U.S. Will Likely Vote Yes on OOXML

After looking questionable earlier this summer, Microsoft will likely get the U.S.’s vote on its pitch to make Office Open XML (OOXML) an International Organization for Standardization (ISO) standard.

Meanwhile, the cut-off date for the final vote tally as to whether it will become a recognized ISO standard looms this coming Sunday, Sept. 2. However, the final results will likely not be decided until early next year.

A yes vote by the U.S. is viewed almost symbolically as a requirement for long-term success of the proposal. The U.S. group is slated to meet tomorrow (Wednesday) to finalize its vote.

As the ISO’s Sunday deadline nears, supporters and detractors have been lining up for and against OOXML, which is a sort of proxy for Microsoft itself. In a vote last week by members of the U.S. committee, which is sanctioned by the American National Standards Institute (ANSI), OOXML garnered yea votes from 12 of the 16 members — enough to potentially gain the U.S.’s endorsement. (Earlier this summer, a committee set up to decide whether to recommend if the U.S. should endorse OOXML failed to reach a consensus.)

But that’s just a baby step.

OOXML is the set of XML-based document formats that Microsoft Office 2007 saves to as its default. Microsoft successfully achieved standards status for OOXML from European standards body Ecma International in December 2006. In April, Ecma convinced ISO to place OOXML — AKA Ecma 376 — on a five-month “fast track” path for standardization by what is considered to be the mother of all standards bodies.

However, it has not been an easy path so far. And the early indications are that it may yet be tough for OOXML to earn approval.

Part of that is due to the fact that some of OOXML’s main critics and opponents are major multinational companies as big as, or bigger than, Microsoft itself. For instance, voting against OOXML last week in the U.S. committee were IBM and Oracle. IBM is a major supporter of the OpenDocument Format or ODF, which is already an ISO XML document standard and the primary competitor to OOXML.

“We do not believe that the technical content of [the proposed standard] is even remotely acceptable ‘as presented’,” IBM protested in its published comments on the U.S. vote last week. “If a proposal with this low of a quality level is approved as-is, then by what criteria can we disapprove of any proposal in the future?” the comments continued.

On the other hand, voting with Microsoft were Hewlett Packard, EMC, Sony Electronics, and Lexmark, as well as the Department of Defense, the Department of Homeland Security, and the U.S. National Institute for Standards and Technology.

Additionally many of the companies that are either pro or con have significant presences in many ISO member countries.

India, for example, chose to vote against granting standards recognition for OOXML, The Economic Times of India reported last week. “A global alliance of Sun-IBM, Oracle, Google, Red Hat have ganged up against Microsoft which is being supported by Apple, Quark, Accenture and Novell,” the paper said.

Other countries, including Germany, have voted to accept OOXML while Brazil, among others, has voted against acceptance.

But the rules for voting are fairly complex.

First, there are “participating” (P) countries and “observer” (O) nations. According to the ISO’s Web site, there are currently 42 participating countries and 39 observer nations.

Now, it gets a little confusing. No more than a quarter of all ballots cast (by both P and O members) can be No votes. Additionally, half of all P members must cast a ballot, and two-thirds of all voting P members who vote Yes or No must vote “Yes” (abstaining votes are excluded), according to ISO rules.

For instance, India and Germany are P members, while Brazil is an O member.

Even if OOXML gets enough votes, however, that’s not the end of the road. A follow-up meeting is scheduled for sometime in February. That Ballot Resolution Meeting is where all of the comments — and there are hundreds to be dealt with — need to be resolved before a standard is officially declared adopted. So it’s not over yet.

For now, Microsoft is happy that OOXML has gotten a U.S. nod.

“We are pleased to be a part of the overwhelming majority of [the U.S.] Executive Board members that voted in support of a ‘Yes with comments’ position on ISO/IEC ratification of Ecma Office Open XML. The final outcome of this ISO process will not be known until early 2008,” Tom Robertson, general manager of interoperability and standards at Microsoft, said in a statement e-mailed to internetnews.com.

But as many competitors have learned over the years, though, Microsoft can’t ever be counted out, even after the bell has rung.

In early August, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts signed off on the use of OOXML as a co-standard with ODF, despite several years of wrangling and a flood of protests.

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