U.S. Votes for Modified OOXML Standards
- By William Jackson
The United States has voted for approval of a modified version of the Office
Open XML (OOXML) standard for business documents.
The International Committee for Information Technology Standards (INCITS) Executive
Board is the U.S. Technical Advisory Group for ISO/IEC Joint Technical Committee
1, and casts this country's vote on information technology standards. It is
comprised of 17 voting members, including three from the federal government:
the Homeland Security and Defense departments and the National Institute of
Standards and Technology.
Final international votes on the proposed standard will be tallied on March 29.
The proposed standard failed last year to receive enough votes from 104 participating
countries for approval in the five-month fast-track voting process. The United
States, in that round, voted to "approve, with comments," which ensured
that its concerns about the proposed standard would be considered in future
OOXML is a schema using Extensible Markup Language (XML) to make word processing
documents, spreadsheets and presentations created with Microsoft products readable
by other programs. An open standard for this schema is important because it
would enable documents created on one platform to be represented and read accurately
by users with different software. It would also ensure that documents would
remain accessible over time as the original programs become obsolete.
This issue is critical for governments, which are required to make public records
available without restriction to a single software platform, and to maintain
them over time. The competing Open Document Format (ODF) already has been approved
as an international standard, but adoption has been hindered by the fact that
it was not supported by Microsoft Office, a widely used suite of office applications.
Adopting ODF would require many organizations to replace their existing applications,
and Microsoft complained that adoption would, in effect, lock the company out
of that market. Microsoft responded with its own open format, OOXML, with the
release of Office 2007 and ISO/IEC put it on the fast track for approval.
The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) favors having competing
document standards, as explained by then-NIST Director William Jeffrey last year when the
original vote was cast.
"NIST believes that ODF and OOXML can co-exist as international standards,"
Jeffrey said. "NIST fully supports technology-neutral solutions and will
support the standard once our technical concerns are addressed."
Those concerns included:
- Terms in the standard that are not defined or are inadequately defined.
- The lack of some normative references, specifying specific versions of
other standards being cited.
- A stronger hash algorithm, such as SHA-256, should be required.
- Some informative examples are invalid.
- OOXML uses a proprietary naming scheme.
- Some requirements do not fully support accessibility requirements of Section
508 of the U.S. Rehabilitation Act.
Negotiations to resolve technical and other issues are a fact of life in the
international standards-making process and are not necessarily a roadblock to
final adoption of OOXML. Comments from national bodies were considered at an
ISO/IEC ballot resolution meeting in Geneva and modifications in the proposed
standard were adopted.
The U.S. body has voted to approve the modified OOXML standard, with 11 members
-- including the NIST -- voting "yes," four members voting "no," one member voting
to abstain and one member not casting a vote.
Approval of the standard requires at least two-thirds of the votes cast by
participating nations to be positive, and no more than one quarter of the total
number of national votes cast negative. If the final international vote tally
is sufficient for approval, OOXML will be published as an ISO/IEC international
standard. If the final vote fails, it still could be submitted for consideration
again to another ISO/IEC subcommittee.