Open XML makes it on to ISO fast track

Posted by d0nk3y on Mar 14, 2007 6:16 AM EDT
Computerworld New Zealand; By Eric Lai Framingham / David Watson
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Despite objects from New Zealand and five other countries, Microsoft's Open XML format will be put to the vote in August

The International Standards Organization (ISO) has agreed to put Open XML, the document format created and championed by Microsoft, on a fast-track approval process that could see it ratified as an international standard by August.

That's despite lingering opposition to Open XML by several key voting countries, including New Zealand. The main objection put forward by those countries, and the sole basis on which New Zealand objects, is that the the ISO has already approved the Open Document Format for Office Applications (ODF) and having Open XML as a standard is unnecessary.

According to Lisa Rachjel, the secretariat of ISO's Joint Technical Committee (JTC-1) on Information Technology, the Open XML proposal, along with comments and criticism by nations that have already reviewed it, will be put on the ISO's five-month balloting process.

Rachjel did not give a date when the proposal would officially be put on a ballot and distributed to all 157 countries represented in the ISO, though it is likely to happen this week, according to Stacy Leistner, director of communications at the American National Standards Institute (ANSI), which is assisting the ISO in this issue.

Microsoft did not immediately return an emailed request for comment. IBM, through a spokesman, declined to comment. IBM has consistently opposed Open XML's approval, and Microsoft has accused IBM, which is supporting ODF in its applications such as Lotus Notes and Workplace, of inappropriate meddling in Open XML's approval process.

Rachjel says she decided to move Open XML forward after consulting with staff at the International Technology Task Force. She did not mention that the 6,000-page proposal, submitted by another standards body, Ecma International, had garnered comments and criticism from 20 out of the 30 countries sitting on the JTC-1 committee.

When first reported in mid-February, parties opposing Open XML's ratification had speculated that enough of the then-unrevealed comments would identify fatal "contradictions" in Open XML that would scuttle its bid for fast track approval.

But according to a tally conducted by Computerworld US in early March and based on ISO documents, only six countries — including New Zealand — formally opposed Open XML's fast-tracking, with another five nations showing strong doubts to the Open XML proposal in its current form.

For a proposed standard to be approved by the ISO, no more than one-third of JTC-1, or ten countries, can vote against it. Meanwhile, no more than a quarter of ISO's 157 members that cast their vote — non-JTC-1 member countries may abstain — can vote against it.

The US did not submit a comment or a contradiction through its member body.

The most common objection to the proposed standard has been the overlap between Open XML and ODF, which the ISO ratified last May. Several countries suggested "harmonising" ODF with Open XML to make them more interoperable. Other commonly-cited objections include patent violations by Open XML, the lengthiness of Ecma's proposal, and specific issues related to how Open XML operates technically.

Ecma submitted lengthy rebuttals in late February those criticisms, but did not change the Open XML proposal.

A vote whether or not to approve Open XML will take place exactly five months from the date the ballot is officially issued, Leistner says. Countries, even those that have submitted official memos criticising or praising the Open XML proposal, can change their positions.

Additional reporting by David Watson

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