Standards are important. With standards, users of various computing platforms can share information. It also removes users from the barrier of vendor lock-in. This is most prevalent in the area of Office documents, where entire governments, at both a state and national level, have made decisions based on the future proofing of their information.
Microsoft is attempting to block an established, free and open format by heavily pushing one they have much more control over, and they're using all their lobbying power to try and fast track it through the standards process, destroying the reputations of the very standards bodies they seek approval from. Microsoft challenges the existing OpenDocument standards for Office documents with its own Office OpenXML format, which specifically implements Microsoft Office, rather than a more general standard.
Unlike OpenDocument, which is well-supported and cross-platform, Microsoft's format is only supported by proprietary software from one vendor, and because it has been designed to implement every bug, glitch and historical feature from Microsoft's Office software, the specification to implement OOXML is over 6000 pages long, making it much harder for other software to implement the format.
Office documents are not the only area where Microsoft has railed against standards. Microsoft has abused its monopoly position on the internet, by making its Internet Explorer browser support only a subset of the published web standards, whilst submitting users to an inferior experience when an alternative browser was used. In Europe, Microsoft has been forced to offer a 'ballot screen' of alternative web browsers to the user upon installation of Windows 7 to force Microsoft's browser monopoly to end.
With free formats, it's important to ensure you are using free software as well. Free formats cannot excuse the damage done by proprietary software.
© 2009 Free Software Foundation, Inc
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