Microsoft breaks their promise on standards after forcing them through ISO

Alex Brown’s blog posting illustrates nicely how, after making many beautiful promises of fixing their broken MS-OOXML format, Microsoft still fails to deliver.

You may remember how Microsoft used every dirty trick in the book, including ballot-stuffing, to force this “standard” down ISOs throat two years ago. In the meantime, many defects, large and small, were reported and Microsoft agreed to fix them, which never happened. MS-OOXML is an unimplementable monstrosity of a specification (6000 pages long) even without these defects. But with them, the whole situation becomes impossible. And some of the defects discussed might not even be errors at all, but deliberate attempts to break compatibility — these tactics are not unusual for Microsoft.

In my opinion the only way to rectify this would be to pass maintenance of MS-OOXML into the hands of an independent governing body. That would be sort of unfair, though. Microsoft implements and force-feeds us a clearly broken standard and we point out the defects. But it’s not Microsoft that has to fix them, it’s us? That’s not the way it should go.

If ISO had only maintained a stronger position when MS-OOXML went up for standardization, we might have instead put all this effort into improving a truly open standard such as OpenDocument (ODF). Now the defects reviews and meetings about MS-OOXML tie up valuable expert resources in the standards committees.

Maybe stealing a lot of time and sowing frustration inside ECMA and ISO was the whole point of MS-OOXML? You think that’s cynical and naïve, but the way things are going at the moment, might this not actually be a welcome byproduct for Microsoft? While the standards bodies are stalled, MS makes sure their broken implementation of their own broken standard is the only one that catches on. And boom, total market domination for Microsoft, all the while looking as if they are just supporting an “open standard”.

Well played.

To round this off, a quote from Brown on Microsoft’s engineers’ inability to implement even their own standards:

It is also a worrying commentary on the standards-savvyness of the Office developers that the first amateur attempts of part-time outsiders find problems with documents which Redmond’s internal QA processes have missed.

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