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More Trouble for Office OpenXML

A U.S. committee whose recommendation is viewed to be a bellwether as to whether Microsoft's Office OpenXML (OOXML) document formats are likely to be adopted as a major international standard, failed last week to garner enough votes to move the proposed standard along, according to a private blog post by one committee member.

The vote by Technical Committee V1 of the International Committee for Information Technology Standards (INCITS) came just two votes shy on Friday of the two-thirds majority required to recommend that OOXML be adopted by the International Organization for Standardization (ISO)

The V1 committee of the INCITS organization, which is accredited by the American National Standards Institute (ANSI), is charged with formulating the U.S. response to ISO standards proposals for open document formats.

In April, ISO began considering whether to ratify OOXML also known as Ecma 376 as an ISO standard on a so-called "fast-track" basis. The format, which was ratified as a standard by European standards organization Ecma International in December 2006, seemed like a shoe in at the time.

Now, that may be in doubt, given that a U.S. recommendation is in question.

"The initial motion of 'Approval, with comments' failed by two votes [and] further motions of 'Disapproval, with comments' and 'Abstention, with comments' also failed. The result is that V1 will report out a large list of technical comments for consideration by INCITS, but will not report a consensus position on this controversial ISO 'fast-track' submission," read the private blog post by V1 committee member, Rob Weir, who is also an IBM performance architect.

Translation: the U.S. may not cast its vote in favor of making OOXML a standard when ISO votes on September 2.

It's no surprise, given that OOXML defines the native file formats for Office 2007, that Microsoft tried to put its own spin on the vote.

"We and a growing list of IT users and technology companies believe in choice among document formats . a clear majority of the participants in the V1 process voted to recommend ISO ratification of Ecma Open XML, recognizing that this is the path to take to enable choice. We look forward to further discussions on this issue in INCITS as it comes to its final position over the coming six weeks," Tom Robertson, general manager of interoperability and standards at Microsoft, said in a statement emailed to

Robertson's reference to the close vote, however, touches a sore spot for Microsoft's opponents. The company, they assert, tried to stack the deck in its own favor in recent weeks, when membership in the V1 committee surged from seven, counting Microsoft, to 26. Most of the new members are Microsoft partners, they allege, and were meant to give the company the edge in Friday's vote.

Despite that, Microsoft could only rally 15 votes (60 percent) of the 17 needed to garner a recommendation. However, the game is not yet over, and Microsoft has always been a tenacious contender.

"We wound up in a deadlock [so] this means the matter passes on to the INCITS executive board, where they'll try to reach a decision on how to proceed. They have until September 2 to decide on a position that the U.S. will take. Stay tuned," said a blog post by Microsoft's V1 committee representative, Doug Mahugh, who is also a technical evangelist for OOXML.

Indeed, September is shaping up to be a critical month for Microsoft's presence in Europe. The company was also notified Tuesday that the European Commission's Court of First Instance will render its verdict in Microsoft's appeal of its 2004 EC antitrust ruling on September 17.

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