Microsoft’s OOXML Gets ISO Approval

Microsoft‘s contested Open Office XML (OOXML) document format has received fast-track approval by the International Standards Organization (ISO), with 75 percent of eligible participants voting to fast-track the standard, and only 14 percent voting against it. ISO will now proceed to publish OOXML as an international standard alongside the competing Open Document Format (ODF).

In theory, standardized documents format should offer a wide range of file interoperability between competing applications: someone could create a document in say, OpenOffice or Apple’s Pages, for instance, save it in a standard file format, and expect that document to be fully accessible in any other application supporting that format—perhaps including Microsoft Word.

Because of Microsoft Office’s dominate position in the productivity applications marketplace, OOXML is likely to become a de facto industry standard format with widespread support from other applications developers. Critics of OOXML’s approval point out that Microsoft has a poor track record of working with standards organizations or supporting international standards, and has frequently leveraged its position in the marketplace to stifle competition. However, OOXML has gained supporters even among proponents of the competing Open Document Format, who are hopeful Microsoft will fully participate in the standards process, and that the two formats may "co-evolve" and encourage greater interoperability.

As ever-increasing amounts of data are stored in digital document formats, organizations, governments, corporations, and individuals are increasingly concerned that important data could be locked away in proprietary file formats and eventually become inaccessible as companies and applications fade from the scene, and current information technology may not be able run older applications. Using an open document format, conversely, assures that new applications can be created to access information in the files, even if the programs used to create them are long-gone.

The ISO approval is a victory for Microsoft, which previously lost a bid to have OOXML approved for fast-track status amid charges the company attempted to manipulate the voting process. Microsoft denied it tried to manipulate the initial vote, and implied OOXML failed to get fast-track approval the first time solely because IBM worked against it.

ISO rules call for at least two thirds of eligible votes approve a standard for fast-track consideration, with no more than 25 percent voting against it. The voting process was open to to IEC and ISO members from 104 countries, including 41 that are members of the ISO/IEC JTC 1 information technology group.

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