ISO Ratifies Open XML as International Standard

Microsoft's lengthy and tense battle to obtain ISO (International Standardization Organization) standardization for its Open XML office document formats has succeeded. The software giant announced this morning that 86 percent of voting ISO national body members support standardization, well above the 75 percent required. Open XML now joins HTML, PDF and the competing Open Document Format (ODF) as an open document standard.

"There is overwhelming support for Open XML \[within\] the ISO voting national bodies," says Microsoft general manager of interoperability and standards Tom Robertson. "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."

Microsoft originally tried to fast track Open XML through the ISO standardization process but narrowly lost ratification with 26 percent of voting ISO national body members voted against standardizing the format. Since that time, accusations from both sides of the debate have made headlines, with Microsoft and its opponents in the open source communities engaging in a hostile PR battle. This week's final vote was predictably contentious, with various voting bodies, including Norway, accusing Microsoft of "strong arm tactics" in getting the vote to pass.

Microsoft also faces an investigation by--who else?--antitrust regulators in the European Union (EU), which is looking into whether Open XML is "sufficiently interoperable with competitors' products," a curious way to describe a format that was, at the time, going through a standardization process that would fully open it up to Microsoft's competitors. As always, the EU's concerns mirror those of Microsoft's competitors, in this case, IBM and a consortium of open source entities, which opposed Microsoft's bid to standardize Open XML. The EU's aggressive anti-Microsoft stance is apparently open to any complaint, even those from businesses with transparent motives.

Legal issues aside, Microsoft's success with ISO should only broaden the use of its latest document formats. Microsoft notes that companies as diverse as Apple, Corel, Sun Microsystems, and are already developing solutions using Open XML on non-Microsoft platforms that include Linux, Mac OS, and the Palm OS.

Microsoft announced plans to replace its proprietary Office document formats with XML-based versions in 2005. Responding to requests from governments around the world, the software giant also agreed to release these Open XML formats as open standards. Open XML first passed muster as a standard in Europe later that year when ECMA International ratified the format as a standard. ISO standardization, however, is considered more prestigious and is truly worldwide, as the organization has over 100 member countries from around the world.

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