RealTime IT News

Microsoft Standard-Bearer Faces Tight Deadline

CORRECTED: Microsoft's  standard-bearer for the Office Open XML (OOXML) format faces a tight deadline if it wants to keep the application on the fast track.

Ecma International, which submitted the file format for approval by the International Standards Organization (ISO) on Microsoft's behalf last December, has until Feb. 28 to respond to comments made by the standards boards of 19 different countries.

Ecma, which helps develop and publish technology standards, will also have to change a lot of voters' minds. A proposed standard needs the approval of two-thirds of the voting members. The committee considering the application, the Joint Technical Committee 1 (JTC1), has 30 member countries.

Ecma, and Microsoft by proxy, is thus nine votes short of the 20 needed for the format to be approved on a fast-track basis.

However, according to Ecma spokesman Onno Elzinga, many of those 19 comments could be redundant. But even if the comments are difficult to address, he was confident that the organization could get it done because there are many participants involved. "There's a lot of brain power, so if people get behind it, they should be able to get it done."

That said, Elzinga told internetnews.com he wasn't aware of a hard deadline.

Roger Frost, a spokesman for ISO who confirmed the deadline, told internetnews.com that once Ecma's response has been received, "a decision on further processing of the fast-track document will be made."

Microsoft needs approval for OOXML from ISO in order to win contracts from governments and educational institutions.

Given Ecma's close relationship with ISO, Microsoft expected to win fast-track status fairly easily.

Sam Hiser, who, as director of business affairs for the Open Document Foundation, is an outspoken opponent of OOXML, said he thinks ISO approval is no longer a foregone conclusion. But he doesn't necessarily see this as a victory for ODF, a competing format championed by his organization. (ODF is an approved ISO standard.)

"I think failure at ISO may be something [Microsoft] can shrug off and drag out with PR (ISO approval 'pending' for years if necessary) and just forge ahead with [its] stack."

Hiser further admitted that Microsoft has enough market power to make OOXML a de facto standard.

"The onus is on competitors to deliver a viable alternative that is equally well integrated but around open standards with multiple software implementations at each node," he told internetnews.com in an e-mail.

Corrects name of format to Office Open XML.