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Last Minute Vote Switching in OOXML Decision

"It's not over until it's over," is a classic aphorism that Yogi Berra is reputed to have coined. He couldn't have been more right when it comes to Microsoft's quest to transform its Office 2007 file formats into a broadly recognized international standard.

With less than 24 hours to go before the cut off for nations to change their votes in the great contest to see if the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) will grant Office Open XML (OOXML) standards status, the playing field is shifting like the bases on a sandlot baseball diamond.

In a series of short blog posts Friday, Brian Jones, Microsoft's OOXML technical architect, said that three more countries – Norway, South Korea, and Denmark -- have switched their votes from Disapprove to Approve, while a fourth country, Finland, has changed its vote from Abstain to Approve. This follows a switch by a fifth nation, the Czech Republic, which moved its vote into the Approval column earlier this week.

However, that may not be enough to swing the vote for OOXML, a Microsoft official admits.

"There are 87 different countries that are looking at this," Tom Robertson, general manager for interoperability and standards at Microsoft, told InternetNews.com. "It's still too early to say what's going to happen.

He's right, according to Peter O'Kelly, research director at analysis firm Burton Group. "Remember that some national bodies may also change their votes from 'yes' to 'no' -- although I doubt that will be a common pattern," O'Kelly told InternetNews.com.

Changing votes

Indeed, opponents of ISO status for OOXML – Groklaw.net and activist attorney Andy Updegrove -- reported Friday that two countries that previously had voted to Approve OOXML – Cuba and Kenya -- have now changed their positions to Disapprove.

Microsoft and European standards body Ecma International, which currently governs OOXML, have until midnight Saturday, Central European Time, to convince enough nations to switch their votes to make OOXML – also called Ecma-376 – an ISO standard. The 6,000 page specification is derived from the default XML formats for Microsoft Office 2007 – specifically for Word, Excel, and PowerPoint.

OOXML was submitted for adoption through ISO's so-called "fast-track" process last year, but after five months of meetings, it fell short in ISO voting last September. After, six months of work to resolve problems in the specification to the satisfaction of the countries involved in the proceedings, Saturday is the final day of a 30 day period for nations to change their votes.

Before the beginning of the 30 day evaluation period, Microsoft officials said they needed to pick up five Approval votes in order to achieve ISO certification. However, the rules for voting are complex and require a supermajority to succeed so shifting votes changes the actual number of votes needed to ratify OOXML as a standard.

The ISO's policy is not to report the results of votes until all of the participating countries have been notified, so an ISO statement is not expected before Monday. However, the result of the voting in September was leaked almost immediately, so many members of the press as well as the various factions' spin doctors are gearing up for a long weekend.