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Any objections? For Open XML standard, yes (still)

But Microsoft's baby makes a few new friends in the ISO

By Eric Lai
March 1, 2007 12:00 PM ET

Computerworld - Microsoft Corp.’s Open XML file format cleared a small hurdle Wednesday, after documents released by the International Organisation for Standardization (ISO) showed fewer countries harboring strong objections than had been expected.

But the number of countries with reservations about Open XML in its current form remains large enough that the format might not be approved by ISO if it were put to a vote today.

In early February, twenty member nations of the Geneva-based ISO submitted responses to the proposal to put Open XML on a 5-month fast-track process for approval as an open, international standard.

Open XML is being championed by another standards group, Ecma International, which in December approved 20-1 a proposal to certify Open XML, the native document format in Office 2007.

At that time, parties opposing Open XML’s ratification had speculated that most if not all of the comments identified fatal "contradictions" in Ecma’s proposal that would lead them to openly oppose Open XML’s quick certification.

In ISO-speak, a contradiction is a serious objection on technical or other reasons to ratifying a proposed standard. Within ISO, there is a vigorous debate on whether a contradiction, once identified, should spell doom to a would-be standard or signal the beginning of protracted negotiations.

Yes, no, maybe

Documents obtained by Computerworld (PDF format) show that six countries -- Canada, Czech Republic, Finland, Kenya, New Zealand and the United Kingdom -- strongly opposed putting Open XML to a vote in five months. Kenya, for instance, identified thirteen reasons why it opposed putting Open XML on a fast path.

Another five countries -- Australia, France, Japan, Malaysia and Singapore -- also identified problems they saw with Open XML’s current proposal. But none stated outright their opposition to putting Open XML on an accelerated process.

The remaining countries expressed comments that ranged from neutral to divided, or even positive. The United States, through its member body the InterNational Committee for Information Technology Standards, did not submit a comment.

All eleven countries expressing negative opinions sit on ISO’s 30-member JTC-1 Committee on Information Technology.

For a proposed standard to be approved by ISO, two-thirds of the members of the JTC-1 committee, or 20 countries, must vote for it. Meanwhile, no more than one quarter of ISO’s 157 members that cast their vote -- non-JTC-1 member countries may abstain -- can vote against it.

The objects of their objection

The most common stated objection is an overlap between Open XML and the alternative Open Document Format (ODF) for Office Applications format, which was already ratified by ISO last May. Several countries actually suggested "harmonizing" ODF with Open XML to make them more interoperable.

Other commonly-cited objections include patent violations by Open XML, the allowance of only 30 days for countries to review Ecma’s 6,000+ page proposal, and specific issues related to how Open XML operates technically.



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