Microsoft OOXML standardization bid: The clock is ticking

Summary:The politicking is almost over. At midnight (Central European Time) on Saturday March 29, voting regarding whether Microsoft's Open Office XML (OOXML) document format will get ISO standards approval will close.

The politicking is almost over. At midnight (Central European Time) on Saturday March 29, voting regarding whether Microsoft's Open Office XML (OOXML) document format will get ISO standards approval will close.

For the past month -- ever since the ISO Ballot Resolution Meeting (BRM) in Geneva ended -- both Microsoft and many of the backers of the rival Open Document Format (ODF) ISO standard have both been claiming mini victories. ("Denmark says yes!" "Cuba says no!") The final results of the seemingly never-ending OOXML standardization debate are expected to be announced by ISO on Monday March 31 (if someone doesn't leak them before that).

The battle over OOXML standarization is all about money and marketshare. Microsoft wants OOXML to qualify as an "open standard" so that the company can continue to sell Office into governments that see ISO as the gold standard bearer. Many of the companies  that have fought publicly against OOXML gaining ISO standardization approval are hoping that failure of OOXML to get the ISO nod will give them a chance to gain more marketshare in a world where Office still runs on more than 90 percent of Windows desktops.

Microsoft officials are emphasizing in their last-minute campaigning, that OOXML already is a "standard." (It became an ECMA International-approved standard in December 2006.) If OOXML gets the ISO-standard OK, ECMA will transfer control of OOXML to ISO. If OOXML fails to get the number of necessary votes, it will be up to ECMA -- not Microsoft -- to decide whether or not to try resubmitting it.

"OOXML has been pretty broadly adopted already, by companies like Apple, IBM, Nokia and Palm, and will continue to grow regardless of what happens tomorrow night," said Tom Robertson, Microsoft's General Manager of Interoperability and Standards.

Burton Group Analyst Peter O'Kelly (of this "OOXML vs. ODF" report fame) agreed that, in some ways, the outcome of the ISO vote won't be a watershed event.

"In the grand scheme of things, I think the debate is going to be considered something of a non-event, once the blogosphere FUD (fear, uncertainty and doubt) and flame wars subside. ISO approval would simplify Open XML deployments in some domains, but Open XML isn't going to flounder or fade away if the ISO ballot resolution is unsuccessful. "

O'Kelly added:

"It's not really a winner-takes-all scenario; ODF will continue regardless of what happens to Open XML, as its designers had different design goals. The anti-Open XML camp, which is not 1:1 with ODF supporters (although of course many of the most stridently anti-Open XML people are ODF fans, not all ODF fans are anti-Open XML), is likely to be disappointed either way (i.e., win or lose on the ISO ballot), as Open XML is definitely gaining momentum, and is here to stay."

What's your two cents? How much will it really matter whether OOXML gets the ISO standardization nod or not? Why or why not?

Topics: Microsoft, Emerging Tech, Enterprise Software

About

Mary Jo Foley has covered the tech industry for 30 years for a variety of publications, including ZDNet, eWeek and Baseline. She is the author of Microsoft 2.0: How Microsoft plans to stay relevant in the post-Gates era (John Wiley & Sons, 2008). She also is the cohost of the "Windows Weekly" podcast on the TWiT network. Got a tip? Se... Full Bio

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