Microsoft criticized for Open XML petition

Company urges fast-track standardization of Office Open XML; open-source advocates say Microsoft is worried rivals will gain too much ground.

An online petition posted by Microsoft to fast-track the standardization of its Office Open XML document format masks the company's concern over the procedure, according to a leading open-source advocate.

The petition is an attempt to make it appear that Open XML has "pseudo-grassroots" support, argues Mark Taylor, the founder of the Open Source Consortium.

"In the open-source world, there's clearly a massive grassroots thing," Taylor told ZDNet UK on Thursday. "One of the lessons Microsoft has been trying to learn from open source is that--but they have to fake it. If there was any grassroots support behind it, the time to have done (the petition) would have been ages ago."

The petition, which was uploaded to Microsoft's U.K. site on March 29, asks businesses to show their support for the Open XML format being fast-tracked through the standardization process at the International Organization for Standardization (ISO). The format is integral to Office 2007, but Microsoft is pushing it as an international open standard for documents, spreadsheets and presentations.

"We already have an international standard, the OpenDocument format, and governments are increasingly adopting it," said Taylor on Thursday. "Having a second standard is utterly unnecessary."

Taylor also speculated that the timing of the release of the petition--which was shortly before the Easter and Passover holidays--was intended to make resistance to the campaign less likely. Despite the recent advancement of Open XML onto a new stage of the standardization process, Taylor also suggested that Microsoft was "in major trouble trying to get Open XML pushed through" and the petition "shows their worry."

That view was echoed by Rufus Pollock, the director of the Foundation for Free Information Infrastructure (FFII), who told ZDNet UK that Microsoft was pushing for the fast-track because it feared the spread of the OpenDocument Format through the popular OpenOffice package. Pointing out that the specifications for Open XML run to 6,000 pages, he suggested that fast-track standardization would be inappropriate because there were "a lot of concerns about what might be in there," such as patents.

"An over-complex proposal being pushed through is not going to be good for anyone, other than perhaps Microsoft," Pollock said.

David Meyer of ZDNet UK reported from London.

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