The International Organization for Standardization (ISO) is voting this weekend on Microsoft's OpenXML format, which Redmond has been pushing as "open enough," as it competes with Open Document Format, which is already an international standard, Reuters reports.
Opponents of OpenXML say the format is needlessly bloated -- running 6,000 pages of code compared to ODF's 860.
Microsoft says the additional complexity makes the format more useful than ODF. "More parallel standards makes for better standards. It's good not to decide for a single standard too soon," Michael Groezinger, Microsoft's chief technology officer in Germany, told Reuters.
Last week the German Institute for Standardization -- an ISO member --voted to give Open XML a conditional "yes" vote.
"The absolute nightmare scenario is that Microsoft says: 'Update your licenses or we'll turn off your access,'" Georg Greve, president of the Free Software Foundation Europe, told Reuters in an interview. "Access to governmental data will completely depend on the existence of Microsoft," said Greve, who expects Microsoft to lose the ISO ballot in a close vote.
Groezinger said there is no cause for concern, since Microsoft has handed over control of Open XML to standards-making body ECMA, which would be responsible for making it available -- even if Microsoft went out of business.
Microsoft has also promised not to pursue any patent claims against parties using, selling or distributing Open XML. And Redmond has a deal with Novell to create OpenXML2ODF translators. Critics say the tool cannot provide a complete translation due to the higher complexity of the Microsoft format.
"This is a classic vendor lock-in strategy," Greve told Reuters. "It's not that new, it's not that ingenious but it's quite effective."
The Gartner Group says the existence of the two standards means organizations -- and state governments like Massachusetts have been at the forefront of requiring open documents formats -- will have to accommodate both standards, no matter what happens at the ISO.
"The two standards may converge in the longer term, but all organizations should plan on them coexisting for at least the medium term," research group Gartner said in a recent report. The problems associated with the need to translate between formats will continue and will diminish the value of XML."