Alex Brown, the convener of ISO's OOXML subcommittee (SC34), criticized Microsoft last week for failing to properly support the standard in Office 2010. Brown declared that Microsoft's office format was "heading for failure" due to the growing number of unresolved technical deficiencies and Microsoft's own apparent lack of interest in implementing ISO's revised version of the standard.
Microsoft technical evangelist Doug Mahugh responded on Wednesday in an effort to clarify Microsoft's intentions for OOXML support. He said that Microsoft is strongly committed to the standard and plans to achieve full compliance with the ISO-approved specification. He explained that Microsoft was unable to support strict OOXML compliance in Office 2010 due to various logistical issues and time constraints.
The OOXML standard defines two separate variants of the document format. There is a "transitional" variant that is intended for legacy compatibility and there is a "strict" variant that is based on ISO's revisions and improvements to the standard. The transitional variant is not supposed to be used to produce new documents.
Office 2010 controversially lacks full support for the strict variant. New documents created with the office suite will have to be saved in the legacy transitional format, which uses features that are supposed to be deprecated. This will make it difficult to enable interoperability with modern third-party implementations of the standard.
From the perspective of Brown and others who worked to accommodate Microsoft during the ISO approval process, the company has betrayed its responsibility to conform with the standard. Mahugh contends that Microsoft was simply unable to include a conforming implementation in Office 2010 because the product's development roadmap was already locked in while ISO was still revising the standard. By the time that the specification was finalized, he says, it was already too late to do a full implementation for Office 2010.
He also highlights a number of extremely broad changes that were made to the strict variant of the standard after it received ISO approval. Due to the number of significant revisions relating to namespace usage and other aspects of the document format, he implies that it would simply not have been possible to implement full strict compatibility in time for the release of Office 2010, even if Microsoft had made an aggressive effort to do so.
Although Office 2010 will use the transitional variant as its default format, it will have preliminary read-only support for the strict variant. This will make it possible for Office 2010 to load documents that are created by third-party tools based on the proper version of the standard. Microsoft aims to have complete conformance with the strict variant "no later" than the release of Office 15, the next major version after Office 2010.
The "no later" part suggests that Microsoft could potentially make full strict support available to Office 2010 users with a plug-in or service pack before Office 15 debuts—a move that Brown strongly encouraged in his blog entry.
In addition to affirming Microsoft's commitment to conformance, Mahugh also rebuts Brown's accusation that Microsoft isn't keeping up with its maintenance duties. He says that the working group has addressed 242 of the roughly 340 defect reports that have been submitted for review. He acknowledges that there is room for improvement in the defect-handling process, but he believes that the working group has been productive.
Mahugh's detailed and lengthy response to Brown's criticisms appears sincere and articulate. Although it provides much-needed clarification about Microsoft's intentions, it doesn't mitigate the damage that will be caused by using a deprecated format in the next major version of the Office suite. As Brown strongly suggested when he voiced his criticisms, Microsoft really should do everything in its power to get proper support for the strict version into the hands of users as soon as possible. Government agencies and other organizations that require strong standards compliance may consider using alternatives until Microsoft has sorted out its OOXML compliance.
Source: ars technica