A few weeks ago I asked for users' feedback in my personal blog - in special questions that they would like to see answered by the Microsoft Office team, regarding the OOXML standard announcement.
A lot of questions from a group of community sites were relayed to Doug Mahugh, Senior Product Manager - Office, who answered those - below you will find a transcript of the Q&A with Doug:
1) Why hasn't Microsoft gone on a PR tear about the fact that the ODF format has, as of today, no less, several unresolved comments/issues? 2) How come Microsoft has not made hay about the need for ODF to resolve those comments before hammering on OOXML's comments?
Our message from the very beginning of the Open XML standards process has been that customers want to be free to choose document formats based on their own needs. From that pro-choice perspective, we've tried to keep the public conversation focused on the benefits of Open XML and not make direct comparisons between Open XML and ODF, because doing so implies that there is a need to decide which is "best," and we feel that both formats offer benefits in certain scenarios.
3) What is the value proposition in moving to the OOXML spec if you currently have a licensed, fully-functional copy of Microsoft Windows? 4) How do you position the true debate, OOXML vs previous Office formats, for non-governmental entities?
The Open XML formats offer several benefits relative to the legacy binary formats. File size is an obvious one: our studies have shown a reduction of from 30% to 50% in total storage requirements for typical distributions of documents. Specific file-size reduction is determined by the content of a document and can vary considerably, but as a general rule the file-size reduction is most significant for word-processing documents, followed by spreadsheets and then presentations.
Many organizations have concerns about long-term archival access to documents, and the Open XML formats offer benefits in this area as well. Because Open XML is an approved international standard (as both ISO/IEC IS29500 and also the original ECMA-376 format), document owners are assured of future access to the content of those documents independent of any specific software application or vendor.
For those who use documents within the context of automated business processes, the Open XML formats offer custom schema support that cleanly separates instances of business data (as custom XML parts) from the standards-based markup inside the document package. This architecture, combined with the fact that Open XML documents are simple ZIP packages, enables simplified integration with diverse business systems, and we are seeing many customers building new business processes around these capabilities.
The Open XML formats provide compatibility with all of the functionality found in existing Office binary documents, so users can enjoy benefits like those mentioned above without a loss of document fidelity.
5) Now that OOXML has been approved, how soon can we expect to see the ISO 29500 version of OOXML released? I mean the version as approved by the ISO, with the gazillion changes inserted/recommended.
ISO/IEC will release the final specification after they have reviewed it for accuracy and completeness, and they have not announced an estimated date for that release. We are not involved in that process, but it is our understanding that the review is under way and the final specification will be available soon.
6) Will Microsoft also release such a version of the approved format for previous versions of Office coincident with the release of the Office 2007 version?
We have publicly committed to supporting the IS29500 standard in our products, and the Office product team is actively working to size the work needed for support of the final IS29500 specification. We will communicate our plan as soon as possible, including details regarding the Compatibility Pack, the bulk file converter in the Office Migration Planning Manager, and other tools that we have provided to enable migration from the binary formats to Open XML.
7) Most importantly, is it technically feasible to develop a version of an OOXML batch-conversion tool that might enable the current 90% or so of the world's inventory of documents into the OOXML format? 8) If it is, is it something Microsoft is working on at this time, and when would we expect it to see the light of day?
The Office Migration Planning Manager (OMPM) is available as a free download and provides bulk conversion capabilities from the binary formats to the ECMA-376 formats.
This tool will identify documents that can be converted automatically and the small percentage of documents that may need manual review after conversion, and it will then convert the documents. Although we have nothing to announce regarding IS29500 and OMPM at this time, the capabilities it offers demonstrate Microsoft's commitment to easing the migration to Open XML for our customers and partners.
9) Apart from the obvious reason of Office being a cash cow, what made this battle one that Microsoft saw as necessary?
We did not anticipate a battle in this process. At the time Ecma submitted the Open XML formats to ISO (beginning of 2007), document format standards processes had historically been low-key and non-controversial. Consider, for example, the ODF standards process: there was no organized opposition to ODF, and none of the large vendors (including Microsoft) worked to oppose the standard in any way. So we were quite surprised to see the amount of time and energy that IBM and others devoted to opposing the Open XML standard. (For example, see http://blogs.msdn.com/brian_jones/archive/2007/12/08/ibm-s-rob-weir-makes-it-clear-he-wants-war.aspx)
Microsoft's original decision to submit the formats to Ecma for standardization was prompted by feedback from customers and others, including a recommendation from the EU in May of 2004 that "Microsoft should consider the merits of submitting XML formats to an international standards body of their choice." (http://ec.europa.eu/idabc/en/document/2592/5588) Note that this request occurred well before there was an ISO standard for ODF.
When you tell a lie often enough, it takes on a patina of truth each time it is uttered, and after a while, it starts to sound like the truth. Rumors of underhanded tactics, skullduggery, and outright bribery have been heaped on Microsoft since the win. Apart from Jason Matusow's excellent postmortem on the ISO process, The Process Challenge - A Predictable Path, Microsoft has remained silent, allowing these rumors to fester.
10) Why is Microsoft silent?
Microsoft has been outspoken in response to these allegations, especially in the blogosphere were most of the claims have been made. Two of our RTOs (Regional Technology Officers) have been especially vigilant in posting clarifications and rebuttals to incorrect claims about Microsoft conduct. Stephen McGibbon has covered such issues in Europe on many occasions (for example, explaining the situation in Norway. And Oliver Bell has played a similar role regarding Microsoft activities in the Asia Pacific region on his blog.
I've also responded to these sorts of FUD many times on my own blog; a few examples:
No. It is correct that a Microsoft employee in Sweden sent an inappropriate email to a Microsoft partner last year, which was retracted a few hours later, but by and large these rumors are fabrications and/or exaggerations.
12) Doesn't Microsoft see these rumors of possible criminal acts devalue the Office brand? And if so, shouldn't responses, either direct, or through surrogates, commence?
In addition to our own defense of our conduct as in the examples above, we have been pleased to see many non-Microsoft third parties comment on the IS29500 standards process. Here are a few examples:
13) Aren't there rumors, factual errors, and innuendos about the ‘opposition' in the OOXML standards battle that could be imparted to a totally un-impartial blogger? (Off the record, and NDA). My email inbox stands ready.
We are always interested in expanding the circle of bloggers who are discussing document-format issues. Errors in many claims are presented at the links above, and in the future you'll find many more examples on the same blogs. For any specific claims that you'd like to understand better, feel free to post a question on any of the Microsoft blogs that cover Open XML, including Brian Jones, Jason Matusow, Gray Knowlton, Eric White and myself, and we or others in the community may be able to provide context or additional information.
Or we could meet in a parking lot at night while wearing trenchcoats and discuss further if you'd like. :)