RealTime IT News

Microsoft's New Standard Stumbles

The Open Office XML (OOXML) format that Microsoft  has proposed may not get speedy approval from the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) after all.

OOXML is at the heart of Microsoft Office 2007, its latest suite of office productivity tools. The Redmond, Wash.-based software maker needs to get OOXML recognized as an approved standard so it can meet the requirements of many U.S. and foreign governments.

Approval may be held up, or even withheld, because the standards bodies of 19 countries, including Canada, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Japan, the Netherlands, Sweden and the U.K., have submitted contradictions to the OOXML specification submitted for approval.

ISO spokesman Roger Frost told internetnews.com that the period for contradiction comments ended yesterday. According to information posted on the ISO Web site, a proposed standard is sent back to the originating body for changes if it fails to receive approval of two-thirds of the voting members.

Frost could not say whether OOXML had reached that threshold.

OOXML was submitted to ISO for fast-track approval by Ecma after the international organization, which helps develop technical standards, gave the new format its blessing last December.

Given Ecma's status within ISO, approval seemed a foregone conclusion, despite loud protests from supporters of competing standard Open Document Format (ODF), which has already been approved by ISO.

Sam Hiser, director of business affairs at the Open Document Foundation, which helped create ODF, said OOXML isn't truly open because the spec contains proprietary code.

According to Hiser, Microsoft is in a precarious position because "they've made this bet on a file format that touches all these products."

If OOXML fails to get approval from ISO, ultimately "Microsoft will have to integrate ODF honestly if they're going to get governments to buy from them," Hiser told internetnews.com.

However, Jason Matusow, senior director for intellectual property and interoperability at Microsoft, said that the contradictions don't necessarily mean the format is being rejected.

"One should not assume that all the 19 submissions that were reportedly received actually contain substantive comments or contradictions," he said in an e-mail to internetnews.com.

He said that Microsoft expects that some are either statements of support or simple statements that the ISO member has no comments at this stage.

Microsoft has made an effort to demonstrate its commitment to open standards. Last week, it produced a translator allowing customers of Word 2007 to open documents created using ODF. The translator was submitted to open source organization Sourceforge.net.

Novell is working on a reciprocal translator allowing ODF users to open documents created using Word 2007.

Justin Steinman, director of product marketing at Novell, which distributes ODF-based OpenOffice, said that Microsoft's translator implicitly gives ODF greater credibility. "The news here is that Microsoft is acknowledging that the ODF is a real, legitimate file format."