Expert: Open XML Loses Standards Battle

Standards maven Andrew Updegrove predicts that the ISO will announce that Microsoft's Open XML failed to be voted in as a standard.

Standards expert and attorney Andrew Updegrove has predicted that on Sept. 4 the International Organization for Standards will announce that the draft ISO specification based on Microsofts Office Open XML formats failed to make the standardization grade.

The voting to make Open XML an ISO standard closed on Sept. 2. The ISO is expected to announce whether the Microsoft-sponsored document format received enough votes to become an ISO standard on Sept. 4. Updegrove, a partner with Gesmer Updegrove, a Boston law firm that specializes in representing technology clients, and an expert in standards who has followed the Open XML standardization process like a hawk, forecasted on Sept. 3 that "with the polls now closed and the early results in (some public, some not) … its time to predict with assurance that ISO will announce tomorrow that ISO/IEC DIS 29500, the draft specification based upon Microsofts Office Open XML formats, has failed to achieve enough yes votes to gain approval at this time."

The debate on this proposed standard became extremely heated in the weeks leading up to the tallying of the ISO nations votes. According to some observers, Microsoft was stuffing the ballot boxes of some countries ISO organizations while encouraging other countries to become voting members of the ISO so that they could vote for Microsofts proposal.

In Sweden, for example, 23 new companies, all of which were Microsoft partners, joined the Swedish Standards Institute at the groups closing meeting on the subject and were allowed to vote in favor of making Microsofts Open XML a standard. Jason Matusow, Microsofts director of corporate standards, admitted that a Microsoft employee had sent two Microsoft partners "an e-mail making a request to participate in the Swedish process, telling them that they would be responsible for paying the membership fee if they did, but also making a related reference to marketing."

Matusow also claimed that the employee had made a mistake in implying that Microsoft would pay for the companies membership fees by marketing support. "To say it more directly, offers to pay standards participation fees are totally inconsistent with our internal policy," said Matusow.

The Swedish pro-Microsoft vote, however, has been thrown out. The Swedish Standards Institute board invalidated the vote on the grounds that at least one company voted twice for Open XML (PDF link in Swedish). This was purely a technical issue. The uproar over Microsoft "buying" Swedens vote had nothing to do with SIS moving away from its vote. The final result was that Sweden has changed its vote from "yes" to "abstain."

The entire ISO standardization process has also been thrown into confusion by the last-minute addition of 11 other countries—Cote dIvoire, Cyprus, Ecuador, Jamaica, Lebanon, Malta, Pakistan, Trinidad and Tobago, Turkey, Uruguay, and Venezuela—to become "P" (Participating) ISO members. In this case, this means that these countries will get to vote on the Open XML standard. Before this sudden membership surge, there had been 30 "P" ISO members.

Because of this, Updegrove said, "The final vote has been a moving target for some time, and for a variety of reasons. In most cases, the dynamism in the vote has been as a result of various types of behavior by Microsoft, both alleged as well as, in some cases, admitted."

Updegrove predicts the vote will go against Microsoft because "public announcements of how P members of ISO have voted on OOXML are now rolling in one at a time, and the trend thus far is meaningfully weighted toward No with comments.

"By my count, there are now four announced yes votes, with comments [Germany, Poland, Switzerland and the United States], two abstentions [Australia and Sweden, the former due to a failure to achieve consensus, and the latter due to voting irregularities], and seven public no with comments votes: Brazil, China, Denmark, France, India, Ireland and New Zealand."

Since Updegrove last updated his list, the United Kingdom has announced that it will be voting "no with comments."

While there are more votes to count, the ISO standardization rule is that a standard fails if 25 percent or more of the total votes cast by both P and O (Observer) members are "no" votes.

Even if it fails at this step, however, its not the end of the Open XML standardization effort. Microsoft and the ECMA standards organization will have until Jan. 14, 2008, to answer the 10,000-plus comments attached to the "no" votes. Once thats done, there will be an ISO Ballot Resolution Meeting on Feb. 19-25 in Geneva, Switzerland. There, either a decision will be reached on the Open XML as it stands or revisions will be made to it. In the latter case, there will be a vote on the revised standard at the meeting.


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