ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Software Standards: Closed Options

The recent “no” vote in the International Organisation for Standardisation (ISO) by India’s representative, the Bureau of Indian Standards, in the referendum for the adoption of the new open source standard, Office Open Extensible Markup Language (OOXML), came against the backdrop of intense discussions across the world on this issue. OOXML, promoted and developed by Microsoft, is a file format standard for electronic documents, for example, spreadsheets and word processing documents. It is a specification standard, which is defined as “open”, meaning this specification can be used in a way that a document created using this standard can be read across various processing applications and platforms. A debate has ranged on whether OOXML can be accepted as another open standard, when there already exists an universally accepted standard, OpenDocument Format (ODF). The ODF standard was developed earlier by a technical consortium of different companies and individuals on the internet.

The essence of software being “open” lies in the benefit that this provides a non-proprietary way of accessing information and data that has been created using different applications, without having to worry about compatibility, as this issue is sorted out technically by the different plug-ins written using the “open” standards. ODF, the popular “open” standard used by various products including the OpenOffice suite is written as an Extensible Markup Language (XML) document. Microsoft has now tried to introduce OOXML also as an XML document. This standard was fast-tracked for approval by the European Computer Manufacturing Association (ECMA) and the setback to Microsoft was because it could not obtain the two-thirds vote required for the acceptance of the standard in the ISO. However, Microsoft has been given a leeway, wherein if ECMA could answer all the comments that have been mentioned in the “no” vote by a ballot resolution meeting (expected in February 2008) and if the participants consider this final document as applicable through consensus or a two-thirds vote, then the Microsoft standard will be accepted as a full “ISO” standard.

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