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An Open Letter from Chris Capossela, Senior Vice President, Microsoft Office

Published: March 16, 2008 | Updated: March 16, 2008

In today's digital world, there is a critical need to access, share and archive information. People want to share information with co-workers, business partners, family members and others regardless of the technology platform or software application being used. People want to be able to store and archive documents so that the information they contain can be accessed well into the future. Long-term access to documents is particularly important in the case of governments given the critical and historical nature of government information and the associated requirements for preservation and access moving forward.

Why choose the Ecma Office Open XML File Formats?

Office Open XML fulfills an important customer need - the file format was designed to be backward compatible with the content and functionality in billions of existing documents. This enhances archiving capabilities, which is one of the key reasons the U.S. Library of Congress and The British Library contributed to the development of the Ecma standard. Additionally, Open XML allows for custom XML markup within the body of a document which is a handy way to allow users to tag their content for interoperability with other types of software such as a custom line of business system.

The technological benefits of Open XML are being utilized by a wide range of companies across the industry. For example, Novell, Corel, Apple, IBM, Sun, and others have already adopted (or announced adoption of) Open XML in their products on a variety of platforms -- including Linux, Windows, Mac OS, Palm OS, Java, and .NET. This is a remarkable testament to both the viability of, and broad customer demand for, Open XML-based applications.

Some people argue for a "one standard, government mandated" approach. However, the number of document format standards already in existence and those emerging – including PDF/A, HTML, ODF, CDF, UOF and Open XML – demonstrate that there are greater customer needs than can be met with one format. Moreover, mandating one approach would limit the industry's incentive to develop new features and applications that were not contemplated by the one chosen format. Consistent with what has been done in other areas of technology (e.g., image formats, such as JPEG, TIFF and digital video formats, such as MPEG-2 and H.264), where overlapping standards (including multiple ISO/IEC standards) that address distinct user needs have been approved and have substantially benefited customers, we feel that customers will choose to use different document formats based on what they want or expect to need in the future.

The benefits of global stewardship

Over the past 14 months the global standards community has been through an amazing process, and the Open XML specification is stronger and better because of it. The 3-step ISO/IEC ratification process is designed to allow the global community the opportunity to review a proposed specification, raise issues about it and work with the submitter to improve it before a final determination is made. It is designed to move national bodies towards consensus approval of the specification. At the close of the second phase on September 2nd, 74 percent of the voting national bodies supported approval of the specification and many national bodies issued comments for resolution in the final phase. What's truly remarkable is how responsive Ecma's technical committee was in reviewing and responding to every one of those comments, often working with national bodies to ensure that the responses fully addressed the issue raised. Ecma published drafts of its proposed dispositions over a period of months and issued a complete report on proposed dispositions in mid-January, giving national bodies the ability to thoughtfully consider all of them well in advance of the Ballot Resolution Meeting. Many national bodies indicated that they were satisfied with proposed dispositions before the Ballot Resolution Meeting in late February. At that Meeting, representatives from more than thirty national bodies met for a full week to prioritize and discuss key issues and refine dispositions. The meeting ended with the national bodies deciding to adopt changes to the specification to address the issues that were raised prior to September 2nd. The rigorous input and debate that the Open XML file format has received from national bodies around the world is remarkable, and the final product of their work represents engineering excellence worthy of ISO/IEC approval. If Open XML is approved as an ISO/IEC standard, the story would not end there – like any other standard, maintenance affords the opportunity for continually updating and improving the standard. In this case, the global community would be in control of the evolution of this standard going forward – a fitting result given that this format will be widely used around the world for years to come.

As a result of global feedback and consideration, the Open XML standard under consideration by ISO/IEC has been significantly improved. Microsoft has been afforded a wonderful opportunity as a result of this process. We've listened to the global community and learned a lot, and we are committed to supporting the Open XML specification that is approved by ISO/IEC in our products.

Pledging our support

Above and beyond our own implementation, however, I wish to make it clear that to enable broader adoption of the format – including for use by our current and future competitors - we have made our commitment to Open XML unambiguous, and as such have made (through our Open Specification Promise) irrevocable, royalty-free patent commitments to all developers to implement the formats.

We submitted the original Open XML specification to Ecma International for consideration in 2005 because we wanted to respond to our public and private sector customers' requests that we turn over control of the specification to the community. Ecma International's further development of the specification for more than a year, and its adoption of Open XML as an Ecma International Standard (Ecma 376) in December 2006 was a realization of that goal. Now, the global community has the opportunity to take control of the future of the specification by ratifying Ecma 376 as an ISO/IEC standard. We know that it will be in good hands when this happens based on the tremendous work and improvements that have been made to the specification during the ISO/IEC process over the past 14 months. We are committed to the healthy maintenance of the standard once ratification takes place so that it will continue to be useful and relevant to the rapidly growing number of implementers and users around the world.

We have listened to our customers and the community and are proud of the work that has been done on the Open XML formats. We believe that these formats deliver unique value to the industry and users will benefit from it being in the hands of the global community as an ISO/IEC standard.

Video of Chris Capossela commenting the Open Letter