Innovation

Microsoft's OOXML becomes an ISO standard

Microsoft seems to have won its bid to have OOXML declared an official standard alongside ODF. But what has it won? And is it possible that it has truly lost the war? The European Commission is taking a closer look, and realistically, Microsoft isn't ready to implement the OOXML that ISO has blessed.

The vote is in and it appears that Microsoft has won its bid to have OOXML declared an ISO standard according to voting results obtained April 1.

Does this mean that Microsoft's fight to become a recognized ISO standard is over? Not really. There is still a two month period that it must get through to allow national bodies to lodge any formal appeals before the standard moves to official publication.

But it is definitely a step forward.

From the New York Times:

The tally reversed a loss by Microsoft in first-round voting before an 87-nation panel in September, a process that involved blunt lobbying by both sides toward members of national standards committees - typically made up of technicians, engineers and bureaucrats.

In the final round of voting, which ended Saturday, three-quarters of the core group members - including Britain, Japan, Germany and Switzerland - supported Microsoft's standard, according to the results document. Of the 87 votes, 10 opposed the standard: Brazil, Canada, China, Cuba, Ecuador, India, Iran, New Zealand, South Africa and Venezuela.

Under organization rules, at least 66 percent of core group members must accept a standard for it to be approved, and no more than 25 percent of all voting nations can be opposed.

Roger Frost, a spokesman in Geneva for the standardization group, would not confirm that Microsoft's format had been designated, saying the organization would disclose the vote Wednesday after informing its members. The International Herald Tribune obtained the results from one of the delegations contacted by the standardization group.

But the court of public opinion has yet to weigh in on Microsoft's win. There are many who feel that the fast-track approval process that Microsoft lobbied heavily for beginning in 2007 was not appropriate for a proposal like OOXML.

From Australian IT:

In Australia, a "wide spectrum of opinion" had been canvassed by Standards Australia, and the decision to abstain was "absolutely valid from their perspective", Mr Stone said. "They've gone through an exhaustive process and put an inordinate amount of work into consultations with industry, government and beyond."

Last week, Standards Australia said it would maintain its "abstain" position, with stakeholders divided along largely commercial lines. Pajan Navaratnam, head of SA's delegation, said that due to the size of the document - 6000 pages - and complexity, no full analysis of the implications of OOXML had been undertaken by relevant agencies.

"Standards Australia is not satisfied that the fast-track process is suitable for a proposal as large, complex and commercially sensitive," Mr Navaratnam said. "The recent meeting only addressed a small number of the issues raised by various member countries. We don't believe sufficient progress was made to change our vote."

In fact, nine nations with full voting rights chose to abstain. They were Australia, Belgium, France, Ital, Kenya, Malaysia, the Netherlands, Spain and Turkey. Previously, Kenya, and Turkey had voted "yes, with comments."

But is it enough to support wide adoption of OOXML? The answer is "possibly." To begin with, Open Document Format or ODF is already accepted as a standard, and it is already in use. The question is whether there is a need for two standards. But this question may already be a moot point as both the popular Office Suite embraces OOXML as does Apple's iWork.

However, the European Commission may have another view. With an investigation of Microsoft's business practices from an antitrust perspective currently underway, suggestions of foul play on Microsoft's part may come back to haunt it.

From InfoWorld:

When the Commission, Europe's top antitrust authority, opened a probe into Microsoft's business practices in January, it said part of the investigation would examine whether OOXML, as the format is known, is "sufficiently interoperable with competitors' products."

A month later ,the Commission sent a confidential request for information to all the national divisions of the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) in Europe, asking for information about the ongoing process of assessing OOXML.

"In your opinion, have there been any irregularities or attempts to influence the debate or vote on the ECMA 376 proposal as regards your organization? If so please provide details and any relevant facts," the Commission wrote in the letter, a copy of which was obtained by IDG News Service. ECMA 376 is the title under which Microsoft submitted OOXML for consideration by the ISO.

The request for information, known as an Article 18 letter, is a formal procedure carried out by the Commission's antitrust officials, designed to gather evidence of antitrust abuse.

It was used in the first Microsoft investigation, which concluded in 2004. The replies the Commission received that time led to fresh antitrust charges that Microsoft had been unfairly bundling its Media Player with its Windows operating system.

If national ISO bodies return evidence that Microsoft attempted to influence the votes to secure acceptance of OOXML, it would strengthen the Commission's antitrust case.

One ISO official from Norway has already written to the central office of the ISO in Geneva that the Norwegian vote be excluded from the final tally, stating that "the decision [to vote "yes"] does not reflect the view of the vast majority of the Norwegian committee."

Just to keep things interesting, OOXML in the format proposed to ISO is not what Microsoft implements in the Office suite. According to Pamela Jones, author of a popular Groklaw blog and outspoken critic of the effort to make OOXML a standard, "No one can actually implement this standard. Not even Microsoft." She also notes that "the format references proprietary stuff from the past. Stuff that is patented, no doubt, but mainly just unknown and unknowable."

So the vote is in. But is the war over? And what does ISO ratification of OOXML mean to you?

More information:

Analysis: ISO vote is only first step for Open XML (Computerworld)

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