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2/29/2008
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OOXML In Geneva: Microsoft Document Standard Still Up In Air

A consensus was reached by standards delegations, but opponents predicted the thinness of support overseas will translate into votes to defeat at home.

The outcome is still up in the air, but Microsoft is claiming another step toward victory in its effort to get its default Office document standard -- Office Open XML -- established as an international standard.

Brian Jones, an Office product manager, said in a blog posted Friday that "consensus" was reached by standards delegations attending a five day meeting in Geneva to resolved differences over XML.

At the same time, Andrew Updegrove, director of standards strategy for the Linux Foundation and a lawyer who blogs on open source standards, says the OOXML effort is headed for defeat because the Ballot Resolution Meeting couldn't address many issues.

"Only six of 32 delegations in attendance voted to approve about 900 out of more than 1,100 dispositions [proposed changes]," blogged Updegrove. Two hundred other dispositions contained only minor editorial changes and were approved by a much larger vote. In addition to six delegations in favor, four voted against approval, four refused to vote as a protest of the shortcomings of the discussion period and 18 abstained, Updegrove reported. Only "approve" and "disapprove" votes can be counted in the process, Updegrove said.

The delegates now retire to their own countries at this point to conduct a final vote on OOXML over the next 30 days and he predicted that the thinness of support in Geneva will translate into votes to defeat at home.

The delegations are part of a joint committee of the International Standards Organization and International Electrotechnical Commission formed to resolve objections to the proposal. In a previous vote over the Labor Day weekend, OOXML narrowly lost a vote among national delegations to be put on a fast track voting process to become an ISO standard. Microsoft competitors, including Sun Microsystems and IBM, were opponents of the measure.

Because OOXML ties into many Microsoft proprietary technologies, the draft standard is over 6,000 pages of description and documentation, says Updegrove. Many criticisms and proposed changes were recommended, so many that the five-day meeting proved insufficient for members to review and vote on them all.

"There were many technical changes the delegates made to really get consensus on some of the more challenging issues, but all these passed overwhelmingly. The process really worked (it was very cool)," wrote Microsoft's Jones.

Many people tried to make the process work, wrote Updegrove, but it was an open ended process that was marred by irregularities, such as the revelation that members of the Swedish delegation had been offered financial incentives by their national Microsoft representative to show up and vote at meetings they had not previously attend. Microsoft officials at corporate headquarters said the Swedish representative was acting on his own and not authorized to make such offers.

Updegrove concluded that the five days of an inconclusive resolution process was a "predictable result... of a single vendor taking advantage of a permissive process that was never intended to be abused in this fashion."

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