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MS Office Formats Defeated in ISO 'Fast Track' Vote

UPDATED: It's official. Microsoft's Office Open XML (OOXML) came close to receiving the votes it needed in the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) to become a bona fide standard – but no cigar. At least not yet.

Sunday, September 2, was the cutoff date for tallying the votes by all of the various ISO countries as to whether OOXML is to become a co-standard with the OpenDocument Format or ODF, which already received ISO recognition.

However, OOXML – also known as Ecma 376 for its acceptance as a standard by European standards group Ecma International last December – did not achieve the final tallies needed for ISO ratification.

But analogies to the fat lady not singing yet aside, the outcome of this round in Microsoft's, and Ecma's, push for standards status likely will not be known until next February at the earliest. And even if OOXML loses then – that's just the end of step one. This ballot was meant to attempt to get OOXML approved by the ISO on a "fast track" basis – a five month process, which ended over the weekend.

If Microsoft and Ecma cannot get enough ISO members to change their votes in a so-called ballot resolution meeting next February, then it can still submit OOXML through the normal, more time consuming standards channel, according to an ISO statement. (No word yet on how long that might take.)

Still, the fast track process is not over at this point.

Voting rules for ISO status are complex and a little confusing.

According to ISO's statement, there are two hurdles that any proposed standard has to get over to win acceptance under fast track rules. First, at least two-thirds – 66.66 percent -- of the votes cast need to be positive. Second, of all the Yes and No votes cast (not counting abstentions), no more than a quarter – 25 percent – can be negative.

"Neither of these criteria were achieved, with 53 percent of votes cast by national bodies participating … being positive and 26 percent of national votes cast being negative," said ISO's statement.

Microsoft tried to put the best possible face on the situation.

"We are extremely delighted to see that 51 ISO members, representing 74 percent of the qualified votes, have already voiced their support for ISO ratification of Open XML, and that many others have indicated they will support ratification once their comments are resolved in the next phase of the ISO process," Tom Robertson, Microsoft general manager for interoperability and standards, said in a statement e-mailed to Internetnews.com.

Meanwhile, opponents of OOXML were elated.

"Microsoft has every right to seek the ISO label for OOXML, but, as the ballot results show, it has a long way to go before it earns it and can be considered a truly open, interoperable document format," Marino Marcich, managing director of the ODF Alliance, said in a statement e-mailed to Internetnews.com.

Despite the spins put on the vote by both sides, the matter is likely not going to be decided until the ballot resolution meeting in February, at which point Microsoft and Ecma will try to resolve all the technical comments received in the voting process. Several countries have indicated they may change their votes from No or Abstain to Yes if the technical issues are resolved.

And Microsoft has a history of tenaciousness.

In fact, Forrester Research, which indicated prior to the voting that it expects OOXML to become an ISO standard, still stands by its prediction – though with a caveat.

"We still stand behind our assessment, the door hasn’t closed on OOXML…yet," Kyle McNabb, principal analyst at Forrester, told Internetnews.com in an e-mail interview.