Microsoft Loses, Spins Open XML Vote

Updated: ISO issued a statement that makes plain what Microsoft tried to spin as a victory.

Microsoft conceded that it had been unsuccessful in its attempt to make its document formats, Open XML, an ISO standard in an early morning press release on Sept. 4.

According to Microsoft, the ISO (International Organization for Standardization) released the results of the preliminary ballot to participating National Body members for the ISO/IEC DIS 29500 (aka, Ecma 376, the Office Open XML file formats) ratification process, and Open XML did not pass.

After Microsofts announcement, the ISO issued its report on the Open XML vote.

According to the ISO, "Approval requires at least two-thirds (i.e. 66.66 percent) of the votes cast by national bodies participating in ISO/IEC JTC 1 to be positive, and no more than one-fourth (i.e. 25 percent) of the total number of national body votes cast negative. Neither of these criteria were achieved, with 53 percent of votes cast by national bodies participating in ISO/IEC JTC 1 being positive and 26 percent of national votes cast being negative."

In the meantime, Microsoft claims, "The results were that the 51 ISO members, representing 74 percent of all qualified votes, stated their support for ratification of Open XML. Along with their votes, the National Bodies also provided invaluable technical comments designed to improve the specification. Many of the remaining ISO members stated that they will support Open XML after their comments are addressed during the final phase of the process, which is expected to close in March 2008."

"We are extremely delighted to see that 51 ISO members, representing 74 percent of the qualified votes, have already voiced their support for ISO ratification of Open XML, and that many others have indicated they will support ratification once their comments are resolved in the next phase of the ISO process," said Tom Robertson, general manager for Interoperability and Standards at Microsoft in a statement.


Read more here about Massachusetts giving Open XML the green light.

According to Andrew 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 closely, the actual voting results were not at all good for Open XML. "All 41 P [participating] members voted, with the following breakdown: 17 yes, 15 no, and 9 abstain. A 66 2/3 percent majority was required, after subtracting abstentions. Instead, only a 53.12 percent approval was achieved," noted Updegrove.

The Open XML standardization proposal also failed to pass muster by another voting standard. "On the second test, a perhaps unprecedented 87 National Bodies voted, including Full Members that were not JTC1 members, as well as P [Participating] and O [Observer] members of JTC1. Out of this pool, 69 voted yes, with 18 voting no, or 26.08 percent, thus failing the second test: no more than 25 percent of all eligible votes can be no, after subtracting abstentions," said Updegrove.

Marino Marcich, executive director of the Washington, D.C.-based ODF Alliance, a group supporting the already ISO-approved document standard ODF (Open Document Format), said, "While we await official confirmation of the ballot results, it appears that Microsofts Office Open XML failed to secure the necessary 2/3 vote among so-called P members of ISO."

"The large number of reported no votes [15] and abstentions [9] demonstrates the depth of concern around the world over OOXMLs interoperability and openness. The nos included some of the fastest-growing economies in the world and major industrialized countries, in stark contrast to ODF, which was approved unanimously [31-0] by ISO in 2006. ODF remains the document format of choice for governments, as it is now being considered for use by countries in every major region of the globe. Microsoft has every right to seek the ISO label for OOXML, but, as the ballot results show, it has a long way to go before it earns it and can be considered a truly open, interoperable document format," said Marcich.

Microsoft will indeed continue to seek ISO approval. Robertson continued, "This preliminary vote is a milestone for the widespread adoption of the Open XML formats around the world for the benefit of millions of customers. Given how encouraging todays results were, we believe that the final tally in early 2008 will result in the ratification of Open XML as an ISO standard."

Next up, Microsoft and the ECMA standards organization 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.

Editors Note: This story was updated to include information and comments from the ISO.


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