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Microsoft Speeds Toward Office Standard Approval

Microsoft  is today one step closer to seeing its Office Open XML (OOXML) format anointed as a standard.

The International Standards Organization (ISO) told internetnews.com that it will submit the format for fast-track approval to the standards bodies of member countries "in the near future."

Microsoft is thus one step closer to seeing the file format used in Office 2007 adopted as an open standard. Among other benefits, the approval would mean government agencies will be able to purchase Office 2007 even if they are required to use open standards-based software.

Microsoft isn't exactly out of the woods yet. Balloting will take place over five months, and it needs to garner two-thirds of the votes in order to become a standard. But it seems closer now than it did six weeks ago.

Five months is also a lot quicker than 18 months, which is how long these approvals can take if they don't get on the fast track. Microsoft would stand to lose out on a lot of government contracts in the intervening time, as momentum for open software is growing in the public sector.

Microsoft declined to comment.

Just last month, California became the latest in a number of states considering legislation that would require state agencies to use only open source software. If it passes, that bill will take effect in less than a year, adding to the urgency for Microsoft to gain fast-track approval for its format.

The initial response to Microsoft's application for fast-track voting seemed to have been negative, with 19 of the 30 members of the technical committee reviewing its request sending so-called "contradictions" at the end of a 30-day comment period.

When news of the contradictions became public, Microsoft did some damage control and issued a statement saying that the contradictions may have been "statements of support" or "simple statements that the ISO member has no comments at this stage." It also accused rival IBM  of conducting an international smear campaign against it.

But one letter of contradiction obtained by internetnews.com raised substantive issues about the format, including potential overlap with Open Document Format (ODF), another open source format that has already gained approval as a standard. The letter also noted the "difficulties in conducting a full and proper appraisal of a document of over 6,000 pages in one month."

In addition to those complaints, other critics have noted that the OOXML specification contains proprietary code.

Comments made by the standards bodies during the earlier comment period will be shared with other ISO members voting on the standard, but ISO will not make those comments public. An ISO spokesman told internetnews.com that "it is up to the individual organizations whether they wish to release their comments or response."