OOXML on its way to final approval

Microsoft's Office Open XML document format survives appeals that challenged its legitimacy as an international standard.

The International Organization for Standardization (ISO) and the International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC) standards bodies have rejected appeals made by Brazil, India, South Africa and Venezuela that questioned the process by which Microsoft's Office Open XML (OOXML) document format specification was approved as ISO/IEC 29500 international standard.


Questions arose about whether participating members had sufficient time to see the final revisions to the spec, and even if members saw the final revisions before voting on it. However, the ruling had been anticipated.


Without elaboration, ISO/IEC said in a news release that the claims of the four participating members had not convinced the board members.


"None of the appeals from Brazil, India, South Africa and Venezuela received the support for further processing of two-thirds of the members of the ISO Technical Management Board and IEC Standardization Management Board, as required by ISO/IEC rules governing the work of their joint technical committee ISO/IEC JTC 1, Information technology."


The decision clears the way for ISO/IEC 29500 to be published as a standard "in the next few weeks," the statement added, with some preconditions.


"This is expected to take place within the next few weeks on completion of final processing of the document, and subject to no further appeals against the decision."


Microsoft expressed satisfaction with the process in a statement issued by e-mail.


"An unprecedented number of National Bodies engaged collaboratively and constructively in the Open XML standardization process, with 61 countries voting to approve Open XML as an international standard (IS 29500).," the statement said. "We look forward to IS 29500 being published and we will continue to support the ISO/IEC process in every way that we can."


Microsoft had originally shepherded its XML-based document format spec used in Office 2007 through the ECMA standards body. ECMA approved the spec as ECMA 376 and then forwarded it to ISO/IEC, proposing it as a candidate to become an international standard. ISO/IEC then put the spec, called DIS 29500, on a fast-track process toward becoming an international standard.


In April, ISO/IEC announced that DIS 29500 was formally approved. Under ISO Joint Technical Committee rules, appeals are allowed, during which time the standard isn't published.


Critics have complained that the standard was supposed to be available one month after approval per ISO rules, but it wasn't.


Microsoft in May said that it would adopt other document formats for Office 2007 Service Pack 2, including XPS, PDF and ODF Version 1.1. ODF, or "OpenDocument Format," is an international standard used in rival open source office productivity suites, such as StarOffice, OpenOffice.org and Lotus Symphony. Microsoft has teamed with OASIS on furthering the ODF spec.


Doug Mahugh, Microsoft's senior product manager, who specializes "in Office client interoperability and the Open XML file formats," indicated that Microsoft Office 2007 SP2 would likely support ODF v1.1 sometime next year.


"The exact release date for Office 2007 SP2 has not been announced yet, but we expect ODF support to be available sometime in the first half of 2009," Mahugh stated in his blog.


Microsoft is currently working on an Open XML/ODF Translator that attempts to maintain formatting in applications such as Excel, PowerPoint and Word. Document files created by those applications can lose attributes when opened in ODF-based office productivity suites.


Microsoft likely will have support for ODF in Microsoft Office 2007 before it has support for the OOXML standard (ISO/IEC 29500). Microsoft's original spec changed from its handoff to ECMA, and then it further changed during the ISO/IEC process, a Microsoft spokesperson explained.


IBM's Vice President of Open Source and Standards, Bob Sutor, suggested that industry will eventually cast its support for ODF, and "regard OOXML as a dead end," according to an As Technica article.


Open standards for document formats is most important for large institutions that expect to maintain electronic records past the lifecycle of various software tools. The shift is happening according to one academic report, "Lost in Translation: Interoperability Issues for Open Standards - ODF and OOXML as Examples."


"Governments are moving away from Microsoft's proprietary DOC format to open standard document formats, such as the OpenDocument Format (ODF) and Office Open XML (OOXML)," the report's abstract states. "The belief is that by shifting to open standards, governments will benefit from choice, competition, and the ability to seamlessly substitute different vendor implementations."


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