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Is OOXML a Done Deal?

Despite a heated campaign to defeat International Organization for Standardization (ISO) status for Microsoft's Office Open XML (OOXML), over the weekend, even some staunch critics acknowledged that the company has likely garnered enough votes to win. However, that doesn't mean that they've given up the fight.

At least three Web pages set up to track the ISO vote's progress -- by gathering information from press releases from nations involved in the balloting and from unidentified sources within some of the national delegations -- are predicting that OOXML will achieve standards status when all of the votes are tallied.

The predicted results are far from official and, as several observers pointed out, could easily turn out to be wrong. ISO plans to announce the final, official vote tallies on Wednesday, an ISO spokesperson said in an e-mail to InternetNews.com.

Still, some of OOXML's most vocal opponents seem to be resigned to ISO granting it standards certification.

"Unless thus-far unannounced votes that were formerly 'Approve' or 'Abstain' switch to 'Disapprove,' it appears that OOXML will be approved," said a posting by OOXML critic and attorney Andy Updegrove on his Standards Blog on Sunday.

Updegrove's calculations were supported by a second tracking site on the Open Malaysia Blog, which bills itself as "promoting ODF." (ODF or OpenDocument Format is already an ISO standard and is OOXML's main competition).

Both sites predict that OOXML will win. A third site -- Command Line Warriors -- does as well.

Microsoft (NASDAQ: MSFT) has been pushing for nearly two years to reach standards status for OOXML, which started out as the default file formats for Office 2007. European standards body Ecma International ratified OOXML as a standard in December 2006. It then took on the task of submitting OOXML -- now also known as Ecma-376 -- to ISO this time last year on a fast track basis that gave participating ISO nations five months to evaluate the submission.

When OOXML's status was put to a vote in early September 2007, however, the specification fell short of enough votes to pass. From that point, Microsoft and Ecma had six months to win over nations that had voted against OOXML's approval or had abstained from voting altogether. The re-evaluation period ended Saturday, March 29, at midnight Central European Time.

Switching votes

In the final days before the cutoff date, four nations -- the Czech Republic, Denmark, Norway, and South Korea -- that had previously voted for disapproval changed their votes to approval instead. A fifth nation, Finland, switched its vote from abstain to approval.

In order to achieve ISO standard status, a specification has to pass two criteria.

"Approval requires at least two-thirds (66.67 percent) of the votes cast by national bodies participating in [the process] to be positive; and no more than one quarter (25 percent) of the total number of national body votes cast negative," the ISO said when it announced the results of the September ballot. "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."

If no nations changed their votes to disapprove or abstain, then five nations would need to change their votes from disapprove to approve in order for OOXML to succeed. However, 87 nations participated in the voting and, while most were not expected to change their original votes, just a switch of a few votes to disapprove could turn the tide against OOXML. That's what makes the outcome unpredictable -- and none of the tracking sites has been able to put together a list of how all the countries voted finally.

Meanwhile, the sites tracking the votes said that Kenya had changed its vote from approve to abstain, while Venezuela switched its vote from approve to disapprove, as did Cuba. At the same time, the UK and Ireland are both reported to have switched form disapprove to approve.

By Open Malaysia's calculations, if no other votes -- out of the total -- changed, OOXML would succeed on both criteria, achieving nearly 69 percent positive votes, and just over 20 percent negative votes.

"There seemed to be little doubt that eventually OOXML would pass," Rob Enderle, principal analyst at research firm Enderle Group, told InternetNews.com.

However, even if OOXML is certified, that is unlikely to be the end of the debate. There have already been allegations of questionable behavior among some of the participating nations' delegations, with fingers pointed at Microsoft.

Some bloggers have already called for national investigations in some cases, and the European Commission is already investigating whether OOXML is sufficiently interoperable with other technologies, while it is also rumored to be examining Microsoft's moves in trying to influence the outcome of some national votes.

There have also been calls for challenges of individual votes.

In the end, it may take as long as ISO's normal standardization process, which can take years, for OOXML to clear all the hurdles that still face it.

"This is a political process [and] it can get pretty divisive," Enderle said. "It comes back to the trust issue."

Update adds expected date of final tally.