Microsoft and ECMA: Together again, doing it again

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If you loved OOXML and the way that ECMA did exactly what Microsoft wanted, you’ll love the new working group around XPS, Microsoft’s home grown competitor to PDF. The current link for the new program is up on the ECMA website. Here’s what it says:


The goal of the Technical Committee is to produce a formal standard for office productivity applications within the Ecma International standards process which is fully compatible with the Office Open XML Formats. The aim is to enable the implementation of the Office Open XML Formats by a wide set of tools and platforms in order to foster interoperability across office productivity applications and with line-of-business systems. The Technical Committee will also be responsible for the ongoing maintenance and evolution of the standard.

Programme of work:

  1. Produce a formal standard for an XML-based electronic paper format and XML-based page description language which is consistent with existing implementations of the format called the XML Paper Specification, including:
    • Produce a fully documented and unambiguous standard for an XML-based electronic paper format and page description language.
    • Produce appropriate W3C XML Schemas to enable automatic verification of files written to the standard.
    • Enable interoperability between existing industry implementations of applications, devices, tools and platforms.
  2. Assume responsibility for the ongoing maintenance and evolution of this Ecma International standard.
  3. Support backwards compatibility with implementations targeted to prior versions of the standard.
  4. Evaluate and consider proposal for complementary or related additional technologies.
  5. Establish and maintain liaison with other Ecma TCs and with other Standards Setting Organizations (SSOs) as appropriate to facilitate and promulgate the work of the TC.
  6. Evaluate and consider contributing the Ecma standard to an ISO and/or IEC TC for approval and adoption.

The highlighting is mine. The standard must be compatible with Microsoft’s implementation, which is the only implementation. How open. How independent. How collaborative. What do you think? Should we just save time and money and let Microsoft simply define international standards for us based on what they put in their products?

Note the error in this version in the scope of work at the top. They clearly just cut-and-pasted from the OOXML effort charter, which tends to imply that that worked so well that they will just do it again and again.

OOXML was not an anomaly, we now have a pattern. You can either object and do something about this, and that includes helping to stop OOXML, or else you can wake up one morning and find “international standard” being increasingly synonymous with “defined in Redmond, WA.” You have a choice.

Addendum: Andy Updegrove has posted more on this in “There They Go Again: It’s Time to Just Say No to Microsoft and Ecma.” Also see Stephen Walli’s “Microsoft Continued Standards Abuse, PDF and the XML Paper Specification.”


  1. Wasn’t the purpose of a standards organization established to prevent the very thing Microsoft is doing between Ecma and ISO?

    ….oh I’m so naive. When you can’t build it properly. You can’t convince governments to use it. Can’t get consumers to buy into it. Can’t get your own software to convert into any other’s, just drown them all with cash and lobbying. If Microsoft is ‘given’ a standard and no one uses it, is it still a standard?

  2. Well, no. That would bring ISO into disrepute. People would start to say that its only purpose was for interoperability between one instance of a Microsoft solution, and another instance of a Microsoft solution.

    Microsoft sell lots of pretty solutions, at highly-differentiated prices.

    But they don’t sell all the solutions in the world. There are competitors.

    Now, what was I doing with that Sony Playstation 3, and its IBM Cell Broadband Engine supercomputer?
    I think I can get that to work well enough for what I need to do.

  3. If there is a disproportionate number of end users for one proprietary technology vs a minority but vocal group of users for another open technology, what does the standard enable and what certain predictions can be made? Is it true of one technology but not another? If a standard exists but does not suit the requirements of powerful interests, are they free to take the standard and create a competitor beneath the aegis of a separate organization that they control?

    I’m talking about HTML and XML. What are you talking about?

    This is the answer to your question: yes, it is still a standard. Spy vs Spy.

  4. IEEE POSIX is a candidate for an international standard. All the engineers working for all the corporations in the world (and in universities, and all those working for themselves, too) had a say, and came up with “This is how Portable Open Systems Interactive Executives ought to work”.

    Microsoft “Win32” isn’t a candidate for an international standard. It is a functional specification of how one vendor’s product works, and it is subject to change from release to release, under that vendor’s sole control. There is no need for ISO to specify how “Win32” should work; only for Microsoft to specify how it does work.

    You don’t suddenly want ISO turning round and blocking the Windows Vista release because the “Win32” specification changed in a way that had not been agreed to; you want Microsoft to go ahead and ship Windows Vista when they are ready, with a manual to tell us how it works.

    Likewise Microsoft “DirectX” and Microsoft “.NET” .

    Why does anyone think it’s any of ISO’s business, how Microsoft want to drive printers (with XPS) or represent office productivity documents (with OOXML) ? Microsoft are not asking ISO for help in achieving consensus, nor offering their contribution as a starting point for discussion with independent experts from other businesses and public-sector interested parties; nor pointing out cases where existing ISO specifications could do with enhancing. Microsoft are asking ISO for a rubber stamp.

  5. Stephane Rodriguez

    Contrary to OOXML, intended to represent 15 years of MS legacy, XPS just comes from nowhere. Just like OOXML, ISO would be wise to allow this only if there is a full non-MS implementation of such standard. After all, isn’t this what made sense with Adobe’s PDF going ISO?

  6. If ECMA is so bad, why dont you lead a charge to have IBM leave ECMA? Seriously, put your money where your mouth is…

  7. Or work to try to change it.

  8. Someone ought to register or something. This is getting totally out of hand. HD to replace JPEG as well? Silverlight with all those patents?

  9. > Contrary to OOXML, intended to represent 15 years of MS legacy,

    OOXML doesn’t represent 15 years of anything, unless by “represent” you mean “mark off as a a ‘legacy’ object”. What is the behavior of the legacy stuff? Only Microsoft knows, because it certainly isn’t in the spec.

  10. > The standard must be compatible with Microsoft’s implementation, which is the only
    > implementation. How open. How independent. How collaborative. What do you think?

    Bob, you’re wrong on all four counts.

    1. Microsoft is far from the only implementor, and in fact they specifically chose a respected independent to produce the XPS reference RIP. There are already a number of implementations by various retailers.

    2. The format is open because it is fully documented and entirely extensible.

    3. It is independent because it will be finalised by an ECMA committee, not any one retailer.

    4. The history of XPS has already been one of intensive world-wide collaboration.

    There are many criticisms which could be levelled against XPS, but not these four, sorry.

  11. Nemo – next time use your real email if you wish to comment. Please name all the other implementations that are out there right now, including the operating systems on which they run. #2: that doesn’t make it open by itself. We’ve heard that before with OOXML. I wish you luck and make sure all proceedings and email exchanges are completely published so that everyone can see who does what and why. #4. Please send me a link that describes the collaboration that has already taken place.

  12. > next time use your real email

    That’s your fifth groundless assumption – it’s a valid email address and you’re welcome to write to it, but I won’t be able to reply until tonight.

    > Please name all the other implementations that are out there right now, including the operating systems on which they run.

    Off the top of my head:

    Global Graphics Harlequin RIP – Windows, MacOS, Linux, various embedded OSes.

    NiXPS – Windows, MacOS.

    Pagemark Technology – Windows, embedded OSes.

    Software Imaging – Windows.

    Zoran IPS XPS – embedded OSes.

    Not to mention all the printer manufacturers! I’m sure there are others right now, and the list will grow. The XPS format is completely documented, and anyone can implement it for free.

    > make sure all proceedings and email exchanges are completely published

    That’s not up to me, I’m not on the ECMA committee.

    > Please send me a link that describes the collaboration that has already taken place.

    All collaboration before version 1 was published was subject to NDA and I’m sure you understand I can’t name those parties who were involved. However, a lot of the feedback generated was fed into the XPS team blog which you CAN view starting here, from September 2005 – MS didn’t just spring this on the entire hardware industry you know!

  13. Isn’t this just Bait and Switch?
    “anyone can implement it for free” is more than likely, you can implement for free, up until Microsoft consider you enough of a competitor or threat that they want to extinguish you with patent lawsuits.

    We know their game, even if the general population does not. This is why those in the know, those who see how Microsoft use such standards to disarm and then throttle competition, will fight, tooth and nail, to ensure genuine open standards are used, and not such con tricks.

  14. How is an NDA-ed collaboration an open collaborartion? Seems like it’s not a very open process to me.

  15. nemo:
    You seem to name a few companies that were _paid_ by Microsoft to work with XPS. That’s hardly supporting your independent implementation ideas.

    Global Graphics are likely to have the *same* implementation:
    “Global Graphics, a print RIP vendor of over 20 years standing, was contracted by Microsoft to provide consultancy on the XPS Specification, and to develop prototype and print reference RIPs for the emerging XPS format”.
    Also chairing the ECMA TC46, “Mr. M. Bailey (Global Graphics)”

    Software Imaging wrote drivers for Vista:
    “We have a strong relationship with Microsoft and were contracted by Microsoft to develop the key XPS sample drivers now included in the Windows Vista WDK.”

    NiXPS is little more than an XML editor.

    So out of the remainders, Pagemark & Zoran write printer drivers.. which Microsoft kinda need if they want XPS supported.
    I don’t see a “number of implementations by various retailers.”

  16. Global appear to have been contracted by MS to create the reference implementation. This clearly ISN’T the “same implementation” as anyone’s. I’m not sure what point you thought you were making. MS have produced at least two implementations of an XPS viewer, so that’s three.

    Complaining that NiXPS is merely an XML editor is a bit like saying a DTP program is just a text editor. Well yes, because XPS *is* XML, so an XPS editor IS an XML editor, by definition. Regardless, it’s an implementation of an XPS consumer AND producer (spec terminology) and independently produced. So that’s four.

    Pagemark and Zoran have indeed produced XPS consumers. You can buy the Zoran implementation and build it into your printer and call it a printer dirver, or you could connect it to an LCD screen and call it a viewer. There’s no technical distinction, they’re both implementations, and both independent of MS. So that’s six.

    Software Imaging were also paid by MS to implement an XPS consumer. You seem to cite this as though that means it doesn’t count as an independently written implementation. I don’t even understand that argument enough to counter it. That’s seven.

    So, there are at least five implementations of an XPS consumer which were produced totally independently of MS code, and five is “a number”. The producers of these implementations are happy to sell you these implementations, and don’t have to pay MS for the privilege, so that makes them independent retailers.

    What is driving XPS adoption is the weight of MS’s influence, not because they’re throwing money at people, but because Vista users will expect to be able to print, synchronise, and remotely view documents produced by their shiny new OS. Printer manufacturers are at the forefront of this adoption of course, but if you think Sharp, OKI, HP, Canon, Xerox, Lexmark et al are somehow not independent of MS and not capable of producing or sourcing independent XPS implementations, then you’re simply paranoid.

    As for the patent issue, that’s been *clearly* explained by MS, and a simple Google search finds the details here:

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