Acceptance means that Microsoft doesn't have to worry about governments that prefer internationally standardized document formats backing away from Office.

J. Nicholas Hoover, Senior Editor, InformationWeek Government

April 1, 2008

3 Min Read

Though the final tally won't be announced until Wednesday, Microsoft and its allies have claimed an "overwhelming" victory in the battle to get the vendor's Office Open XML file format specification accepted as an international standard by the International Standardization Organization.

"This outcome is a clear win for the customers, technology providers, and governments that want to choose the format that best meets their needs and have a voice in the evolution of this widely adopted standard," Tom Robertson, Microsoft's general manager of interoperability and standards, said in a statement.

In a press release, Microsoft referenced informal documents showing that Open XML received an 86% yes vote from all of the voting national bodies and a 75% yes vote from those who more formally participated in the standardization process. The thresholds for standardization were 75% and 66.7%, respectively. Microsoft had earlier said that it would wait for the formal tally to make an announcement. The ISO didn't respond to requests for comment in time for this article.

With ISO control of the Open XML standard comes new management and some breathing room for Microsoft. Whereas Open XML has been under the control of an Ecma International technical committee headed by Microsoft, control now falls to the global community. Meanwhile, acceptance means that Microsoft doesn't have to worry about governments that prefer internationally standardized document formats backing away from Office.

This may not yet be the end of the battle, however. The chairman of Norway's standardization committee has filed a formal complaint of "serious irregularities" in that country's results. Throughout the voting process, Microsoft, its allies, and its opponents have been lobbying hard for their prospective sides, reaching as far as reports in Sweden of a Microsoft representative promising -- without corporate approval, according to Microsoft -- marketing in exchange for a yes vote.

In a letter to members of the OpenDoc Society, which advocates on behalf of the already-standardized Open Document Format, OpenDoc Society board member Michiel Leenaars downplayed Open XML's acceptance. "After a year of discussion and repairs, it still receives the very minimum of support," he wrote. "This must be one of the worst results ever for a standard to pass within ISO/JTC1 in years."

Supporters of ODF, including companies like IBM and Sun, have been among Open XML's biggest detractors. Microsoft had been invited to take part in the creation of ODF but declined and only supports ODF in Office 2007 as an add-on. Opponents argue that among other things, in Open XML, Microsoft has created nothing more than an XML wrapper around a complex proprietary file format.

Microsoft clearly disagrees with that sentiment. "Open XML is an example of how we're embracing the standards process," Robertson said in an interview. "The opponents of Open XML would have you look at this as somehow proprietary, but just the opposite is true." The technical committee developing Open XML as a standard was headed by Microsoft, but Microsoft did not have any veto rights and the committee was composed of a number of organizations, including the Library of Congress and Apple.

"The U.S. Library of Congress believes that the preservation of digital content for future generations will be much easier if widely used software applications use formats with full public specifications that will be maintained by the global community going forward," Martha Anderson, director of program management for the Library of Congress' National Digital Information Infrastructure and Preservation Program, said in a victory statement issued by Ecma International. "The approval of Office Open XML as an international standard has important benefits for libraries and other archival institutions for generations to come."

Though Microsoft Office is the most popular implementation of Open XML, other software, including Apple's iWork, Corel WordPerfect, and Open Office also have shipped implementations of the document standard as either default file formats or as an add-on.

About the Author(s)

J. Nicholas Hoover

Senior Editor, InformationWeek Government

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