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It's Unofficial: OOXML Wins

No one would joke about this – not even on April Fool's Day.

While it won't be official until Wednesday when the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) officially announces the final vote tally, Microsoft (NASDAQ: MSFT) issued a press release Tuesday morning stating that its Office Open XML (OOXML) file formats have "unofficially" made it into the winner's circle.

That is, OOXML has garnered enough switched votes among national delegations to make it a co-standard for document interchange with the OpenDocument Format (ODF), which is already an ISO standard.

The announcement was expected, after reports of vote changes over the weekend among the ISO nations who initially voted on the proposal last September. They had until Saturday at midnight in Geneva, Switzerland to register any changes in their votes. As it turned out, more than enough votes changed sides to certify OOXML as a new ISO standard.

For its part, the ISO told InternetNews.com in an e-mail Tuesday that it will not issue its official announcement of the results until Wednesday, April 2.

However, several anti-OOXML sites have said that they have seen the tallies and believe that the competitor to ODF, the existing ISO document interchange standard, has won. In fact, one site – the OpenDoc Society – is distributing what it calls the "official results" of the ISO process regarding OOXML.

Tom Robertson, general manager for interoperability and standards at Microsoft, told InternetNews.com that Microsoft made certain of the results before issuing its press release.

"Sixty-one countries, which is 86 percent of the national bodies supported ratification, which is well above the two-thirds requirement," Robertson said. "The No votes were only 14 percent." (The maximum number of negative votes, excluding those nations that abstained, could not exceed 25 percent.)

The numbers Robertson cited coincide with the leaked results documents.

When the participating ISO nations originally voted in early September, Microsoft lost close votes on both requirements. That doesn't appear to be the case this time.

"Anything can happen on April Fool's Day, but I'm sure Microsoft wouldn't have issued a press release if they didn't believe it," Peter O'Kelly, research director at analysis firm Burton Group, told InternetNews.com.

While acknowledging OOXML's apparent victory, however, that hasn't softened the rhetoric by the formats' opponents.

"Probably the impact on the adoption of ODF of the OOXML process will be minimal, but surely there will be some interest from the public around this ... This must be one of the worst results ever for a standard to pass within ISO/JTC1 in years," OpenDoc Society board member Michiel Leenaars said in an e-mail that accompanied the results.

Meanwhile, Microsoft and OOXML supporters were enthusiastic but didn't appear to gloat.

"[The] vote represents a tremendous win for choice. With ISO/IEC’s approval of OOXML, governments, businesses, consumers and the … industry now have a powerful, competitive alternative international standard that will allow products based on it to better interoperate with other document products," Jan van den Beld, ISO-process consultant for pro-Microsoft group CompTIA, and former Secretary General of Ecma International, said in an e-mailed statement. Ecma is the standards body that submitted OOXML to ISO.

Whether Microsoft won fair and square, however, remains an outstanding question, particularly for opponents whose knee-jerk reaction is to believe that Microsoft never plays fair.

The debate over OOXML's status has been controversial to say the least. However, while the arguments may become more nation-specific, Microsoft and Ecma International -- the standards body that sponsored OOXML's submission to ISO -- still have many battles to fight against critics and competitors, as they try to overturn the results.

Prepare yourself for the inevitable individual vote challenges, complaints to the European Commission as well as to the ISO itself, not to mention lawsuits.

Indeed, there have already been several allegations of voter irregularities and at least one complaint sent to the ISO in just the past three days since the deadline for delegations to change their votes expired.

In that instance, the chairperson of Norway's technical evaluation committee filed an official complaint with the ISO regarding the voting process.

The formal announcement from ISO is due Wednesday.