Microsoft's OOXML limps through ISO meeting

Summary:The proposed document specification has less than one month left to achieve the 66 percent backing required to make it a full ISO standard

The Microsoft-created specification OOXML is struggling to achieve the two-thirds majority backing of ISO members in order for it to become a recognised standard, the aftermath of a high-profile meeting has revealed.

Last week saw 100 delegates from 32 countries meet to discuss how to improve the OOXML specification to bring it up to the level required by the International Organization for Standardization (ISO). The next stage in the process is for Microsoft, together with the organisation backing its specification, ECMA, to make the necessary changes to OOXML for 66 percent of ISO members to deem it worthy of becoming a proper standard. The company has until 29 March to make this happen or see the specification formally rejected.

OOXML, used within Microsoft Office, has been proposed as an international standard for documents. The rival Open Document Format (ODF), used in the OpenOffice suite and supported by IBM and Sun, is already an international standard. Both define ways to encode tagged information in documents using the Extensible Markup Language (XML). Another standards body, ECMA, is trying to fast-track the Microsoft-backed OOXML through ISO.

Standards-makers had just one week to resolve comments on the OOXML specification. After it was rejected by a vote in the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) last September, 3,500 comments were made. From these, 1100 suggested changes were distilled. Last week's "ballot resolution meeting" dealt with 20 percent of these comments, but nodded the rest through when it ran out of time.

The meeting in Geneva did not include a new ballot, but was intended to resolve issues, and give OOXML's proposers more time (until 29 March) to raise the necessary two-thirds majority to move to the next stage of the standards process. Fifty-three percent of delegates voted in favour of OOXML in September.

"Virtually every comment we processed did not survive unedited," said the head of the US delegation at the meeting, Frank Farance, implying that the ones which were passed on a "default vote" would very likely have needed similar work. Dealing with that many comments in a week was like trying to run a two-minute mile, he said.

The resulting specification is now too poor to be considered as a standard, according to Andy Updegrove, a lawyer who runs the ConsortiumInfo Standards blog, who was in Geneva during the meeting: "Many, many people around the world have tried very hard to make the OOXML adoption process work," he said. "It is very unfortunate that they were put to this predictably unsuccessful result through the self-interest of a single vendor taking advantage of a permissive process that was never intended to be abused in this fashion. It would be highly inappropriate to compound this error by approving a clearly unfinished specification in the voting period ahead."

Microsoft spokespeople were more upbeat, drawing attention to the fact that recommendations were technically passed — even though...

Topics: Tech Industry

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