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Linux Foundation Statement on OOXML

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On September 2, the comment and voting period will close on ISO/IEC DIS 29500, the draft specification based upon Microsoft's Office Open XML formats (OOXML). The Linux Foundation (LF) has received questions from outside its membership regarding its position on adoption of OOXML in its current form as a global standard, and on the adoption process itself.

By way of context: Central to the mission of the Linux Foundation, is the creation of standards that become widely adopted. In furtherance of that result, the Linux Foundation (then known as the Free Standards Group) successfully submitted the Linux Standard Base (LSB) to ISO/IEC for adoption through a process similar to that now being employed to review OOXML. The LSB has now been implemented by all major distributions of Linux.

As a result, the Linux Foundation is not only familiar with, but has a vested interest in the preservation of the validity and integrity of the global standards adoption process. When that process works well, everyone wins. The modern world has become utterly dependent upon technology, and therefore upon the ability of standards organizations to provide interoperability and other open standards as well. With the conversion of paper documents to digital formats, the world has also become utterly dependent upon the ability of those documents to be accessed in the future. Creation of documents in proprietary formats at best jeopardizes that ability, and at worst guarantees that easy access in the future will be impossible.

Consequently, the Linux Foundation believes it is important for effective and robust document format standards to be developed, and for those standards to be universally adopted. In order for universal adoption to be achieved, it is equally important for the process that creates those standards to be above reproach.

More specifically, the Linux Foundation supports the activities of the Linux Desktop Architects and their work enhancing the Linux desktop. The Linux Foundation believes that Linux on the desktop will become increasingly widely deployed, and therefore the availability of robust, widely adopted – and easily implemented – document format standards are of great importance to those that develop, sell and use Linux in this way.

Finally, the Linux Foundation notes that there already exists an ISO/IEC standard intended for a similar purpose – the Open Document Format (ODF) – that has been implemented in at least a dozen products, both open source as well as proprietary. These products have been developed and released by multiple vendors (including several Linux Foundation members). While the current voting in ISO/IEC JTC1 is based upon the technical merits and issues relating to OOXML, the Linux Foundation believes that the marketplace would be better served by all vendors – including Microsoft – uniting around the implementation and further development of a single, common specification. Given the existence and prior ISO/IEC JTC1 adoption of ODF, and the fact that OOXML (which is a new specification) will require translation of existing documents as well, the Linux Foundation believes that the better platform for that effort would be ODF.

With that as prelude, the Linux Foundation offers the following advice to those that are still considering how to vote on ISO/IEC DIS 29500:

1. The OOXML specification is extremely lengthy. Based upon all that we have been able to learn, the review period that has been allowed is insufficient to provide confidence that all issues that may need to be resolved before OOXML could meet minimum quality standards. Accordingly, the Linux Foundation believes that adoption of OOXML, after addressing only those issues that have been identified to date, would be unwise.

2. That said, there have already been hundreds of issues that have been raised. While some of these issues are minor, many are not. The Linux Foundation believes that OOXML is simply not mature enough at this point to be granted approval as an ISO/IEC standard. Many, but not all, of these issues have been summarized here:

3. ISO/IEC standards are supposed to reference other globally adopted standards where those standards exist. In the case of OOXML, many proprietary Microsoft specifications have been referenced. In some cases (e.g., language codes, vector graphics), Microsoft has used its own, internal codes and specifications rather than already existing, publicly available alternatives. This not only violates ISO/IEC rules, but also puts in question whether implementers can fully implement OOXML without infringing intellectual property rights (IPR) of Microsoft. Will those IPRs be available? If so, upon what terms will they be available? The answers to these questions appear to be currently unknown.

4. OOXML is specific to Windows and other Microsoft products. It is uncertain whether OOXML-based documents will be easily created, saved, and opened using other operating systems – like Linux – and applications, with or without converters or translators. An international standard should be created in the first instance to be neutral to all operating systems and other products.

For all these reasons and more, the Linux Foundation calls upon those National Bodies that have not yet cast their votes to vote "No, with comments." Those comments should reflect their best, neutral, technical judgment, based upon OOXML in its current form. Only by doing so, we believe, can both the future availability of documents, but the integrity of the standard setting process be assured.

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