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Microsoft Closer on 'Office Open' Blessing

Microsoft  is one step closer to having its Office Open XML (OOXML) format adopted as an international standard in short order.

Ecma, the standards body pushing OOXML on behalf of Microsoft, confirmed to internetnews.com that it made today's deadline for responding to comments on its initial application for fast-track approval to the International Standards Organization (ISO).

The matter now rests with the secretariat of the ISO joint technical committee (JTC1) reviewing Microsoft's application, said Jan van den Beld, secretary general of Ecma.

The best-case scenario for Microsoft is that the secretariat allows a full vote on the standard under the organization's fast-track process, which will take five months to complete. Van den Beld noted that votes on standards generally take up to 36 months.

That action can't come fast enough for the Redmond, Wash.-based software vendor, as more and more governments and public institutions opt for open standards-based software. Microsoft would be hard-pressed to sell into those agencies if the file format underlying its Office suite of desktop applications isn't recognized as a standard.

For instance, California is now considering a bill that will require state agencies to create, exchange and preserve all documents in an open, XML-based file format as of Jan. 1, 2008. The bill also specifies that the applications picked should be fully published and available royalty-free, be implemented by multiple vendors "and controlled by an open industry organization with a well-defined inclusive process for evolution of the standard."

Texas and Minnesota are also considering similar bills; it's unclear whether OOXML would fit that description even if it is adopted by ISO, but it doesn't stand a chance of meeting that requirement without that approval.

Opponents to OOXML, which include IBM  and the Open Document Foundation, have argued that Microsoft's specifications are unwieldy and that the standard application is redundant with the Open Document Format (ODF), which already exists.

Microsoft has countered that the OOXML format is valuable because it is closer to Office 2007 and is backwards-compatible with older versions of Office. "Although both ODF and Open XML are document formats, they are designed to address different needs in the marketplace," the company wrote in an open letter published earlier this month.

The letter, which was signed by Tom Robertson, Microsoft's general manager of interoperability and standards, and Jean Paoli, general manager for interoperability and XML architecture, also accused IBM of leading "a global campaign urging national bodies to demand that ISO/IEC JTC1 not even consider Open XML."

When Ecma's initial application for a fast-track vote received 19 comments from among the 30 members of the JTC, Microsoft and supporters of the ODF standard again squared off about what that meant. But while Microsoft suggested that the comments may have been generally positive, comments from at least one standards body suggest otherwise.

Standards Australia sent to the American National Standards Institute a letter, which was posted to the Web and authenticated by internetnews.com, that raised substantive issues about the proposed standard.