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Microsoft spins standards defeat into victory

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Microsoft's PR machine is spinning a major setback into a minor victory for ratification of its proposed OOXML specification as an international standard.

The software giant has been left to draw comfort from the high level of voter turnout by standards aficionados across the globe, rather than applaud the hoped for, speeded up adoption of Office Open XML (OOXML) as an ISO standard.

Microsoft claimed participation in the ISO vote was higher than that for the rival Open Document Format (ODF) or even PDF, which Microsoft is also trying to displace.

With OOXML due for one final vote next February, before getting kicked off the fast-track entirely, it fell to Microsoft's general manger for interoperability and standards, Tim Robertson, to say through gritted teeth: "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."

Microsoft's statement focused on the fact 51 national bodies had participated in the process and that OOXML claimed 74 per cent of qualified votes.

To be ratified, though, OOXML needed two thirds of the national bodies that participated in the proposal to vote "yes" - however, OOXML scored 53 per cent. Ratification also required no more than a quarter cast a "no" vote - OOXML scored 26 per cent.

Calling the vote a milestone in OOXML adoption, Roberson said: "We are extremely delighted to see that 51 ISO members, representing 74 per cent 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."

The vote is certainly a milestone - an unwelcome one, which follows months of hardball politics and PR intended to ensure OOXML is ushered through the ISO process.

Drafted by Microsoft and backed by a strange troop of supporters, OOXML was first adopted by the European Computer Manufacturers' Association (ECMA), which has a convenient, fast-track arrangement with the ISO. That process saw a one-month consultation period and five-month ballot process for national standards bodies on OOXML end on September 2.

Microsoft has been repeatedly accused of giving national standards bodies insufficient time to digest its long (6,000 pages), complicated and technically deficient spec. Lately, complaints have turned to accusations Microsoft has packed out national standards bodies with supporters who will vote on, and approve, OOXML.

National standards bodies are now re-visiting their votes. The Swedish Standards Institute (SIS) invalidated its OOXML vote after it was reported Microsoft bussed in supporters who had not participated in the pre-voting process. The SIS claimed one member had broken its rules by voting twice. Hungary, too, is seeking clarification on the Hungarian Standards Institute's OOXML vote after it emerged that the group's rules were changed to favor a "yes" vote, and that new members had signed up who had "tight relationships with Microsoft".

Microsoft has tried to play the "people's champion" card against standards elitists. Commenting on the Swedish vote, Robertson told The Register: "We reject the assertion that the document standards process should be closed to new voices."

The ISO now plans a meeting next February on possible modifications to OOXML. National bodies can use that meeting to withdraw their "no" votes should their criteria for changes and modification be met. Should enough change, then the standard can move towards publication.

If not, then OOXML's fast-track acceptance will be over. Microsoft will, though, be able to resubmit OOXML using the usual standards acceptance process, the OSI said

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