Watching from the distant sidelines, the ongoing effort by Microsoft to make Office Open XML an ISO standard has all the stuff of a great mystery novel... another in a series, with recurring characters, like the best of Ludlum or Chandler.  Having lived through an all-out attack on my own product, I see a lot of the same tactics come into play.  Unlike the messaging wars, though, when you play with standards, you can't hide the tactics.

I say "from the distant sidelines" because even though one of the key values of the new Notes 8 productivity editors is the inclusion of full support for the ISO Open Document Formats, I haven't been involved in the ODF support efforts on the IBM side.  Colleagues of mine like Rob Weir are great resources, though, and Rob's latest blog entry is no exception.  In "A file format timeline", Rob makes it clear that the effort around OOXML represents a moment-in-time, and not a likely long-term commitment:

My guess is that OOXML is merely a transitional format, much like Windows ME was in the OS space, a temporary hybrid used to ease the transition from 16-bit to the 32-bit platform that would eventually come (Windows 2000). Microsoft doesn't want to support all of the quirks of their legacy formats forever. That just leads to bloated, fragile code, more expensive development and support costs. They would rather have clean, structured markup, like ODF. But the question is, how do you get there? The answer is straightforward: First, eliminate the competition. Second, move users in small steps, promising the comfort of continuity and safety. Third, once you has eliminated competition and have the users on the OOXML format that no one but Microsoft fully understands, then you may have your will of them.
Rob even introduces the concept of a "Microsoft format graveyard"...they seem to have a lot of specialized graveyards, like the collaboration graveyard.  Visit Rob's entry to see a visual represntation of the historical timeline of changes and shifts in the file format landscape.

I can't wait to read the next chapter in this book.  While you're on Rob's site, by the way, take note of his banner for the OOXML website, run by the Foundation for a Free Information Infrastructure.  Seems like thousands of people don't want to see competing "standards", especially one that doesn't play nice with others.

Link: Rob Weir: A File Format Timeline >

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