ISO Plans To Announce OOXML Decision This Week

The International Organization for Standardization (ISO) plans to announce vote results on the decision to ratify or reject Microsoft's Office Open XML (OOXML) document format on Wednesday, April 2, 2008. The vote on OOXML as an international standard is reportedly too close to call. OOXML is an XML schema format for sharing Microsoft Office 2007 files.

The delay is being ascribed to a need to inform the ISO world membership of the vote results first, according to an official ISO statement described by All About Microsoft's Mary Jo Foley. The ISO body voted last weekend (March 29 to 30, 2008) on the whether to ratify ISO/IEC DIS 29500, which is the official name for Microsoft's OOXML submission.

Microsoft Corp. issued an official "no comment" statement about the decision today through its press service.

"We respect ISO's desire to first inform its National Body members and all the people who have worked so hard during this process. This has been a remarkable process, involving literally thousands of technical experts, technology consumers, and governments in 87 countries, whose input has helped to improve Ecma's submitted Open XML standard. Out of respect for the standards process, we will not comment before the final results are known."

Press and blog accounts have already predicted that Microsoft's OOXML will gain ISO approval. However, there have been allegations of voting irregularities as well. The Groklaw Web site indicated that a formal protest was lodged by Steve Pepper,
chairman of the ISO/IEC JTC 1/SC 34 mirror committee, over Norway's vote. It also suggested problems with Germany's vote, although the alleged irregularity was apparently debunked, according to the German DIN body voting on the matter.

In order for OOXML to be approved as an international standard, two-thirds of the national bodies participating in ISO/IEC JTC 1 need to vote "Yes," and the there can be no more than one fourth "No" votes. OOXML has already been published by Ecma International as Ecma standard 376.

The approval of OOXML has generated enormous controversy. It was fast-tracked through ISO/IEC, but an IT Pro article suggested that the OOXML specification has grown to 7,000 pages during the fast-track process. In contrast, the rival Open Document Format (ODF) document format specification, which is already an international standard, has just 600 pages.

Issues of trust, interoperability and Microsoft's dominating market share are reasons for the general skepticism over allowing OOXML to be an ISO/IEC standard. For instance, the IT Pro article pointed to a 1998 internal e-mail from Bill Gates stating that "allowing Office documents to be rendered very well by other peoples [sic] browsers is one of the most destructive things we could do to the company."

Michael Desmond, founding editor of Redmond Developer News, contributed to this article.

About the Author

Kurt Mackie is online news editor, Enterprise Group, at 1105 Media Inc.