Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Comments to Standards Australia on OOXML

Here are the comments I submitted to Standards Australia on the proposed Draft International Standard ISO/IEC 29500, "Information technology - Office Open XML file format". Please note that these comment are as an individual IT professional and do not necessarily represent the views of any organization I may be associated with:

The British Standards Institute have taken the innovative step of using a Wiki to help prepare input on how the UK should vote on ISO ballot on Office Open XML/OOXML ( DIS 29500). There is a set of very carefully prepared detailed UK comments on the draft standard.

The UK comments typically are suggesting that proprietary and obsolete Microsoft features in the standard be replaced with non-proprietary and more up to date ones. An example is to replace an old hash algorithm from Excell with a more robust one.

The comments get a little cheeky at times, such as suggesting a "doWrongDateCalculationsLikeExcel" tag. But as far as I can see these changes are feasible and would make the standard better at the cost of causing some minor inconvenience to Microsoft. However, if OOXML needs changes to make it suitable as an international standard, then its major feature (compatibility with Microsoft Office) is lost.

There is already an XML based international standard for office document formats: OpenDocument ISO/IEC 26300:2006. ODF has similar functionality to the proposed OOXML.

There is work already underway to provide translation between OOXML and ODF. When such a translation available, Microsoft Office users can then use the existing international standard format. There would therefore be no need top adopt OOXML as an international standard.

Both OOXML and ODF are derived from existing legacy proprietary software packages: OOXML from Microsoft Office and ODF from Sun Star Office (later adopted for OpenOffice.Org). ODF is based on newer software and so has fewer quirks. Both are based on XML formats, but neither is directly compatible with web browsers or other web software.

A better approach would be to base the word processor, which is the most used part of the office document format, on a modern web XML standards, such as XHTML 2. Work on the Integrated Content Environment (ICE), Digital Scholar's Workbench and ACS Digital Library show some of the possibilities. Have shown the feasibility of this for word processing documents and to a limited extent with presentations.

The way offices work and use documents is changing. The idea of a static monolithic document, which is a facsimile of a printed document is changing. Documents are becoming collections of links to data at different locations. Traditional office formats will not be usable in this environment. Work on modular document formats, incorporating techniques such as Microformats will allow more flexible documents. These can then incorporate new ways of working, such as social networking.

From: Message to Standards Australia, Tom Worthington 21 August 2007.

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