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Microsoft open formats still unconvincing

It is likely that most authors of repository content, like most of the general population of the planet, use Microsoft Office tools. This may not be immediately apparent, but Office is likely to be the source of most pdfs found in repositories. For presentation and preservation, apparently, repositories prefer pdf to ‘closed’ MS formats.

With the highly-contested but eventual ratification of Open Office XML (OOXML) as an ISO open standard format, it seems likely this perception will change, but progress has not been smooth.

Broadly, for archival purposes open standards are good. The recent news story, on plans by MS and a German research institute to build an online tool to validate documents against internationally recognised document-format standards that are intended to provide a format that can be supported by productivity software from any vendor, seems to mark further progress. This in turn followed the introduction of a series of tools intended to improve interoperability between Office Open XML (OOXML) and other XML-based document formats such as the OpenDocument Format (ODF), and various related developments.

So it was curious then that a spokesperson for the competing ODF should say that: “The feeling had been that OOXML was dead in the water”. How can this be reconciled with ongoing MS developments? A possible source for this claim is this news blog. The MS pledges referred to have since largely been fulfilled yet the problems may go deeper:

“For the majority of customers, who don’t particularly care about the new format, the switch to OOXML means jumping through hoops either to reconfigure its Office 2007 installations to default to Microsoft’s binary Office formats, or to install add-on software to OOXML-enable previous Office versions.

“For the customers who do care about open formats, OOXML does not–and probably cannot–fit the bill. The version of OOXML that ships with Office 2007 is not even the same version of the format that’s managed (through much controversy) to earn ISO’s stamp of approval. Indeed, the differences between the on-paper OOXML and the one that lives in Office are great enough that Microsoft has stated that Office won’t support the standardized version of OOXML until the next iteration of Office ships”

As a result the route to adoption of MS open formats has been murkier and the pace slower than might have been envisaged.

It will be interesting to see if OOXML objects start to appear in repositories in significant numbers, if repository deposit policies adapt to allow such formats. If so, we might see risk analysis profiles of the format, factoring in some of the issues raised in news and comment, something like the preliminary profiles of other formats produced by KeepIt project developer Dave Tarrant. Recent efforts by MS are likely to improve the result of any such profile, but will this be enough?

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