The Shuttleworth Foundation has come out in favour of last week's International Standards Organisation (ISO) rejection of Microsoft's bid to have two official XML document standards.
Microsoft’s application to the International Standards Organisation (ISO) to have its OOXML document format approved alongside the existing open document format (ODF) through a fast tracked process was rejected.
The Shuttleworth Foundation supports this ruling based on the negative impact the approval of two incomplete standards would have on open access.
Microsoft has developed its own open document format in the form of OOXML, despite the prior existence of a community-developed standard, in the form of ODF.
Andrew Rens, Intellectual Property Fellow for the Shuttleworth Foundation, comments: “The use of two different document standards by governments, for example, would create a barrier to citizens being able to effectively access government information. It would also hinder the general sharing of information because it would create technical difficulties for people using different formats.”
ISO has already adopted the ODF format and its member organisations see no need for a second open document format to exist.
Despite this, Microsoft has developed its own format, which is not fully open, according to Rens, and which it wanted adopted as an official standard alongside ODF.
The ISO conduction a fast track ballot, which resulted in the decision.
Rens explains that prior to the ISO ballot closing on 2 September 2007, a technical sub-committee of the South African Bureau of Standards (SABS) had rejected the Microsoft standard by 13 votes to 4.
On Wednesday 18 July 2007, this technical sub-committee resolved to recommend that South Africa should vote against the adoption of OOXML as an international standard. The proposed standard was rejected for a number of technical reasons, amongst them concerns about possible intellectual property
rights claims against those implementing OOXML.
“OOXML is based on proprietary software,” states Rens.
“Internationally a number of doubts have been raised as to whether the intellectual property undertakings by Microsoft to not litigate against users of the proposed standard are sufficient,” he continues. “In South Africa there is an additional problem because Microsoft has a number of patent claims in respect of XML formatting that it does not hold in other countries, such as the US. For South Africans to be able to use the format without fear of being sued by Microsoft, those claims would have to be dealt with appropriately.”
Rens believes that having two opposing open document standards would re-introduce an age-old problem where documents created in the one standard are not adequately compatible with the other. Instead of introducing a second standard, it would be more productive for vendors to contribute to the existing standard. This view was supported by the voting members of ISO last week.
However, the ruling made by ISO is a tentative one and OOXML can still be considered by ISO as part of a longer process.
“According to the Shuttleworth Foundation, this possibility represents a threat to access to information,” says Rens. “Technology is allowing people to share information across the globe much more easily, cheaply and quickly than ever before, to the benefit of developing countries. Multiple formats, especially proprietary formats, present an unnecessary barrier to access to knowledge.
"The Shuttleworth Foundation remains committed to defending the rights of South Africans in terms of easy access to information and wholly opposes Microsoft’s attempt to introduce a second XML document format standard.”