Closed Formats Are Bad For Libraries, Stop OOXML Now

Microsoft just won’t quit. Now they’re trying to make OOXML an ISO standard. Please help stop this.

Here’s how I explained it in Open Source Software for Libraries:

The state of Massachusetts in 2005 announced new IT standards that required its 80,000 employees and 173 agencies to adopt open file formats. The decision didn’t specify the applications to be used, just the format of the electronic documents they created, stored and exchanged #. In making the decision, the state also had to establish a test for openness. What Massachusetts settled on was surprisingly simple #:

  • It must be published and subject to peer review
  • It must be subject to joint stewardship
  • It must have no or absolutely minimal legal restrictions attached to it.

The result, and the subject of considerable controversy, was that the state found the ISO-certified Open Document Format along with Adobe’s PDF to meet that test, while Microsft’s formats, including its Office Open XML format, didn’t #. The critical failure of Microsoft’s OOXML format was that the license didn’t allow others to build applications that could both read and write the file format, meaning that Microsoft would be the only legal vendor of full-feature applications that used Office Open XML #.

Microsoft applied pressure, and a lot of campaign money, and the state has now reversed its 2006 decision on OOXML. But it hasn’t changed the underlying problems. Imagine 30 years into the future, imagine your vital records are stored in proprietary formats that your local government can’t afford to license anymore. Now imagine your kid needs a copy of her birth certificate that can’t be accessed, because while the data is theoretically yours and the state’s, the vendor has been suing governments that read their file format without a license.