The long contentious fight over standardisation of Office Open XML has ended with approval of the document standard after nearly 15 months of work by the International Standardisation Organisation.

While the ISO has not yet made it official, a major opponent of OOXML said the ISO has confirmed the results he posted on his blog. "I have a copy of the ISO report now so there is no question that it has passed," said Andy Updegrove, a lawyer, Linux Foundation board member and author of the Consortiuminfo's Standards blog. Updegrove has been a vocal opponent of OOXML standardisation.

Microsoft, which developed the format, Microsoft issued a press release yesterday, also saying that OOXML, known as DIS 29500 at the ISO, received overwhelming support. Neither, however, presented any concrete validation of the ISO vote.

Updegrove said the final tally verified by the ISO was 24 participant members, or P-members, out of 32 voted in favour of approving DIS 29500. The 75-percent approval rate was more than the 66 percent needed for ratification. In addition, among the voting national bodies of the individual nations, only 10 negative votes were cast out of 71 total. The 14 percent negative voting rate came in well below the threshold of 25 percent established by the ISO to mark failure of a measure.

"It was not even close," said Peter O'Kelly, an analyst with the Burton Group. "Most significantly from the Microsoft perspective is that Microsoft will not be precluded from doing business with organisations that mandate ISO standards for document formats."

That is what the vendor was gunning for with OOXML. The Microsoft version of OOXML, not the DIS 29500 version, is the default file format in Office 2007.

O'Kelly said the 15-month contentious process to approve DIS 29500 also is likely to have a lasting impact on how standards are created and judged.

"I think this will be a milestone, or checkpoint, for what does it mean to be a standard. And why is one standards organisation perceived to be better or more authoritative than another and what are the policies for becoming a standard? Is it the case that Microsoft did an etiquette breach? Or is this kind of business as usual for standards organisations?"

In December 2006, European standards body ECMA approved OOXML under the title ECMA-376 Office Open XML and was the organisation that recommended the format for ISO fast-track standardisation.

In addition, the ISO has already approved ODF as a standard, giving it credibility among organisations that prefer standards-based technology. Microsoft desired the same ISO stamp of approval. While the long battle around standardisation is over, Microsoft still has to implement DIS 29500 in its products.

Tom Robertson, Microsoft's general manager of interoperability and standards, said the company will take a close look at the final specification, which is now under the control of the ISO, before it can set an implementation timetable.

"We will look at this and get a communication out to the community," said Robertson. "We are absolutely committed to getting DIS 29500 implemented in our products."

Robertson also said the ISO ratification proves the standards process works despite criticism that Microsoft used politics and other means to influence voting countries.

"Each national body has its own processes for determining what its position will be and we believe those processes were followed," said Robertson. "The process has worked. We have seen improvement in the specification and because of that improvement there is wide spread support for ratification."

But Updegrove and other critics say despite the standardisation there is clear evidence that end-users are on a quest for openness.

"People are deciding there is more to open than open source," said Updegrove. "There are open standards, open development and open content and that is an increasingly powerful force in the marketplace. And people who care most, a large percentage of them don't think that OOXML should be regarded as part of that category. There is no open implementation of OOXML and likely there will never be one."

What OOXML does have is the support of a number of vendors including Apple, Corel, Google, Novell, Sun and a number of operating system providers including Palm OS. Those companies, and likely many others, will begin to implement DIS 29500 once the final specification is published.

See Glyn Moody's related blog on our sister publication site, Computerworld UK: Whatever happened to Standards?