Microsoft Standard-Bearer Faces Tight Deadline

CORRECTED: Microsoft’s  standard-bearer for the Office Open XML
(OOXML) format faces a tight deadline if it wants to keep the application on
the fast track.

Ecma International, which submitted the file format for approval by the
International Standards Organization (ISO) on Microsoft’s behalf last
December, has until Feb. 28 to respond to comments made by the standards
boards of 19 different countries.

Ecma, which helps develop and publish technology standards, will also have to change a lot of
voters’ minds. A proposed standard needs the approval of two-thirds of
the voting members. The committee considering the application, the Joint
Technical Committee 1 (JTC1), has 30 member countries.

Ecma, and Microsoft by proxy, is thus nine votes short of the 20 needed for
the format to be approved on a fast-track basis.

However, according to Ecma spokesman Onno Elzinga, many of those 19 comments
could be redundant. But even if the comments are difficult to address, he
was confident that the organization could get it done because there are many
participants involved. “There’s a lot of brain power, so if people get
behind it, they should be able to get it done.”

That said, Elzinga told he wasn’t aware of a hard deadline.

Roger Frost, a spokesman for ISO who confirmed the deadline, told that once Ecma’s response has been
received, “a decision on further processing of the fast-track document will
be made.”

Microsoft needs approval for OOXML from ISO in order to win contracts from
governments and educational institutions.

Given Ecma’s close relationship with ISO, Microsoft expected to win
fast-track status fairly easily.

Sam Hiser, who, as director of business affairs for the Open Document
Foundation, is an outspoken opponent of OOXML, said he thinks ISO approval
is no longer a foregone conclusion. But he doesn’t necessarily see
this as a victory for ODF, a competing format championed by his
organization. (ODF is an approved ISO standard.)

“I think failure at ISO may be something [Microsoft] can shrug off and drag
out with PR (ISO approval ‘pending’ for years if necessary) and just forge
ahead with [its] stack.”

Hiser further admitted that Microsoft has enough market power to make OOXML
a de facto standard.

“The onus is on competitors to deliver a viable alternative that is equally
well integrated but around open standards with multiple software
implementations at each node,” he told in an e-mail.

Corrects name of format to Office Open XML.

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