Final deadline looms in OOXML vote

The Microsoft-backed document format is still short of the two-thirds majority vote required by the Saturday deadline to make it an ISO standard
Written by Peter Judge, Contributor

Lobbying has intensified ahead of Saturday, 29 March, the deadline for Microsoft to convince the world that its Office Open XML specification should be accepted as a formal standard.

The specification is still short of the two-thirds majority required in a vote of national standards bodies on whether to approve Office Open XML (OOXML) as an International Organization for Standardization (ISO) standard.

Eighteen of the 32 eligible bodies are now in favour, according to published updates gathered by Open Malaysia, giving OOXML 56 percent approval. However, most of these votes were registered in September and only six of the national bodies have reached a final conclusion. As a result, the outcome is far from certain, especially as one body has changed its position in Microsoft's favour.

The Czech Republic, initially against OOXML, has now voted in favour, along with Germany and the US, which have published their final votes. India has voted against the specification, and the Netherlands and Belgium have decided to abstain.

Among the countries who are not eligible to vote, Cuba and Brazil, as observers, have expressed disapproval. "OOXML does not deserve to be an international ISO standard," said Avi Alkalay, an open-standards, open-source and Linux adviser at IBM Brazil, and a member of the technical committee given responsibility for deciding Brazil's opinion as an observer. The simple fact that it has unresolved issues is enough to reject OOXML, he said. "If every country followed this simple process, OOXML would receive a 'no' from 100 percent of them."

In most countries, the national standards body has set up a committee to decide on OOXML. Members of those committees can include representatives of multinational companies and government departments (as is the case, for instance, with US standards body INCITS). This process is vulnerable to lobbying, warned Alkalay.

The Czech Standards Institute said it observed "the maximum openness and transparency of the whole process and created conditions allowing every interested person to join the expert discussion. All received suggestions were carefully discussed and their enlistment into the standard proposal considerably contributed to the improvement of its technical expertise".

An observing member, Cuba has complained that its 'no' vote to OOXML was miscounted as a 'yes' in September's meeting, and reiterated that vote.

"It's all very depressing, as well as predictable," said respected standards lawyer Andy Updegrove on his Standards Blog last week. "And it won't be over until it's over on 29 March. Except, of course, it won't be over then, either. The battle at hand then will simply be the next skirmish, as the forces temporarily withdraw from the field while the votes are counted."

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