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ISO: OOXML Appeals 'Should Not Proceed'

OOXML

Things seem to be looking up for Microsoft (NASDAQ: MSFT) in the hotly contested debate over the question of designating its Office 2007 file formats as an international standard.

The heads of two international standards bodies, which have purview over the status of Microsoft's Office Open XML (OOXML), have come out against appeals meant to block adoption of the controversial file formats.

In a 35-page report, the CEOs of the International Organization for Standardization (ISO), and the International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC), which is an affiliate of the ISO, recommended that the appeals be dropped.

The appeals were filed by national standards bodies in South Africa, Brazil, India, and Venezuela before the appeal period expired at the beginning of June.

However, the organizations' CEOs do not have the final say, which goes to a body known as the ISO Technical Management Board (TMB). That body has until Aug. 4 to vote to let all or some of the appeals proceed, or not proceed. The latter would lead to what Microsoft views as a hard-won victory in the international standards arena. The former, on the other hand, could end Microsoft's hopes to achieve ISO certification.

At stake is Microsoft's continuing push to achieve blue ribbon status for OOXML, but more than that, billions of dollars of potentially lost revenue if lack of certification keeps the company from bidding on lucrative government and IT contracts around the world.

That could seriously undermine the dominance of its Office 2007 productivity suite and leave the door open to competitor suites, such as OpenOffice.org, which support an already blessed, competing standard known as the OpenDocument Format, or ODF .

Open source activist site Groklaw.net stated that it had acquired a copy of the report -- dated July 4 -- and posted it online. A spokesperson for ISO, which has primary oversight of the pending standard, now known as ISO/IEC DIS 29500, was not immediately available for comment.

The report was sent to the TMB and the IEC's Standardization Management Board (SMB) by Alan Bryden, secretary-general and CEO of ISO, and Aharon Amit, general secretary and CEO of IEC.

Its upshot?

"The processing of the ISO/IEC DIS 29500 project has been conducted in conformity with the ISO/IEC JTC [Joint Technical Committee] 1 Directives, with decisions determined by the votes expressed by the relevant ISO and IEC national bodies under their own responsibility, and consequently … the appeals should not be processed further," the report recommends.

The road for ISO/IEC DIS 29500 has been short but extremely bumpy.

After OOXML's bid achieved "fast track" status in early 2007, a vote by ISO member nations in September narrowly defeated it for standards stardom. However, Microsoft had until April 1, 2008 to change some national bodies' minds, as well as their votes, and it did that handily.

The ISO/IEC rules leave room for appeals as long as they're filed within two months of the ratification of the standard. That puts actual publication of the standard -- that final golden step that cements a technology as an ISO/IEC standard -- on hold until the appeals are dealt with.

In fact, four nations did appeal by the deadline. The report is the next step in the process.

"Clearly, It's a rare piece of good news for Microsoft [in Europe]," Dwight Davis, vice president at Ovum, told InternetNews.com.

Still, he cautioned about anyone popping champagne corks quite yet. "Just because the leaders of these two organizations have recommended that that appeals not go forward, that doesn't mean Microsoft is out of the woods yet."

No matter how the appeals process turns out, however, plenty of maneuvering remains among various interested parties.

For instance, a member of the European Union (EU) Parliament has urged that Microsoft be banned from bidding on EU government contracts for its anticompetitive behaviors in a European Commission (EC) case that came down against the company in September.

Meanwhile, the EC continues to investigate Microsoft behaviors in the EU, including a probe of whether the company violated any EU laws or regulations in the ISO standardization process.

Neither has Microsoft been inactive in this area. Last month, the company named a former European diplomat and General Electric (NYSE: GE) executive to head up legal affairs in the EU.

On July 1, John Vassallo became Microsoft's vice president of EU affairs as well as associate general counsel. At GE, he was senior counsel and director of European affairs. He has also previously served as Malta's ambassador to the EU, NATO and Belgium.

Despite the small victory, Microsoft officials are not gloating just yet -- at least not publicly.

"We respect the expertise of ISO’s and IEC’s staff with regard to their procedures and processes, and we hope that the appeals will be resolved soon," a company spokesperson told InternetNews.com in an e-mailed statement.

Just in case, however, Microsoft also has a "plan B." In May, Microsoft announced it will build native support for the competing ODF into the next service pack for Office 2007 -- even as it says it can't reimplement the much modified OOXML in Office until the next major release, code-named "Office 14."

So if OOXML doesn't make it over the continuing hurdles thrown into its path by critics and competitors, it figures at least it will still have one international standard that its Office suite natively supports -- thus keeping it on the list of qualified bidders.