Fighting OOXML

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The normally boring world of international standards has turned into a bloody fist fight between the most brutal monopolist of modern times, and the Community. Just the name, “Office Open XML" makes my head spin, and when I start to read Microsoft’s so-sincere explanations that “users demand multiple standards", my blood begins to boil. But before I turn green and rip off my shirt, let me take a deep breath and look calmly at how Microsoft is trying to do to ISO what Borat wanted to do to Pamela.

ISO standards are like the old ladies of the standards world, respectable, prim, a bit musty, but irreproachable. No-one ever got fired for implementing an ISO standard. And with good reason—ISO has always been a careful process of assembling diverse opinion, negotiating away conflict, and reaching consensus. Membership of ISO committees is voluntary and unpaid. In other words, ISO is a sitting duck for someone with the money and the will to abuse the system.

This fight is over the future of Microsoft’s desktop monopoly. If OOXML gets passed as an ISO standard, Microsoft will be rolling out more ‘standards’ and end up with a stack of ISO standards that only it can implement. It is already spinning “open standard" to mean “closed format heavily protected by secrets and patents". Free software won’t be able to implement OOXML, and users will be locked-in to Microsoft’s proprietary world for decades. It’s a clever abuse of the standards process.

The FFII is working as part of a large community which includes the free software world, to fight this threat. Our goal is simple: get ISO to vote “NO" to OOXML. The deadlines are short—end-August to end-September depending on the country.

Microsoft is working as follows: they are getting their business partners to submit comments to the ISO committees in each country. This has been going on for some time. Then, they do the normal rigging of committees—getting the chair, excluding dissenting voices, cutting back on discussion, forcing an early vote, etc. It’s worked in a few countries but more and more, it’s back-firing and creating real resentment. In South Africa, the committee voted 13 to 4 against, helped by lots of support from the South Africa free and open source movement!

So it is possible to fight the Microsoft machine. The site has lots of information on how to help, and a petition to sign and pass around.

If you think you can help organise an effort in your country, send us an email at [email protected]



Martin Hassman's picture

OOXML as ISO standard is today question in the Czech Republic. See some post from Pavel Janik about the progress and and Jiri Kosek

Anonymous visitor's picture
Submitted by Anonymous visitor (not verified) on

I do not see so badly the standard either that they want to implant with because he is so bad? , he is that I do not understand much of this but people speak very badly of which Microsoft tries. I have entered XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX and it has seemed to me well…


[Edit: Nice try. Expect, the URL provided was a spam link..]

alexa's picture
Submitted by alexa on

When all the details are made known about what the pro-OOXML folks are doing to secure victory, I suspect you won’t find these more grass roots efforts to be too much.
marirea sanilor

Author information

Pieter Hintjens's picture


Pieter Hintjens is the CEO of iMatix Corporation, and the author of numerous free software tools published by iMatix. He wrote his first GPLed software (Libero) in 1992. He was the main author of the AMQP messaging protocol specification, and iMatix's OpenAMQ messaging software handles around 1bn messages a day for a large bank. He is the past president of the FFII, an association which has fought software patents and defended open standards and competition since 1999. In 2007 he founded the Digital Standards Organization.