Microsoft Office Open XML gets US knockback

The document format has encountered a serious setback on its way to achieving certification as an open standard

An open office document format developed by Microsoft has received a major setback in achieving a certification which would make it more widely accepted as a true technology standard.

On Friday, Office Open XML (OOXML) failed to gain approval in a vote by a sub-group of the International Committee for Information Technology Standards (INCITS), a standards body influential with the US government.

OOXML has strong support from Microsoft, and is a rival to the OpenDocument Format (ODF) favoured by open-source vendors and companies such as IBM. But while ODF has gained important acceptance from the International Organization for Standardization (ISO), OOXML is still struggling to be seen as a truly open.

According to Rob Weir, a member of INCITS and an IBM performance architect, OOXML failed to gain the majority needed for INCITS V1 sub-group approval, which is seen by some as a step towards being accepted by the ISO.

"On Friday July 13th, INCITS V1 met via teleconference for three hours but failed to reach a 2/3 consensus necessary to recommend an 'Approval, with comments' position on Microsoft 'Office Open XML' document specification," said Weir in his blog.

Currently a group of companies is applying for ISO certification for OOXML. Microsoft is keen that OOXML gains ISO approval rapidly, as ISO is seen as an important milestone for standards.

However, Weir said that the V1 sub-group would not report consensus on the "controversial" OOXML ISO submission, which has been fast-tracked.

"The result is that V1 will report a large list of technical comments for consideration by INCITS, but will not report a consensus position on this controversial ISO 'Fast Track' submission," said Weir's blog post.

He added that an "important factor" in the voting process was the number of members new to the committee who were Microsoft business partners.

"An important factor in the V1 vote was the large number of members who joined very late in the process," said Weir. "At the start of the year, V1 had only seven voting members. But, by Friday's meeting, V1 had 26 voting members. There was a clear pattern in the voting where the long-time V1 members voted for the 'Disapproval, with comments' position, while the newer members voted overwhelmingly 'Yes, with comments'. This is not surprising since the new members were largely Microsoft business partners."

When asked if it could be a coincidence that new members of V1 who were also Microsoft business partners had voted for OOXML, Microsoft did not respond. However, a senior Microsoft executive said that no decision regarding ISO ratification had yet been reached by INCITS, and that a "clear majority" of the V1 group had been in favour of recommending ISO ratification.

"The notion that a decision has been reached is incorrect. A clear majority of the participants in the V1 process voted to recommend ISO ratification of Ecma Open XML because they recognise that this is the path to take to enable choice. We look forward to further discussions on this issue with INCITS as it comes to its final position over the coming six weeks," said Tom Robertson, general manager of interoperability and standards at Microsoft.

Microsoft's UK head of platform strategy, Nick McGrath, insisted earlier this year that OOXML, having gained certification from another standards organisation, Ecma International, is now an Ecma concern.


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