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NIST conditionally endorses Microsoft's Open XML in upcoming vote

The U.S. National Institute of Standards and Technology rules that two document standards--ODF and OOXML--can co-exist.

Update: comments on NIST's voting as well as the other members of the INCITS committee are now public. This post has been expanded below.

The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) is backing Microsoft's effort to certify Office Open XML as an international standard.

The U.S. standards body said on Friday that it has voted to conditionally approve Office Open XML (OOXML) pending some technical concerns in an upcoming standards approval vote.

NIST is part of the committee that will establish the United States' position in a September 3 vote at the International Organization for Standardization (ISO). Microsoft is seeking ISO standardization as a way to appeal to government customers concerned over long-term archiving of digital documents.

OpenDocument, or ODF, is another standard document format already approved by ISO. Advocates of ODF argue that a single standard is preferable while Microsoft executives argue that multiple standards provide more customer choice.

"NIST believes that ODF and OOXML can co-exist as international standards," NIST director William Jeffrey, said in a statement. "NIST fully supports technology-neutral solutions and will support the standard once our technical concerns are addressed."

NIST is a member of the InterNational Committee for Information Technology Standards (INCITS) executive board, which will form the U.S. position in the upcoming ISO vote.

Additional text:

On Thursday, the comments of NIST and other members of the INCITS board were published. The ISO vote on Open XML is scheduled for September 2.

The voting record indicates that there were eight votes for Open XML, seven against and one abstention.

The NIST position is actually listed as No in the vote. In the comments, representatives from NIST explain that its position is to vote for conditional approval pending resolution of outstanding technical issues. According to the procedures, that conditional vote should be listed as a No vote, the NIST comment states.

A Microsoft representative on Friday said that the U.S. position in the ISO vote may not be known until September 2. A failure to pass that vote would prevent the "Fast Track" approval process at ISO.

In a statement, Microsoft's general manager of interoperability and standards Tom Robertson indicated that a final decision on ISO standardization for Open XML could take until early 2008.

"Regardless of the Fast Track vote outcome on September 2nd, any technical comments raised with votes on this open standard will be addressed through the ballot resolution process," Robertson said.