ISO makes Microsoft's OOXML document format an official standard
On Wednesday, the International Standards Organization (ISO) confirmed rumours that, in its second attempt, Microsoft's controversial Open Office XML (OOXML) was officially adopted as a standard. According to the committee's press release, 75 per cent of the participants in joint technical committee ISO/IEC JTC 1, Information technology, cast votes in favour of the document format – substantially more than the required two-thirds majority. At the same time OOXML was also able to get past a second obstacle: only 16 per cent of the total number of ISO/IEC national bodies voted against the adoption of the more than 6000-page specification, only a quarter of the votes required to constitute a veto.
In the first round of the "fast track" proceedings for the adoption of the OOXML standard, launched in September on behalf of the European Computer Manufacturers Association (ECMA), Microsoft just barely missed both of these targets. After a week of consultations for a second attempt in Geneva at the end of February, Microsoft managed to get more international support, even though most of the issues considered problematic in the specification were not discussed individually, due to a lack of time.
Microsoft's own press release published the day before the official announcement on April 1 turns out not to be an April Fools joke; the software vendor had announced its optimism based on the calculations of a number of observers at the proceedings and the publication of unofficial results on a mailing list. Microsoft seemed to be especially proud to announce that OOXML would become an ISO document format standard with the same status as HTML, PDF, and the Open Document Format (ODF).
But Microsoft still has its work cut out for it. 36 countries and standardisation organizations appended comprehensive technical comments to their votes in the final round, and Microsoft will have to take them into account. The vendor will be forced to thoroughly revamp its current Office standard storage format for the upcoming initial implementation of the "new" OOXML.
In their press releases, neither ISO nor Microsoft comment on the irregularities that again occurred in the votes of national standardisation committees. While ISO spokesperson Roger Frost told the International Herald Tribune that his organisation had received a formal protest from Norway, he spoke of the situation as a purely internal matter within the Norwegian standardisation institute. Its deputy director explained that a "large majority" had voted in favour of OOXML when votes were cast in 2007. He spoke of the 21 opponents, who again voiced their opposition to the ISO standard last week, as a "minority".
In contrast, a spokesperson for the European Committee for Interoperable Systems (ECIS) said that the "yes" from Geneva in support of OOXML would not solve the competition issues that the EU Commission is looking into in relation to the standardisation process. Microsoft has, however, received full support from ECMA. Its secretary general Istvan Sebstyen spoke of the adoption of the standard as an "important milestone" on the path towards a common goal of facilitating access to "billions of existing binary documents" and increasing interoperability between Office suites and business systems. (Stefan Krempl)