RealTime IT News

Open Office XML May Satisfy ISO

A letter to Sun Microsystems' COO Jonathan Schwartz by the European Commission (EC) this week may set the stage for the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) to adopt the Open Office XML format (also known as OO.o XML) as an ISO standard. If it does, the stamp of approval would mark the largest ever validation of Sun's work on the desktop.

The ISO has yet to chime in on the XML specification, which allows documents from different vendors to interoperate. An ISO representative was not immediately available for comment.

Tim Bray, Sun director of Web Technologies and co-author of the XML standard, said in his Weblog that the EC entertained members of both the OpenOffice and Microsoft teams to illustrate how well their XML-based office document formats could work.

"Frankly, I wasn't convinced at first that going to ISO would help the Open Office format," said Bray, who was on hand during the presentations in Brussels, Belgium, in his post. "But my management kicked me in the head and said 'It can't hurt, it doesn't cost much, and the customer wants it, stupid.' Which are good arguments. And now having had the pleasure of being the message-bearer, it's obvious that the customer and the management were right."

The story began back in May 2004, when an EC advisory group -- the Interchange of Data between Administrations (IDA) -- recommended OOo.org XML be used, "Where electronic, revisable documents are required, XML-based formats hold the promise of separating content, structure, semantics and presentation. A range of applications are available that support XML-based formats."

The IDA also suggested the industry, "provide filters that allow documents based on the WordML specifications and the emerging OASIS Open Document Format to be read and written to other applications whilst maintaining a maximum degree of faithfulness to content, structure and presentation. These filters should be made available for all products."

According to the IDA's report, Sun and Open Office won hands down.

"The submission of the OpenOffice.Org format to the Organization for the Advancement of Structured Information Standards (OASIS) in order to adopt it as the OASIS Open Office Standard should be welcomed," the EC said in its May report.

The commission also made two specific requests: that [Sun] consider taking the Open Office XML Format, currently under construction at OASIS, to ISO for consideration as an International Standard; and that [Sun] implement a set of filters to allow software to interoperate between the Open Office and Microsoft Office XML file formats.

Sun proposed taking the idea of the OASIS spec to the ISO once it is finished as far back as Sept. 1, Bray said.

Bray also pointed out that the OASIS management has already expressed an interest in the Open Office XML format. "So apparently the chances are good," Bray said. Sun said it has met the two requests by building filters for MSWordML and ExcelML and they'll be in the next releases of not only Sun's StarOffice but in the mainstream OpenOffice.org open-source code, so anyone can use them.

OpenOffice spokesperson Louis Suarez-Potts said not only had OASIS approved the OpenOffice 1.0 spec, but that the OO.o XML file format for 2.0 and beyond, will be based on the OASIS standardized file format.

"That is why the file format is desired by such international organizations," Suarez-Potts told internetnews.com.

As for Microsoft, the IDA suggested that Microsoft consider issuing a public commitment to publish and provide non-discriminatory access to future versions of its WordML specifications. The advisory group also asked Microsoft to consider the merits of submitting XML formats to an international standards body of their choice and assess the possibility of excluding non-XML-formatted components from WordML documents.

"Transparency and accessibility requirements dictate that public information and government transactions avoid depending on technologies that imply or impose a specific product or platform on businesses or citizens," the EC said in its criticism of Microsoft in its recent announcement.

A spokesperson for Microsoft was not immediately available for comment on where the Redmond, Wash.-based software giant stood on appeasing the IDA and its recommendations.

And while Microsoft's software is the dominant enterprise tool on the desktop, OO.o XML's backing by the EC, OASIS and possibly the ISO certainly takes some wind out of the sails of Microsoft and its Office suite of enterprise products, such as Word and Excel.

Ever since the European Union's regulatory body ruled that Microsoft abused its "virtual monopoly" with its Windows operating system and broke European antitrust law governing competition, the EU has been aggressively looking for a platform that can be supported by multiple vendors. Meantime, Microsoft seems resigned to the fact that it may have to replace specific products to keep overseas regulators satisfied.

It was Sun that started the Open Office community in 2000 as a way to battle Microsoft at its own desktop game. Both Sun's StarOffice and its open source counterpart, OpenOffice.org, are emerging as leading alternatives to Microsoft Office on the Windows platform, according to Sun's statistics.

Sun has also made its own deal with Microsoft; one that has drawn criticism by open source advocates who claim that Sun is forced into a corner to help defend any infringement claims that Microsoft makes.

Available through many means, more than 60 systems OEMs and more than 35 million copies of StarOffice and OpenOffice have been distributed, according to Sun. The recent updates to GNOME and KDE are also expected to help fuel development.

The OpenOffice software suite offers similar word processing, spreadsheet and presentation software. The platform will run on both *nix and Window environments and is dual-licensed under the LGPL (GNU Lesser General Public License) and SISSL (Sun Industry Standards Source License).

Governments around the world appear to be taking an interest in OpenOffice.org and open source software in general. As previously reported, the city of Austin, Texas recently adopted OpenOffice.org software and governments in Germany, France, Brazil and China to name of few have stated interest in going the open source route, as well. In the United Kingdom, Scottish Public Libraries have made Openoffice.org software available for lending to the public.