Ribbon tweaking

ECMA and Microsoft have responded to all these concerns of the national standards bodies. They said the fact that ODF is already an ISO standard should be no bar to their OOXML formats also being adopted – there are plenty of cases where there are two or more ISO standards that serve similar but not identical purposes. For example, TIFF/IT and PDF/X both define how images can be sent to publishers, and are both ISO standards: JPEG and PNG both do similar jobs, as do CGM and SVG, and all are ISO standards either in their own right or as part of a larger standard. The ODF file formats can’t represent Microsoft Office documents accurately, because OpenOffice -from which they were derived – doesn’t have all the features of Office. So, while the overall purpose of ODF and OOXML files is the same – namely, the storage of office documents (with a small o) – the two formats differ in their detailed capabilities and should be allowed to co-exist as ISO standards.

Ribbon tweaking

Concerning the storage of dates, Microsoft and ECMA contend that when a user types a date into an Excel workbook, Excel doesn’t store an actual date value but rather a number of days since 01/01/1900, and that since it isn’t storing a date the file format can’t be in violation of ISO 8601. Is this being disingenuous or is it just an accurate reflection of the way most spreadsheet applications work? They point out that dates can be visually presented in ISO 8601 format within Excel (YYYY-MM-DD), and that this is indeed one of the default date formats.

On the matter of graphics metafiles, the OOXML standard says you can embed WMF or EMF files, but not that you must – you could just as easily embed CGM files, which are an ISO standard. Language codes used in OOXML files can be either drawn from a short list of legacy codes or from the full list of ISO country codes, as defined in ISO 639. Microsoft and ECMA also assert that Microsoft has disclosed all the relevant patents to ECMA and ISO, so its covenant not to sue anyone who makes apps that use the OOXML file formats, either in full or in part, can be relied upon.

The “undocumented legacy

features” refers to settings such as autoSpaceLikeWord95, which the documentation says developers must decide for themselves if or how they’d implement by referring back to the old application. In most cases, Microsoft thinks any new application shouldn’t act on the presence of such a tag, other than to warn the user that their document might look slightly different than it did in the legacy application. Microsoft and ECMA also point out there are many similar tags in the ODF standard (for example, UseFormerLineSpacing) and, again, these leave it to the individual developer to decide how or if to handle them.

Now I’m not saying there aren’t any problems with the ECMA-376 standard. Nor am I saying ODF is bad. I do, however, believe OOXML is technically superior to ODF in many ways, and I want to see both as ISO standards so people can have the choice. I just wish everyone involved would behave like rational adults, stop all the name-calling and resolve their differences. It’s interesting that while five countries raised no “contradictions” and most gave three or four reasons for objecting, Denmark, Singapore and the UK gave seven, but Kenya was way out in front with 13.

How did Kenya raise nearly twice as many objections as the next three countries? Well, if you look at the PDF documents submitted by Kenya to the ISO committee, the Author metadata reveals they were written by Michael Breidthardt and Yoon Kit Yong. A quick search will soon find you a Michael Breidthardt who works for IBM Germany and is vice chairperson of ICTSB (the European Information & Communication Technologies Standards Board), and a Yoon Kit Yong who was a member of the technical committee of the Malaysian standards board, which helped steer ODF to become an ISO standard for Malaysia. Yong writes passionately about ODF on the Open Malaysia website, which is set up to promote ODF, open standards and open-source software in Malaysia. Many of the PDF responses from other countries have Lisa Rajchel listed as their author: she works for ANSI (the American National Standards Institute) and apparently received the documents from the national standard bodies and scanned or otherwise rendered them into PDF files. Some of the documents show her postal address and others her email address at ANSI. I asked Breidthardt and Yong to comment on the standards issue, and Yong replied:

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