Microsoft positive on Open XML future

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Microsoft positive on Open XML future

Microsoft is optimistic that its Office Open XML (OOXML) document format standard is on track for ISO approval following last week’s meeting in Geneva to discuss modifications to the specification.

The Ballot Resolution Meeting (BRM) saw more than 100 representatives from 32 countries descend on Geneva to review modifications to OOXML proposed by sponsoring organisation Ecma.

Tom Robertson, general manager of standards and interoperability at Microsoft, predicted that many of the national standards bodies, which had previously voted against OOXML being fast-tracked as an ISO standard, would change their stance as a result of the work achieved at the BRM.

During the previous round of voting, only 53 percent of respondents voted in favour of the standard, falling short of the two-thirds majority required; while 26 percent of votes were negative – one per cent above the allowed number.

“There’s a reason for optimism here,” Robertson said. “The national bodies have decided which changes should be made to the specification to address their concerns.”

He added that many of the 1,000-plus unique issues that were voted on during the BRM were “small” changes, and that previous alterations to the specification had already addressed some concerns expressed by national standards bodies during the earlier round of voting.

However, other attendees were less positive about the BRM process.

US delegate and IBM employee Rob Weir revealed that the majority of recommended changes were voted through by default without careful consideration due to time constraints.

“Eighty percent-plus of the resolutions of the BRM were resolved by a ballot, without discussion, without taking into account any dissenting views, without reconciling any arguments,” Weir wrote in a blog posting. “Indeed, there was no t any opportunity to even raise an objection to an issue decided by the ballot. Many of the issues were decided in 6-5 or 7-6 split votes, with no discussion.”

Tim Bray, who works for Sun Microsystems and attended the BRM as part of the Canadian delegation, was also critical of the default voting process.

“I’m not an ISO expert, but whatever their “Fast Track” process was designed for, it sure wasn’t this. You just can’t revise 6,000 pages of deeply complex specification-ware in the time that was provided for the process,” Bray wrote in his blog.

National standards bodies now have until the end of March to reconsider their vote. If enough of the previous negative votes or abstentions are changed to positive or withdrawn, OOXML can then proceed to publication as an ISO standard. Otherwise the fast-track procedure will be terminated and the format will need to be resubmitted for approval under the normal ISO rules.
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