Open XML Comes Up Short for ISO Standardization, Heads to 2008 Showdown

Microsoft has failed in its bid to fast track its Open XML document formats as ISO standards, thanks to a drubbing in the first round of the standardization process. Now, the software giant must respond to a litany of complaints and negative comments before it can resubmit the formats for standardization in early 2008.

Microsoft's reaction to these events is the PR equivalent of making lemonade: Rather than admit that it was soundly defeated, the company is instead focusing on what it describes as "strong global support" for Open XML. "51 \[of 87\] ISO members, representing 74 percent of all qualified votes, stated their support for ratification of Open XML," a Microsoft press release reads.

Those figures don't tell the whole story, however. In the ISO standardization process, member countries receive different ratings, and for a proposal to become a standard, two-thirds of the so-called P-members (the voting national standards bodies that worked on the proposal) must cast positive votes. Additionally, three quarters of all voting members, the so-called O-members) must cast positive votes. Microsoft failed on both counts.

With this defeat behind it, and a growing concern that the competing OpenDocument Format (ODF) will usurp Microsoft's attempts to define global office productivity format standards, the company faces a late February 2008 ballot resolution meeting. Between now and then, Microsoft must also address all of the complaints and negative comments it received from ISO voting members in this preliminary round. That shouldn't be a problem, as the software giant expressed its gratitude today for the "invaluable technical comments designed to improve the specification." Some of these comments, incidentally, are hundreds of pages of text in length.

Microsoft can sugarcoat this event all it wants, but the truth is obvious: Despite a massive and occasionally corrupt lobbying effort, Open XML failed to attract the worldwide support the company needed and may very well be in danger of falling by the wayside. Whether this is because of technical issues with the formats--unlikely--or a global distrust of Microsoft and its business practices--far more likely--is open to debate. But as of now, that's about the only thing that's open in this story right now.

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