Microsoft's Office Open XML Rebuffed

♠ Posted by Emmanuel in at 9/04/2007 06:09:00 PM
It's a bit ironic that Microsoft, the software company which has made a lot of money over the years with its proprietary formats, desires that the International Organization for Standards (ISO) recognize its new Office Open XML (OOXML) as an open standard for software. The putative reason for this change of heart is that more buyers--especially public sector ones--do not want to tie themselves to a single vendor's offering. However, Microsoft has just been voted down not only by the ISO but also the International Electrotechnical Commision (IEC) membership. You can probably attribute these results to heavy-handed Microsoft lobbying efforts to obtain the assent of voting countries. In contrast, the IBM-led OpenDocument Format (ODF) got such recognition from the ISO and IEC last year.

The margins for Microsoft not getting approval are not too large--74% instead of the required 75% at the ISO and 53% instead of the required 66.67% at the IEA. Although it's not in Microsoft's previous habit, MS will have to "play nice" this time around. Still, questions about the company's willingness to unveil more Office source code is in question, as it should be for a company seeking an "open" standard. This summary is from the International Herald Tribune:
Microsoft's bid to extend its dominance in digital documents to the new field of "open" format documents was unexpectedly rebuffed Tuesday when a global technical panel refused to give the software maker's Office Open XML its designation as an international standard.

Microsoft failed to meet two criteria for a standards designation under voting rules of the Geneva-based technical bodies, the International Organization for Standardization, known as the ISO, and the International Electrotechnical Commission.

In five months of electronic balloting that concluded on Sunday, only 51 countries, or 74 percent of 87 that had participated, supported Microsoft's bid, said Tom Robertson, Microsoft's general manager for interoperability and standards, in a statement. Under the group's rules, Microsoft needed at least 75 percent.

Microsoft also failed to get the required 66 percent support from countries on an ISO/IEC panel called the Joint Technical Committee 1. Instead, Microsoft won 58 [sic--it won 53%] percent of the panel's votes, according to a person close to the procedure who did not want to be identified.

As of late Tuesday, the votes of individual countries had not been made public.

One opponent of Microsoft's bid said the software maker's own aggressive lobbying - carried out in the voting countries and often pressed by local Microsoft executives - had backfired on the U.S. software maker.

"I think many countries simply resisted what they considered undue pressure from Microsoft," said Pieter Hintjens, president of the Foundation for a Free Information Infrastructure, a Brussels group that opposed Microsoft's request. "In Europe our standards processes are sophisticated and Microsoft simply lobbied too hard."

In its statement, Microsoft pledged to work with opponents to amend its proposed 2,500-page standard for Office Open XML ahead of a February meeting in Geneva where the software maker has the chance to confer with participating countries and win back enough votes to secure victory.

"We are extremely delighted to see that 51 ISO members, representing 74 percent of the qualified votes, have already voiced their support for ISO ratification of Open XML and that many others have indicated they will support ratification once their comments are resolved in the next phase of the ISO process," Robertson said. "Given how encouraging today's results were, we believe that the final tally in early 2008 will result in the ratification of Open XML as an ISO standard."

Hintjens said Microsoft will have a hard time winning over countries that opposed its standards bid because to do so, Microsoft would be forced to officially put into the public domain the secret coding for much of its proprietary document formats that already dominate the global market.

"I think they are going to stick to their strategy, which is to try to simply get companies to turn their 'no' votes into 'yes' votes," Hintjens said. "But I don't think it is going to work."

The setback for Microsoft was considered a boost for a consortium led by International Business Machines, which in May 2006 won a global standards designation for an open digital format called OpenDocument Format, or ODF.

Until Microsoft receives a similar standards designation, ODF remains the only globally recognized open document format available to government purchasers in Germany, France, Brazil and U.S. states such as Massachusetts, which are increasingly limiting their software purchases to products with open characteristics.