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Microsoft's Open Standard in Global Hands

Microsoft  is one step closer in its bid to having its Office Open XML (OOXML) format anointed by the International Standards Organization (ISO).

ISO informed Ecma International, the Geneva-based standards body sponsoring OOXML, that it kicked off the voting period on Monday for the so-called fast-track approval process. OOXML will be recognized as a standard if it garners a two-thirds majority of the vote of ISO member countries. Balloting ends on Sept. 2.

"We look forward to working with [ISO and its] Member Bodies and National Committees to address any technical issues that they may have about Office Open XML," Istvan Sebestyen, secretary general of Ecma International, said in a statement.

This vote is critical to Microsoft's global ambitions, given that a growing number of governments -- including several U.S. state governments -- and educational institutions require that their documents be produced using software recognized as an open standard. OOXML is at the heart of Microsoft's Office 2007 productivity suite.

Ecma approved OOXML in December and, given Ecma's close relationship to ISO, approval by the larger body seemed a foregone conclusion.

But while ISO ultimately approved Ecma's request for a fast-track process, 19 of the 30 members of the technical committee reviewing the proposed standard sent contradictions. That trend doesn't bode well for Microsoft's chances if it were to reproduce itself during the full-member vote that has just begun. Microsoft downplayed the importance of those contradictions, saying that the comments weren't necessarily pejorative.

But as internetnews.com reported last month, at least some of the contradictions included technical reservations. One of the objections to OOXML expressed by voters is that it seems to duplicate the Open Document Format (ODF) standard, which is used by OpenOffice.org.

OpenOffice also released version 2.2 of its office suite, which features improved text display, the ability to bookmark .PDF files and support for user-definable export of form fields. Version 2.2 also improves its handling of Vista functions like the new file dialogues.