Sun Attacks Microsoft XML Strategy Shift

Sun Microsystems fired its first salvo at Microsoft's upcoming Office 2003 by calling into question the aim of Redmond's overall XML strategy, and touting StarOffice 6.1 as a low cost alternative for cost conscious enterprises.

During a telephone interview, Sun's Iyer Venkatefen, product manager for StarOffice, told BetaNews that Microsoft was not abiding by the OASIS standards. With more than 600 members in 100 countries, OASIS, or Organization for the Advancement of Structured Information Standards, is a global consortium that establishes standards to ensure interoperability.

While Microsoft embraced openness and follows base-level XML standards, it is taking a different approach towards defining office formats by letting developers decide what schema, or data structure, suits them best. For instance, a document type dubbed XBRL is intended for use in business reporting and would be an industry wide standard written with XSD.

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XSD, often referred to as a schema, is an XML-based W3C standard language for describing the rules that the structure and the contents of a particular type of XML document are required to follow.

Competitors such as Sun and Corel are working with an OASIS technical committee to arrive at a common consensus for these office document schemas. Microsoft is accepting any schema so long as it is XSD compliant, allowing customers to tailor their own.

In a press release issued by Redmond last November, Microsoft XML architect Jean Paoli said, "Having these standard schemas in place allow different organizations to easily share information, even if they're using completely different technologies in their respective systems, and creates some great communication and business efficiencies." Paoli cited XBRL as one such industry specific standard.

Nevertheless, Microsoft has decided not to promote such standardized schemas. A company spokesperson told BetaNews that customers have the freedom to use any W3C compliant schema that is XSD based. OASIS was not involved with Microsoft's decisions in supporting XML, the company said.

Office 2003 will instead support a slew of standardized and proprietary schemas. Microsoft claims that Sun is trying to standardize under a single XML file format, and went on to say that XML implementation in Office was never meant to create a standard format, but a method to freely share information regardless of the platform.


Indeed, XML is not the default data format for Office 2003 applications, just an option.

Adding fuel to the fire, Microsoft recently quit the W3C Web services standards body, which has prompted some naysayers to call into questions its commitment to standardization. Microsoft refutes such claims and says its XML technologies are fully compliant.

When asked for comment on Microsoft's shift in direction, Jonathan Eunice, industry analyst at Illuminata remarked, "Another way of putting this is: Get the hell out of our back yard!"

Eunice added, "Microsoft would be quite happy for the de facto standardization of Office to prevail. And instead of there being an open standard for office documents, for the industry to simply coalesce around whatever XML definitions that Microsoft puts out in Office 2003."

Microsoft is not listed as an industry partner for the OASIS XML standards initiative, specifically for office productivity. Program Manager for Corel XMetaL, John Turnbull, acknowledged "Microsoft is not currently participating in the working group."

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