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Challenges coming to ISO Open XML vote?

Accusations of irregularities in voting to standardize Office Open XML could mean the results will be challenged. Microsoft expects IBM to push others to appeal.

Now that Office Open XML (OOXML) has been certified as an ISO standard, there is a possibility that the vote leading to that result will be challenged. It seems Microsoft is already counting on it.

The ISO on Wednesday officially announced that Open XML received enough votes to become a standard, reversing a previous attempt in September that failed.

But there have been several reports of "irregularities" in the voting of the 87 national standards bodies that participated.

Those complaints could lead to a formal appeal of the votes which, under ISO rules, need to be lodged by those countries in the next two months.

Microsoft's director of corporate standards, Jason Matusow, wrote in a blog on Tuesday that challenges to the overall process will likely come. The source? IBM.

"We now see IBM/et al driving an orchestrated process attack in the hopes of overturning the ratification of Open XML, or at least to discredit what has come out of this long, global process," Matusow wrote.

IBM representatives heavily lobbied national standards bodies against approval in the run-up to the vote. But the company itself cannot lodge a formal complaint, a company spokesman said Wednesday.

"As always, the sentiment has to be organic. It will be up to people and organizations in individual countries to decide whether they want to try to appeal this," he said.

Instead, IBM is calling for reform of the standards process and "harmonization" between Open XML and ODF, the OpenDocument Format (ODF), another standardized format.

"While fully cognizant of these current results, I'm energized to take the bigger fight for openness to the next level with the thousands of individuals who are now convinced that the standards system needs fixing, and soon. I hope you'll take part," wrote Bob Sutor, IBM's vice president of open source and standards, who has been a vocal opponent of Open XML standardization.

The case of Norway
On Tuesday, the head of the committee in charge of forming Norway's position on Open XML, Steve Pepper, sent a letter to the ISO complaining that Norway's Yes position did not reflect the views of most participants in that committee.

Standards Norway responded to those criticisms, explaining why Norway changed its vote to Yes even though not all of its issues with the specification were addressed.

The letter from Standards Norway appears to indicate that the country's position will not be changed or suspended during an appeal. An ISO representative on Tuesday said that the ISO had not received a formal protest from its Norwegian delegation, indicating that Pepper's complaint did not represent the country's overall position.

In his blog, Microsoft's Matusow reproduced an English translation of Standards Norway's response to Pepper's complaint as well as letter from Germany's national standards organization.

In Germany, too, there were accusations of improprieties in what was a close vote, but Germany's standards organization said it will not change its Yes position to No or Abstain.

"The steering committee has accepted the process as compliant with the rules with a majority of 7 to 6 and therefore it has seen no reason to lift the decision of the working group. If the majority of the working group would have been convinced that the process of dealing with and voting were noncompliant to the rules then the German vote would have been changed to abstain," according to a translated statement.

The voting record shows that 75 percent of countries voted to approve and 14 percent voted against. To pass, it needed a two-thirds majority and not more than a quarter opposed.

As such, a change in one country's vote would not affect the overall result.

Meanwhile, one of the participants in Standards Norway's Open XML vote, Geir Isene, speculated that the European Union will investigate what happened in that country.

In February, the Wall Street Journal reported that European antitrust regulators were investigating earlier steps in the ISO voting process.