ISO Rejects Microsoft's Open XML as Standard
Published: September 5, 2007
by Alex Woodie
The International Organization for Standardization (ISO) rejected Microsoft's Open XML format as a new standard in a vote of its members this week. Microsoft, which had been seeking to fast-track the standardization of its new file format for Office 2007, raised the ire of some members of the international IT community, who accused the software giant of trying to influence the outcome of the vote by encouraging its business partners to participate in the ballot. Despite the setback, Microsoft expects Open XML to be ratified next year.
For the last five months, member countries of the ISO and the International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC) have been participating in a ballot to decide whether to publish the draft standard ISO/IEC DIS 29500 as an international standard, which would have put Microsoft's Open XML format on the fast-track to full standardization next year.
Microsoft needed a three-fourths majority among all voting nations, and a two-thirds majority among "P" nations participating in a key standards committee, to succeed in fast-tracking Open XML to standardization. It ended up with 74 percent and 51 percent of the votes in the two ballots, which means it failed on both fronts.
Despite the setback, Microsoft tried its best to remain positive. "We are extremely delighted to see that 51 ISO members, representing 74 percent of the qualified votes, have already voiced their support for ISO ratification of Open XML," said Tom Robertson, general manager for Interoperability and Standards at Microsoft.
Robertson looked forward to March 2008, when Open XML will likely have its next shot at becoming an accepted standard. He expressed confidence that "many others have indicated they will support ratification once their comments are resolved in the next phase of the ISO process."
However, the exercise left a bad taste in the mouths of some industry observers, who accused the software giant of the equivalent of ballot stuffing.
According to one report, 23 Microsoft business partners based in Sweden joined the Swedish Standards Institute at the last second and were allowed to vote on Open XML at the group's closing meeting. Microsoft officials reportedly sent e-mails to its business partners in the region, including Norway and Denmark, encouraging them to participate in the process. However, Sweden's vote in the ISO was eventually nullified, due to some in the Swedish contingent voting twice on certain matters.
There is also suspicion that Microsoft may have had a hand in the last-minute additions of countries that could vote in the ISO process. As the five-month vote was winding down, nearly a dozen countries, including Cote d'Ivoire, Cyprus, Ecuador, Jamaica, Lebanon, Malta, Pakistan, Trinidad and Tobago, Turkey, Uruguay, and Venezuela, became influential "P" voting members of the ISO. Before the addition of these countries, there were 30 "P" voting ISO members.
Indeed, Microsoft yesterday touted the "unprecedented level of participation in the standardization of a document format."
"Given how encouraging today's results were, we believe that the final tally in early 2008 will result in the ratification of Open XML as an ISO standard," Robertson says.
Microsoft introduced its new Open XML format as the standard file format for new releases of Word, Excel, and PowerPoint in its Office 2007 suite. With a basis in XML, Open XML opens new capacities for handling and searching through word processing documents, multimedia presentations, and spreadsheets.
However, backers of a competing XML-based format, called the OpenDocument Format (ODF), have cried foul over Microsoft's move to Open XML. ODF backers say if Open XML were to take off, it would greatly reduce the freedom of users to use the files with non-Microsoft productivity applications, specifically Sun Microsystems' StarOffice suite and the open source OpenOffice suite, which are growing in popularity among Windows and Linux users.
Meanwhile, Microsoft has strived to keep customer choice alive by developing file format translators for Open XML and ODF, while maintaining that Open XML is the technologically superior alternative to ODF.
File Format Translator Available for Open XML, ODF
Microsoft Says 'Yes' to ODF in Office 2007
Microsoft Faces New Challenges on the Office Front
Post this story to del.icio.us
Post this story to Digg
Post this story to Slashdot