Arnaud's Blog

Opinions on open source, standards, and other things

International standards deserve more than being automatically generated

There have been many signs that led me to believe that OOXML was for the most part the result of some automatic transformation. Something Microsoft created from running a program that spit out the guts of MS Office in an XML form.

This has now been confirmed by Microsoft through its proposed disposition of comments submitted in preparation to the upcoming BRM. Here is an extract from what has been submitted:

“Agreed; the automated processing which was used to generate this data for Part 4 did not take into consideration the fact that some base types are not based on single-character units.”

So here we have it, clearly stated.

Now, there is nothing fundamentally wrong with generating something to start form rather than trying to reinvent everything from scratch, especially when your goal is to represent as much as possible what your software already supports, but this can only be that: a starting point.

As part of creating a new format, especially aimed at becoming an international standard, you ought to then go through a careful review of every aspect of the format you generated and do a massive clean up. For something as complex as an office format there is no doubt that this requires a lot of effort and a lot of time. But there is no way around it if you want something of quality.

Evidently this wasn’t done for OOXML and as a result the format they ended up with shows all the legacy quirks and oddities resulting from years and years of patching and further developing MS Office. Measuring units vary, feature names are inconsistent, etc.

Just because the format was meant to be fully backward compatible with MS Office does NOT justify all of this. Instead of exposing all the inconsistencies of MS Office internals the format should have be made consistent and mapped to MS Office internals as needed on read and write.

Once more, this shows that OOXML was rushed and not given the time and effort it needed to even qualify as a candidate for an international standard.


January 8, 2008 - Posted by | standards | ,

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