Microsoft has won the battle to get its Office Open XML format approved as an international ISO/IEC standard.
In a statement released April 1, standards organization Ecma International said that the International Standards Organization (ISO) and International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC) had approved the Office Open XML File Format as an international standard.
Ecma approved Office Open XML as an international standard in December 2006 and submitted it to ISO for fast-track approval in January 2007. ISO/IEC are expected to publicly announce the final vote results April 2.
But the controversy over the entire voting process appears unlikely to die down anytime soon, especially as the chairman of the Norwegian standards committee responsible for evaluating Office Open XML has sent ISO a letter asking for its “yes” vote to be suspended pending a Norwegian government investigation into why the country’s vote was changed.
The decision was based on the fact that 75 percent of the participating national body members (known as P-members) who voted supported standardization, while 86 percent of all voting national body members supported ISO/IEC standardization, Ecma said.
Approval required that at least 66.66 percent of the votes cast by the national bodies participating in the joint technical committee be positive, with no more than 25 percent of the total number of national body votes cast being negative. “Both of these criteria were achieved,” the statement said.
The official statement confirmed what the blog sites Command Line Warriors, Open Malaysia and ConsortiumInfo.org were reporting the weekend of March 29: that, barring unforeseen circumstances, Open XML would become an ISO standard.
“ISO/IEC approval of this global standard represents an important milestone in our goal to support access to billions of existing binary documents, as well as to enable interoperability across office productivity applications and with line-of-business systems,” Dr. Istvan Sebestyen, Secretary General of Ecma International, said in the statement.
Input provided by national bodies around the world to improve and clarify the text had resulted in an “enhanced open standard that meets extensive requirements to support continued implementation across the industry,” Sebestyen said.
For his part, Tom Robertson, Microsoft’s general manager of interoperability and standards, said Open XML now joins HTML, PDF and ODF as ISO- and IEC-recognized open document format standards.
“With 86 percent of voting national bodies supporting ratification, there is overwhelming support for Open XML. This outcome is a clear win for the customers, technology providers and governments that want to choose the format that best meets their needs and have a voice in the evolution of this widely adopted standard,” Robertson said.
New standard gets mixed reception
The format’s approval is also likely to have little true impact on the future success of products that are compliant with the competing ODF (Open Document Format), said Andy Updegrove, a partner with Boston law firm Gesmer Updegrove and editor of the ConsortiumInfo standards blog.
There are many reasons for this, Updegrove said, including the fact that the quality of Office Open XML is not what it should be yet, that there will be no compliant products for some time, that the billions of documents that already exist were not created in this format and that many governments do not want to support a monopoly.
Some of the members of the technical committee who supported the adoption of Office Open XML as an international standard welcomed the news.
Adam Farquhar, head of Digital Library Technology at the British Library and vice chair of Ecma TC45, said the move was “an important step forward for digital preservation and will help us fulfill the British Library’s core responsibility of making our digital collections accessible for generations to come.”
Martha Anderson, director of Program Management for the National Digital Information Infrastructure and Preservation Program, agreed.
“The U.S. Library of Congress believes that the preservation of digital content for future generations will be much easier if widely used software applications use formats with full public specifications that will be maintained by the global community going forward. The approval of Office Open XML as an international standard has important benefits for libraries and other archival institutions for generations to come,” Anderson said.
For Tom Ngo, chief technology officer of ISV NextPage and a member of Ecma TC45, the ISO/IEC approval puts control of Open XML “in the hands of the international community.”
Officials at IBM, which has been the most vocal critic of the whole process, could not immediately be reached for comment.