Microsoft puts Open XML on fast track to accreditation

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 Open XML ratified as an international standard by August.

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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 Open XML ratified as an international standard by August.

That's despite opposition to Open XML by several key voting countries, including some of where governments are moving forward to adopt the alternative Open Document Format for Office Applications (ODF) format, which the ISO approved as a standard last year.

According to an e-mail sent on 10 March by 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.

The e-mail 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 e-mailed 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 wrote that 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 there would be sufficient "contradictions" in Open XML to scuttle its bid for fast track approval.

But according to a tally conducted by Computerworld in early March and based on ISO documents download PDF,

only six countries 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 10 countries, can vote against it. Meanwhile, no more than one quarter of ISO's 157 members that cast their vote -- non-JTC-1 member countries may abstain -- can vote against it.

The U.S. did not submit a comment or a contradiction through its member body, the International Committee for Information Technology Standards.

The most common objection to the proposed standard has been the overlap between Open XML and ODF, which the ISO ratified last May.

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