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3/31/2008
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Microsoft Awaits Vote Results On Open XML Standardization

If the file format does not become a standard, some governments could shy away from using Open XML -- and therefore, potentially, Microsoft Office.

After years of wrangling, Microsoft's Office Open XML file formats are set to gain or lose approval as international standards. The ballots are in and being counted, but the world won't know the verdict of the International Standards Organization until Wednesday.

The voting ended over the weekend, and it's not clear exactly what is delaying the results. A total of 87 national standards bodies are voting. In at least one case, Steve Pepper, chairman of Norway's committee on the approval of Open XML is reported to have filed a formal protest with his country's yes vote, citing "serious irregularities" with the vote.

The voting process has been marked by jostling and sometimes open hostility on both sides of Open XML's standardization, with Microsoft competitors like IBM repeatedly coming down hard on Microsoft and with reports of Microsoft's heavy-handed lobbying for its format, including promising "marketing contributions" in exchange for votes in Sweden -- a move that Microsoft later said wasn't company approved.

If the file format does not become a standard, some governments could shy away from using Open XML -- and therefore, potentially, Microsoft Office -- in favor of something like Open Document Format, (ODF) which has already become a standard. However, Tom Robertson, Microsoft's general manager for interoperability said in an interview, "most governments will come down on the side of choice." The state of Massachusetts along with the countries of Switzerland and Denmark are among those that have said they'll use either format.

Either way, Microsoft is pushing forward to get its formats used in more places. With Microsoft's large market share in productivity software, Open XML isn't likely to decrease in importance anytime soon.

Last week, for example, Microsoft announced that it would contribute to an Apache project that would let Open XML be used in Java apps. The formats have already been employed or supported in Apple's iWork productivity suite, a productivity suite for Symbian mobile devices and a range of IBM products despite IBM's efforts with its own ODF.

As Open XML moves forward, a few vital missing pieces need to be put into place. For example, there are no standard interoperability test suites available for Open XML. "It's a real need," said Robertson, who pointed out that Microsoft recently launched a Document Interoperability Initiative aimed at creating test suites and templates for forms that would be optimized for interoperability between Open XML and ODF.

Currently, Microsoft's Open XML is a standard of ECMA International, where Microsoft is chair of the technical committee leading the standard's development. However, Microsoft anticipates significant changes in the future course of the standard's development if passed. Control of the standard will shift to ISO, where groups representing larger constituencies than in ECMA will be represented.

Microsoft has not yet said whether it will continue to use the standard version of Open XML for future releases of Office, and Robertson wouldn't confirm its use in the upcoming Office 14. "I don't know that there's a company on earth that would say, into the future, we're going to do X, Y or Z," he said.

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