INCITS confirms: US to vote for Open XML in ISO

Opposition within ISO group continues, but Sept. 2 vote is settled

The United States member group to the ISO standards body on Wednesday finalized plans to vote in favor of approving Microsoft's Office Open XML (OOXML) document format as an open standard.

The executive board of the Washington D.C.-based International Committee for Information Technology Standards (INCITS) had its final meeting on Wednesday morning before its Sept. 2 vote is due at the International Organization for Standardization (ISO).

Despite an impassioned speech by the member from IBM criticizing Open XML's technical merit, the board plans to stick with the results of a vote last Thursday, in which the board approved a "Yes, with comments" position by a 12-3 margin, with one abstention.

"Everyone was entrenched in their position," said Frank Farance, a longtime INCITS board member who voted against Open XML's ratification.

Others that voted against Open XML's approval in INCITS included habitual Microsoft foes, Oracle and IBM.

The supporters of Open XML, which is being submitted to ISO by Ecma International, are vendors Hewlett-Packard Co., EMC, Intel, Sony Electronics, Lexmark International, Apple (which is supporting Open XML in its just-released iWork '08 productivity software) and Microsoft.

Other supporters include governmental bodies such as the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Defense, semi-governmental standards groups such as the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) and GS1, and a trade association, the Electronic Industries Alliance.

"We think this is absolutely the right result," said Tom Robertson, Microsoft's general manager for interoperability and standards, in a phone interview Wednesday. "We're optimistic about the ultimate outcome at ISO."

Fuss today, continued relevance tomorrow

Microsoft sees Open XML's certification as an open standard as key to maintaining its dominance of the office productivity software market over upstarts such as OpenOffice.org.

The Sept. 2 process will tally votes by the 20 countries that are members of ISO's Joint Technical Committee 1 (JTC-1). With countries such as Brazil and China (original news report in Mandarin; translation available) already announcing plans to vote against Open XML's approval, the next likely stage is ISO's ballot resolution meeting in Geneva next February, during which the Open XML specification will be edited and fixed in order to address the 'comments' submitted by voting nations. At that time, ISO members can change their vote again, with a two-thirds majority needed to pass Open XML.

IBM did not return a call and e-mailed request for comment. Besides opposing Open XML, IBM is strongly favoring the ISO-approved Open Document Format for Office Applications (ODF) standard in its software.

Farance said that the Open XML specification submitted to ISO today is too long and riddled with errors and inconsistencies that make it impossible for outside companies to use as a reference for creating Open XML-compatible products.

"Mark my words, you will see a lot of defect reports in 1-2 years," he said.

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