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Microsoft makes final heroic grab for OOXML votes

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Microsoft has made one last crack at getting its Office Open XML (OOXML) approved as an international standard by reiterating that it won’t sue over future versions of its file format.

But it wasn't enough to reassure one UK MP, who has tabled a question in the house on the British Standards Institute's stance on OOXML.

The software giant reckoned developers can rest easy because its Open Specification Promise (OSP) will apply to future versions of the firm’s somewhat contentious document specification.

Microsoft’s Asia-Pacific tech officer Oliver Bell announced the OSP promise on his blog yesterday. However, he also offered an interesting caveat:

"As long as Microsoft participates in the revision process to completion, Microsoft irrevocably commits to apply the OSP that future version of IS29500 [the OOXML specification]."

The “revision process” he refers to is of course the ongoing drive to get OOXML passed as an international standard with the International Standards Organisation (ISO) and the International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC).

Open Document Format (ODF) was already approved by the ISO last year, and is the specification used by Microsoft rivals and open source fanciers IBM and Sun Microsystems among others.

By banging the interoperability drum one more time ahead of tomorrow's crucial deadline, Microsoft will doubtless hope to bag a few last-minute votes from delegates still undecided about OOXML’s inclusion as an international standard.

It’s been a heated battle for many months now, with ODF advocates on the one side berating Microsoft’s apparent newfound openness, while OOXML lovers have insisted that their format is the specification for developers across the globe.

Meanwhile the votes are beginning to stack up, but it’s still too early to call whether OOXML will make it past the finish line with Microsoft’s second attempt to fast-track the format, which was originally rubber-stamped by Ecma last year.

We broke the story earlier this week that the British Standards Institute (BSI) looks set to reverse its position by approving OOXML as a standard. If that happens – an official announcement for which isn’t expected until Monday – then it could be crucial for Microsoft in securing backing for its standards.

Liberal Democrat MP John Pugh has tabled a parliamentary question expressing his disappointment at the BSI's apparent change of heart:

"I am deeply concerned that some national bodies have considered approving DIS29500 'in their national interest'. It is not in the interest of the UK or any other country for DIS 29500 to be published as an international standard in its present form as there are a significant number of unresolved issues, including incompatible licensing conditions, single vendor interest and control as well as those other factors uncovered since the original comment period closed."

He concludes by urging the BSI not to change its stance on OOXML.

Microsoft needs to pull in a two-thirds majority from all delegates from the 33 national bodies before the file format can be given the green light by the ISO.

Microsoft and the developer community at large should know the fate of OOXML early next week. ®

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