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Microsoft's PDF rival to become a standard

XML-based electronic paper takes on Adobe

Standards body Ecma International has formed a technical committee to develop a standard built on Microsoft's XML Paper Specification (XPS), a rival file format to Adobe's Portable Document Format (PDF).

According to Ecma's website, the goal of the TC46 - XPS Technical Committee is to create "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”.

XPS is one of many file formats natively supported in Microsoft's Office 2007 productivity suite and was developed internally by the company. Currently, Microsoft has the only implementation of XPS. Microsoft had planned to include PDF - used widely as a de facto document standard for years but only submitted to a standards body earlier this year by Adobe - as a native file format as well, but Adobe put the kibosh on that plan. Microsoft does offer PDF as an add-on file format for Office.

Microsoft has been criticised by rivals for how it has handled submissions to standards bodies, though the company has instituted a formal interoperability effort across all its product groups in the last 18 months in what is says is an effort to be more effort. Open XML, another Office 2007 file format for documents, already has won Ecma approval and will be put before the International Organization for Standards (ISO) toward the end of the year for a final vote as an international technology standard.

But critics - mainly those who support Open Document Format for XML (ODF) as the standard format rather than Open XML - have complained that Microsoft is too controlling when it comes to ensuring the technology it submits to Ecma as a ‘standard’ looks the way Microsoft wants it to at the end of the approval process. And since the company didn't allow third parties to create implementations of Open XML before it was submitted to Ecma, critics say Microsoft has misused the standards process, which is meant to be more open.

Naysayers and rivals are using the creation of TC46 to discourage approval of Open XML - now known as Ecma 376 in the standards approval process - as an ISO standard.

"If [Open XML], and now Microsoft XML Paper Specification, each sail through Ecma and are then adopted by ISO/IEC JTC1, then I think that we might as well declare 'game over' for open standards," said Andrew Updegrove, an intellectual property attorney and outspoken open-standards and ODF advocate on his blog. "It's time for the national bodies to draw a line in the sand and reject Ecma 376 – before it's too late."

IBM's Vice President of Open Source and Standards Bob Sutor, also a vocal proponent of ODF - particularly since his company supports it as a default file format in software products - also criticised Ecma and Microsoft on his blog. He said Ecma will create a ‘standard’ of XPS that goes along with Microsoft's wishes for the technology rather than letting an impartial group develop the standard.

"The standard must be compatible with Microsoft’s implementation, which is the only implementation," Sutor said. "How open. How independent. How collaborative."


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