation will only confuse people.

"Why publication had to wait until after the dispositions were published, is unclear. The direct demand from the national bodies has been known by Microsoft at least five months ago," says Leenaars. This leaves national bodies one week after publication by Microsoft to read yet another stack of documents on top of the many thousands of pages of dispositions that were released last monday by ECMA that also need to be reviewed comment by comment.

"Surely no-one in the world of standards wants to rubberstamp an untested proposal that is built on ghost file formats of the past not still available to them," says Leenaars. "OOXML was meant to be compatible with something very specific, but does not contain a single reference to any of the documentation that Microsoft will be publishing --not one reference. How can you claim any kind of scrutiny then?"

The Foundation is therefore sceptical about the chances for OOXML within ISO if Microsoft persists, which will be a big threat to the viablity of OOXML as an archiving standard as a whole. OOXML's role in the market as archiving standard for older Microsoft-Office generated files can also be assumed by the much more versatile Open Document Format (ISO 26300), an established ISO-standard for new Office files that is broadly supported by important players like Google, IBM, Sun Microsystems, and the open source community, as well as governments like The Netherlands, Norway and South-Africa.