Call for letters to ISO re: OpenXML

Following up on the articles "Novells ‘Danaergeschenk’", "Is OpenXML now a standard?", "OpenXML wrap-up after D12K" and "Why criticise OpenXML now?" I would like to make sure that everyone has had a look at the Groklaw article "Deadline Looms to Express Concerns about ECMA 376 Office Open XML."

Microsoft is currently trying to push its Ecma 367 OpenXML format through the "fast track" procedure in the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) to give it false credibility as a standard. The Groklaw article explains many of the problems, why the OpenXML format should never be accepted by ISO and also highlights the urgency of the issue as the fast track procedure allows only for a 30 day evaluation period, so time is of the essence.

If you want an overview and reference of the many problems with the OpenXML format, here is an overview on Grokdok. But since that list is very long, I think it might be more useful for most people to have some examples of formal objections to the ISO. Here is an excellent one that has been posted to the discussion mailing list of IFSO, FSFE‘s Irish associate organisation:

Re: Objections to JTC-1 Fast-Track Processing of the ECMA-376 Specification


To whom it may concern,

I, Gareth Eason, write on behalf of the committee and members of the Irish Linux User Group to voice our collective concern regarding the Fast-Track Processing of the ECMA 376 Specification by the ISO JTC-1 committee.


As more and more of our critical paperwork gets stored in electronic form, the ISO body recognise the requirement for an open standard for storing this data — one with which multiple software vendors may comply. This avoids a monopoly situation emerging whereby a single supplier may control access to information simply because only they can understand the format it is stored in. This is particularly true for legacy documents — old documents produced and ‘saved’ by an older version of software.

As a predominantly technical body of people within Ireland, we feel it important to highlight our concerns to the fast-track processing of this proposed standard for the following reasons:

  • The ECMA specification runs to some 6,000 pages, impossible to review in any meaningful fashion within the 30 days permitted.
  • The concept of the standard potentially conflicts with the ISO body’s own stated goal of "one standard, one test, and one conformity assessment procedure accepted everywhere." ECMA has been publicly slated as an alternative to an already existing and ratified open document standard, ISO/IEC 26300:2006.
  • There appears to be internal inconsistencies within the proposed standard and significant conflicts with existing ratified ISO standards, including ISO8601 (Representation of Dates and Times), ISO639 (Codes for the representation of Names and Languages), ISO/IEC 8632 (Computer Graphics Metafiles) and more.
  • There are numerous references to proprietary applications and behaviours which may be impossible to reproduce without potentially infringing patents granted to, in particular, Microsoft. No documentation as to proprietary behaviours is offered in many cases and no legal indemnification appears to be granted for either reverse engineering or re-implementation of these behaviours. This renders it legally and technically impossible for any organisation other that Microsoft to implement this standard, essentially prohibiting competition — the antithesis of ISO standards.

We would suggest that it is inappropriate to fast-track the processing of this proposed ECMA 376 standard and that it should be diverted from its present fast-track processing and should be remanded to Ecma International for: (i) harmonization with ISO/IEC 26300:2006, the OpenDocument standard; and numerous other standards that it contradicts; (ii) development of more suitable intellectual property documents that actually grant rights to implement the specification.

More information on this proposal, and an analysis to date of the document can be found at

Yours faithfully,

Gareth Eason B.Eng, MIET, (Chairperson) , for an on behalf of the Irish Linux User Group.

There are probably other good letters out there and FSFE is also working on a letter of its own right now, but this example is very good for various reasons, including the right tone, the right style and some of the strongest arguments. Please consider writing a letter yourself, with your company or organisation. If you do, I recommend including the following arguments:

  • OpenXML violates various ISO standards
    A list of the standards violated can be found at
  • There is already an ISO standard for office documents
    The usefulness of ISO is largely based on its stated principle of "one standard, one test and one conformity assessment procedure accepted everywhere." By accepting the OpenXML format, ISO would violate its own principles and undermine itself.
  • OpenXML depends on undocumented, proprietary information
    As documented here, Ecma 376 OpenXML depends on undisclosed, proprietary information of Microsoft.
  • 6000 pages in 30 days
    It is absolutely impossible to parse 200 pages of technical documentation per day with the diligence necessary for an organisation such as ISO.

The first three are very strong to explain why ISO should never approve OpenXML and instead give the format back to Ecma to be harmonised with the real and approved standard ISO/IEC 26300:2006, also known as Open Document Format (ODF). The last point shows that even if ISO is not willing to make this decision immediately, it should at least not be fast-tracked.

Microsoft is currently working very hard on many groups and organisations to bring just that about and make ISO accept OpenXML as an ISO standard through the fast-track. It is up to all groups and companies that value Open Standards to object to this now.

So please check this page for more information, advice on how to get in touch, and contact details of the various parties that need to be informed about the objections.

Spread the word!


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About Georg Greve

Georg Greve is CEO and President of the Board at Kolab Systems AG, a Swiss Open Source ISV for collaboration and communication, also available as Swiss hosted service Kolab Now. During his 20+ year career in Free and Open Source Software he has been author of the Brave GNU World, one of the most widely spread columns on the subject, founding president of the Free Software Foundation Europe (FSFE) and provided input to various governmental and inter-governmental organisations. In 2009 Georg was awarded the Federal Cross of Merit on Ribbon by the Federal Republic of Germany for his contributions to Open Source and Open Standards.
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One Response to Call for letters to ISO re: OpenXML

  1. rejas says:

    This is important

    Thank you for informing about this issue. I’m chairman of the Linux Society of Sweden(*) ( and we have authored a letter this weekend that we intend to send later today to Standardiseringen i Norge (P-Member) and Swedish Standards Institute (O-Member).

    * Yes the name is misleading.

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