U.S. org set to vote against Open XML's approval in ISO... this time

But INCITS insider believes a tweaked specification would win approval in '08

The U.S. delegate organization to the powerful ISO standards body is now almost sure to vote against approving Microsoft Corp.'s Office Open XML document format as an open standard this year.

That could sway other member nations of the ISO's JTC-1 technical committee to vote against Open XML's approval by the Sept. 2 deadline.

But at least one insider says that changes to Open XML to which Microsoft has already agreed could help the technology win approval in a new vote in September 2008.

In an internal vote of the Washington-based International Committee for Information Technology Standards (INCITS) that concluded Thursday, Open XML did not gain sufficient support within the executive board of the organization.

The vote was 8-7 in favor of supporting Open XML, with one abstention. According to Frank Farance, a longtime INCITS technical member who voted against Open XML, the measure needed 10 votes, or two-thirds of those voting, to be approved.

"It was not that close," he said.

But Farance said most INCITS members support Open XML's eventual approval.

"We think it will ultimately become an ISO standard; let's just do it the right way," he said.

Jennifer Garner, the INCITS administrator overseeing the U.S. position on Open XML, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Members that voted against Open XML were longtime Microsoft antagonists IBM and Oracle Corp., printer maker Lexmark International Inc., bar-code standards group GS1 US, federal groups such as the National Institute of Standards and Technology and the U.S. Department of Defense, and Farance. The IEEE abstained.

Voting for Open XML were longtime Microsoft partners Intel Corp., EMC Corp., Hewlett-Packard Co., and Sony Electronics, as well as foe Apple Inc., which is supporting Open XML in its just-released iWork '08 productivity software. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security, the Electronic Industries Alliance and Microsoft also voted for Open XML, which would join the OpenDocument Format (ODF) as ISO-approved standards.

The DHS said it voted for Open XML because it "sees reason for both of these standards to co-exist as approved ISO specifications."

That's Microsoft's point of view. Earlier this year, it pushed to have Open XML, the native format used by its Office 2007 suite, put on a fast track for ISO approval by this fall.

Microsoft sees approval of Open XML as key to maintaining its greater-than-90% market share for Office, which faces increasing competition from ODF-based offerings such as OpenOffice.org's free productivity suite and Sun Microsystems Inc.'s StarOffice.

No surprise

INCITS's decision was no surprise. Several weeks earlier, Open XML had similarly failed to win enough support in the V1 technical committee advising INCITS on this issue.

Farance, who is also a V1 member, said the objections he had to the application submitted by Ecma International , which approved Open XML last year, were shared by most of the other board members. He explained that their concerns centered around poorly written or ambiguous language in Ecma's 6,000-page application and relatively minor technical details. Combined, however, those concerns proved weighty enough that he could not bring himself to vote in favor of the spec.

Though there are several INCITS meetings from now until Sept. 2, when it must submit its vote to the ISO, the chance that INCITS will change its position is only "one in 100" according to Farance, who has been a member for 23 years and has voted on hundreds of issues.

Other nations joining the United States in voting against Open XML this time around won't kill Open XML, just slow its eventual approval, according to Farance.

Microsoft has already agreed to allow the changes to its Open XML application suggested by INCITS. And those changes, he said, are relatively minor.

"Merging Open XML with ODF is not on the table," he said. "It's not even clear it is a good idea."

If other ISO members agree, the INCITS-suggested changes could be written into the Open XML specification by early next year. So Open XML, if it ultimately fails this September, has a good chance of being approved by another ISO vote the following September, Farance said.

Copyright © 2007 IDG Communications, Inc.

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