Could an Appeal Derail OOXML?

As expected, the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) officially announced on Wednesday that Office Open XML (OOXML) has received enough votes to become a ISO standard.

Well, not quite.

Technically, OOXML has met all the criteria to be awarded ISO certification as a co-document format standard with OpenDocument Format (ODF). But there’s a possible catch.

“Subject to there being no formal appeals from ISO/IEC national bodies in the next two months, the International Standard will accordingly proceed to publication,” an ISO statement, released Wednesday morning Geneva time, said. That could be a big catch.

That is, if one of the 41 ISO nations that worked on OOXML files an appeal of the outcome, publication of the standard may be delayed. That could turn out to be either a minor glitch in what has been a challenging process so far, or it could snowball into a major impediment, as opponents of OOXML hope.

“An appeal would have to be resolved before publication of a document as an International Standard,” Roger Frost, spokesperson for ISO, told in an e-mail Wednesday. In other words, if an appeal is filed, it’s conceivable that final publication of OOXML as a standard could be delayed by months, if not years.

The formal announcement of OOXML’s victory came Wednesday. However, the news was widely leaked on Monday, so the declaration itself was somewhat anticlimactic.

Meanwhile, the normal ISO process means that OOXML will not become an official standard until at least the two-month waiting period runs out.

The standards process, so far, has been a hard fight for Microsoft (NASDAQ: MSFT) and its supporters — primarily European standards body Ecma International, which sponsored OOXML’s submission to the ISO last year.

It has been mainly opposed by supporters of ODF, who argue that having a pair of standards for the same functions, namely translating file formats for office productivity applications, is redundant, confusing and self-defeating.

ODF was signed off as an ISO standard in 2006 with little to no controversy. OOXML hasn’t been nearly so lucky. From the start, major competitors such as IBM (NYSE: IBM), Sun Microsystems (NASDAQ: JAVA) and other opponents have lobbied hard behind the scenes to try to stave off OOXML’s advancement through the ISO process.

In recent days, the tenor of accusations among OOXML detractors regarding what they believe are unfair or untoward behaviors such as arm twisting by Microsoft to sway the outcome has risen to a fever pitch.

Some members of at least one committee designated to advise its national delegation, Norway, on technical aspects of the OOXML proposal, has filed a formal complaint regarding the process.

It is unclear, however, whether such a complaint would rank as an appeal under ISO rules. All of that notwithstanding, the brouhaha surrounding OOXML is far from over.

“This has been going on so long and has been so rancorous that I don’t expect that we’ve heard the last of it yet,” Charles King, principal analyst at researcher Pund-IT, told

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