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OOXML approval only first step in road to adoption

OOXML approval only first step in road to adoption

OOXML standard is about choice, says Microsoft.

No matter which side you're on or whom you believe, OOXML is now on par with ODF as an international standard. The practical question for business, government and consumer users of Office and other productivity suites remains: What comes next, and how will they be affected?

Proper implementation of the standard in Office 2007 seems to be a likely next step. Office 2007 is the suite that sparked the war when Microsoft decided to create its own XML-based document format for it and not include the existing ODF technology as a native file format.

Robertson said now that the format has been ratified, Microsoft will begin working on a road map for implementation, although he could not say when that would happen. That's probably because the ISO, which will oversee the standard going forward, still has work to do before the first OOXML specification will be finalized, which most expect will happen sometime before the end of the year.

Some, both privately and publicly, said the standards group will have its work cut out because the spec as it is now cannot legitimately be implemented, and there will need to be serious revision -- a thorough "scrubbing," as one critic put it -- before that can happen broadly.

"No one can actually implement this standard. Not even Microsoft," said Pamela Jones, author of the popular Groklaw blog and an outspoken critic of the OOXML process. "But even if they did, only Microsoft can really do so, because the format references proprietary stuff from the past. Stuff that is patented, no doubt, but mainly just unknown and unknowable, at least at the level Microsoft knows it."

Robertson said that the work being done in the ISO to finalize OOXML should rectify any problems of complexity, and the spec as it is now is far less complex than it was upon submission.

Moreover, CompTIA's van den Beld said it's "not true" that the OOXML spec can't be implemented, because companies such as IBM and others already have done so.

However, IBM said that it has not actually implemented OOXML, but its productivity applications merely "recognize" OOXML as a file format.

"It's kind of like when you encounter a "read-only" file on your computer, where it knows enough to give you a sense of what the file is and its characteristics," said IBM spokesman Ari Fishkind. "But it won't allow you to actually work with the file. So, it's misleading to suggest that a vendor has adopted, embraced or implemented that particular file format."

All of this quibbling proves there are still issues to resolve over how OOXML will be implemented in real-world scenarios.

It also does not solve the problem Office 2007 users still have: while files that are written in previous versions of Office can be opened as OOXML .docx files in Office 2007, files saved to the .docx file format can't be read by people using older versions of Office unless they have installed an OOXML converter.

While one is available online from Microsoft -- and according to Robertson, is one of the company's most popular downloads-- it's still an extra step users have to go through to read .docx documents, so many still choose to save Office 2007 documents in the old .doc file format, or Word 97-2003, instead of OOXML as it's been implemented in Office 2007.

Another issue at hand is whether Microsoft will ever include native support for ODF in Office 2007 now that the company expects the world to adopt OOXML as a file format. To date, the company has no plans to do so, and is encouraging people to use the OOXML converter for using ODF files in Office.

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