Open XML changes in bid to swing ISO votes

Microsoft's push for Office Open XML as an ISO standard continues with a 2,300-page document listing changes.

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The standards body that is pushing Microsoft's Office Open XML document format for approval as an ISO standard published a 2,300-page document on Monday addressing complaints and suggestions about the format made by International Standards Organisation members after it failed to win enough votes in an initial round of balloting.

The most significant changes in the standards submission by Geneva-based Ecma International include the sidelining of a graphics rendering technology used by Microsoft but few other vendors, and the release of more information on how Open XML, the native file format in Office 2007, supports file compatibility with older Office documents.

The compatibility information could help backers of the rival Open Document Format for Office Applications to build better ties between ODF and documents stored in Microsoft's older file formats, said Peter O'Kelly, an analyst at Burton Group in Utah. The current lack of such compatibility is a major weakness for ODF, according to a report that was released Monday and co-written by O'Kelly and fellow Burton analyst Guy Creese.

Ensuring that documents don't lose any formatting or metadata as they are converted from one format to another "is the biggest problem," O'Kelly said. "If you send out a sales presentation and there's a layout change when it comes back, that can be a big deal."

O'Kelly added that he doesn't think Microsoft had deliberately withheld the documentation to thwart the integration efforts of ODF backers. "People working in Microsoft probably found the documentation lacking [as well]," he said.

But Marino Marcich, executive director of the ODF Alliance lobbying group in Washington, contended that having more documentation won't help outside vendors make their file formats more compatible with Microsoft's older ones.

Marcich said via email that a move by Microsoft "to disable access to 'legacy' documents" in newer releases such as Office 2003 Service Pack 3 "effectively cut the legs out from under Microsoft's main selling point for [Open XML], which is 'backwards compatibility.'"

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