Microsoft stumbles in Open XML standards vote

Open XML fails to get majority needed to get ISO ratification, although the process can continue.

Martin LaMonica Former Staff writer, CNET News
Martin LaMonica is a senior writer covering green tech and cutting-edge technologies. He joined CNET in 2002 to cover enterprise IT and Web development and was previously executive editor of IT publication InfoWorld.
Martin LaMonica
2 min read
Update at 9:45 a.m. PT Tuesday: Adds ISO confirmation

Microsoft has failed in its initial effort to standardize its Office document file format.

The company was attempting to standardize its Office Open XML document formats through a "fast track" process at the International Organization for Standardization.

The draft standard "has not achieved the required number of votes" according to a statement issued by the ISO on Tuesday. The voting process ended on Sunday.

A tally indicates that Open XML did not get the two-thirds majority needed from "participating" ISO members.

The closely watched vote has been marked by intense lobbying and politicking among Microsoft supporters and rivals. Microsoft is seeking a standards body's recognition of its document formats in an effort of allay fears among businesses and governments that its products are proprietary.

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Some worry that a document format controlled by Microsoft, as opposed to a standards body, could make it difficult for organizations to exchange data, or to access older data at a later date.

Despite the setback for Microsoft, this is not the end of the line for the Office Open XML standards effort, according to people familiar with the process.

In the next phase of the process, managers of the Office Open XML specification will address technical comments that were attached to the votes. Microsoft can modify and resubmit its proposal. That process is expected to begin in February of next year in Geneva, according to the ISO.

If Microsoft's reworked proposal does not satisfy ISO members on its next submission, "the proposal will have failed and this fast-track procedure will be terminated," according to the ISO.

Microsoft on Tuesday issued a statement saying that 74 percent of participants in the ISO vote "supported" ratification of Open XML.

"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 today's results were, we believe that the final tally in early 2008 will result in the ratification of Open XML as an ISO standard," Tom Robertson, Microsoft's general manager for standards and interoperabilty, said in a statement.

Attorney Andrew Updegrove, a standards expert and supporter of the rival OpenDocument standard, interpreted Microsoft's statement as an "oblique confirmation" that the vote failed to get the necessary votes to be approved.

The lobbying group Computing Technology Industry Association (CompTIA), which supports Open XML ISO ratification, on Tuesday said the ISO vote tally is a setback but not the final word on the Office Open XML standards effort.

"CompTIA remains disappointed but not disheartened with today's news of Sunday's ISO vote tally," said Hugo Lueders, group director of EU public policy for CompTIA.