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Office 2010 Breaks ISO/IEC Standard, Official Says

In response to criticism, Microsoft disclosed more information about how Office 2010 will support the controversial ISO/IEC 29500 document format standard.

Doug Mahugh, Microsoft's lead standards professional on the Office Interoperability team, on Tuesday came forward with Microsoft's plans after an influential Microsoft supporter during the standards process accused the company of bad faith. In response, Mahugh said in a blog post that Microsoft plans to fully implement the standard in its yet-to-be-announced "Office 15" release.

The bad faith accusation came from Alex Brown, a former convener of the Joint ISO/IEC Technical Committee that had helped to foster the Office Open XML (OOXML) document format as an international standard.

Brown also spearheaded a much criticized "Ballot Resolution Meeting" (BRM) that speeded up the ISO/IEC approval process. The BRM glossed over many issues associated with the standard, according to Andy Updegrove, an attorney with Boston-based Gessmer Updegrove LLP.

"Addressing and discussing each one [of the issues] in a single week would have been impossible, and Alex brokered a number of decisions that (depending on your viewpoint) either made a creative resolution possible or made a sham out of the BRM process. Up until now, Alex has staunchly defended those decisions," Updegrove wrote in a blog post.

Brown was a steadfast supporter of Microsoft during the tumultuous proceedings that led to ISO/IEC 29500 becoming a standard two years ago. However, last week, Brown accused Microsoft of not following through with the strict implementation of the ISO/IEC standard in Office 2010. Instead, Microsoft will use a transitional implementation.

"If Microsoft ship[s] Office 2010 to handle only the Transitional variant of ISO/IEC 29500 they should expect to be roundly condemned for breaking faith with the International Standards community," Brown wrote in his blog. "This is not the format 'approved by ISO/IEC,' it is the format that was rejected."

The transitional variant was rejected in September 2007, Brown explained. It was based on the Ecma-376 first edition standard for OOXML and contained portions of the spec that ISO/IEC felt should be deprecated.

Mahugh clarified that Office 15 will fully support the strict variant of the ISO/IEC 29500 standard. Office 2010 (formerly code-named "Office 14"), on the other hand, will have read-only capabilities for the strict variant but read and write capabilities for the transitional variant. Microsoft took that course to ensure compatibility and interoperability with other versions of Office, he explained.

"So although the conformance clause [in the ISO/IEC spec] says that Transitional 'should not' be used for new documents, we have decided that the needs of customers, combined with the realities of the current document format ecosystem (most existing implementations are Transitional, recent major changes to the Strict namespaces), make Transitional the right choice," Mahugh explained in the blog.

Office 2010 will be available in a couple of months. Microsoft announced that it plans to release Office 2010 to business users on May 12. The release will be part of a general product launch that includes SharePoint 2010, Project 2010 and Visio 2010.

About the Author

Kurt Mackie is online news editor, Enterprise Group, at 1105 Media Inc.

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