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Critics Skeptical That Microsoft Will Be Able To Alter Vote On OOXML

Losing the fast-track vote may mean Microsoft has missed its best opportunity to get OOXML approved.

Microsoft is putting a positive face on the International Standards Organization's vote against Office Open XML as a document standard, saying it has only a short ways to go to overcome objections and win final approval next February or March. But Linux Foundation CEO Jim Zemlin and other observers aren't so sure.

Microsoft lost a close vote over the Labor Day weekend to fast track its proposal that OOXML become a standard. There are now so many objections to OOXML on the record that losing the fast track vote may mean Microsoft has missed its best opportunity to get OOXML approved.

"I don't believe the votes are later going to go in the other direction," said Zemlin in an interview. Zemlin is sometimes criticized within Linux ranks for his repeated admonition that Microsoft must be respected as a competitor. But he was unsparing in his assessment of the ISO fast track outcome.

"Despite a targeted global effort [by Microsoft] to influence the vote, the ISO voting process withstood a lot of gamesmanship," he said. There were 10,000 comments listing objections and questions about OOXML, particularly its reliance on Microsoft proprietary products and specifications. It may be possible for Microsoft to reduce some of them as hurdles to approval, but an overall wariness to the OOXML proposal is now more deeply entrenched, he said. The proposed standard is 6,000 pages long compared to the 600 pages of the Open Document Format, which ISO already has approved.

Tom Robertson, Microsoft's general manager for standards and interoperability, in a press release Tuesday said the voted demonstrated "strong global support" for Open XML. "We are extremely delighted to see that 51 ISO members, representing 74% of the qualified votes, have already voiced their support for ISO ratification of Open XML. Many others have indicated they will support ratification once their comments are resolved in the next phase of the ISO process," he added.

There will be a weeklong, Ballot Resolution Meeting in February or March.

Robertson referred to the observer phase of the ISO vote that requires 75% approval from observer member countries. Open XML may be able to achieve that percentage, acknowledge observers. But with a two-tiered ISO voting scheme, Open XML also needs a thumbs up from two-thirds of the 41 participating or "P" countries that worked directly on the standard, and Microsoft came out of the Sept. 3 vote with only 53%.

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