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Microsoft’s draft Open XML straitjacket arrives


The Intermediate Draft 1.3 of Microsoft’s Open XML office document standard has been released by Ecma International, a European standards organization. At 4,000 plus pages, a 6.7MB Microsoft Word document, the Open XML draft standard is less of a standard and more of a painfully detailed description of how Open XML could be used to display almost any possible Microsoft Office document. Note, I say, Microsoft Office document.

While Microsoft is proposing this as the better alternative to ODF (OpenDocument Format), as Andrew “Andy” Updegrove, a partner with Boston law firm Gesmer Updegrove LLP and the editor of, points out, the level is so high, that if Open XML became a standard, “only clones can be built, which is good for interoperability, but death to innovation. It can also be death to competition, since if (as in this case) the standard is based on an existing product, then no would-be competitor would ever expect to be able to catch up with the incumbent, much less compete on price.”

How extreme is the level of detail? Brian Jones, a Microsoft Office program manager, cites “the documentation for the simple type “ST_Border” which starts on page 1617 (it’s in the WordprocessingML reference section under simple types). That shows a list of almost 200 legacy border patterns that you can apply to objects in a Word document.”

And, at this point, eWEEK’s ace reporter Peter Galli quotes a Microsoft spokesperson as saying, “And this is just the first draft.”

This isn’t a standard; it’s a straitjacket.

Still, in a way, the proposed elephant-sized Open XML is doing open standards a favor. By being so ungainly, by being so time-consuming in its writing, it will give ODF a greater chance to gain market share.

Now that ODF has become an ISO standard, Microsoft Office ODF support is forthcoming, and another major document management program, IBM Lotus Notes, has thrown its support behind the standard, Microsoft’s attempt to short-circuit a truly open office standard may be a case of too little, too late, no matter how big its standard grows.

If you’re interested, you can read the full Open XML draft standard here.

A version of this story first appeared in DesktopLinux.

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