What's at stake?

As we near the end of the standards process for DIS29500, the final positions of various countries are starting to become known. In the last week we've seen several countries announce their final positions, including the Approve position from the United States as submitted by the INCITS executive board.

One thing that gets lost in the debate sometimes is the core question of what's at stake. Who wins or loses if Open XML becomes an ISO/IEC standard? I've heard several perspectives on that lately which I've found interesting.

One perspective came out in a conversation I had a couple weeks ago with Pierre De Muelenaere, the CEO of I.R.I.S. They've recently announced Open XML support (see Stephen McGibbon's post for details), and I was asking him about how they look at document formats in general, and how Open XML fits in to their lineup of supported formats.

Pierre explained to me that they support 75 document formats currently, including Open XML and ODF. So from his point of view, the existence of an Open XML standard or an ODF standard adds one more format to the dozens they support, and nothing more. It was a simple high-level perspective that's easy to miss when you're buried in the details of one particular format: Open XML is just one of many document formats in use today.

Another perspective is expressed in Patrick Durusau's latest posting on his web site, "Who Loses If Open XML Loses?" In Patrick's words, "As the editor of OpenDocument, I want to promote OpenDocument, extol its features, urge the widest use of it as possible, none of which is accomplished by the anti-OpenXML position in ISO. Passage of OpenXML in ISO is going to benefit OpenDocument as much as anyone else."

Chris Capossela recently posted an open letter outlining Microsoft's position on what's at stake, based on the feedback we hear from customers and partners. It's worth a close read, and one thing that is clearly covered is Microsoft's commitment to supporting the Open XML standard: "We've listened to the global community and learned a lot, and we are committed to supporting the Open XML specification that is approved by ISO/IEC in our products."

One of the benefits of Open XML that Chris's open letter covers is custom XML. This is a key benefit of the Open XML formats, and there has been some interesting debate lately about what it is, how it works, and what the benefits are for Open XML users. Se Wouter Van Vugt's blog for more on the technical discussion.