Patent threat looms large over OOXML

The New Zealand Open Source Society (NZOSS) has grave concerns about the draft Office Open XML (OOXML) standard currently being 'fast tracked' through the ISO.

"If OOXML goes through as an ISO standard, the IT industry, government and business will encumbered with a 6000-page specification peppered with potential patent liabilities" said NZOSS President Don Christie.

"Patent threats have already been used to spread doubt amongst organisations keen to take advantage of the benefits of open source. No one knows whether such claims have any merit, but it is calculated to deter the development and use of open and alternative toolsets."

"Having your entire organisation's records locked into OOXML documents - with all your eggs in one basket - is not a prospect I would want to face, especially in the public sector, where long-term record retrieval is essential."

Alarm bells are going off in many parts of the world over OOXML. Normally ISO draft standards would be drawn up by a number of stakeholder organisations, involving an often slow process of consensus building and knowledge sharing. Since many aspects of the office document format remain proprietary, OOXML has not taken this development track.

Many people have identified technical flaws and gaps, which are inevitable when a standard of this magnitude is developed in isolation. No standard is perfect, but the more robust process followed to create and maintain the Open Document Format (ODF) - which is already an ISO standard - is likely to deliver a better outcome for all in the long term. The ODF standard went through three years of public standardization before submission to ISO, the same cannot be said of OOXML which has been rushed out at an unprecedented pace.

Everyone knows the pain of moving office documents around. There is a level of interoperability that is missing now, and OOXML's adoption will just perpetuate this problem.

The areas where interoperability breaks down are where the detail is just not there, either because of haste or to protect proprietary methods. Add the issue of portability across platforms, and OOXML fails to deliver two of the three hallmarks of a good standard.

OOXML is not a good basis for the future of office documentation, where people expect choice and more reliable ways of exchanging information.

The Society will present their concerns at a workshop on 23/24th August organised by Standards New Zealand to consider industry views on OOXML. As our national standards body, Standards New Zealand has to cast its vote on the adoption of OOXML by ISO as a full international standard.

The NZOSS submission is available below.