The future of Microsoft's Office Open XML (OOXML) remains uncertain, despite a meeting of ISO committee members in Geneva last week.
The committee approved changes to the OOXML document standard, but critics charge it failed to properly talk through the issues. They say the discussion around the 1,100 mostly esoteric technical tweaks – delivered in mid-January via a 2,300-page document by standards body Ecma International – was so perfunctory that no consensus can be drawn from it.
"Eighty percent of the changes were not discussed," said Frank Farance, head of the US delegation to the ballot resolution meeting (BRM). "It's like... you had a massive software project and 80 percent of it was not run through QA," added Farance, whose delegation voted against the changes.
Besides the 200 or so changes that were discussed and approved by committee members, another 900 were grouped together for a single vote without any discussion, thanks to a lack of time.
Of the 32 participating countries, only six, including the Czech Republic and Poland, voted to approve those 900 changes. Eighteen countries, or more than half, abstained, while another four countries refused to register a vote, according to the blog of Andy Updegrove, a lawyer and open standards activist. The United States was one of four countries voting "no" to those 900 changes, Farance said.
All of this indicates a lack of actual support for Open XML, critics say. "People here are disgusted," Updegrove said, adding that "the absurdity of trying to do this by a 'fast track' process" had become apparent.
Microsoft, however, said that Open XML has faced far greater scrutiny than other ISO formats, including the rival OpenDocument Format, which was fast-tracked through in 2006. "There has been a lot of discussion since this process was started on September 2," said Tom Robertson, general manager for interoperability and standards at Microsoft. "Not every issue that was raised needed to be discussed face-to-face this week."
"The national bodies this week simply identified the issues that mattered most to them, and focused their discussion on them," Robertson continued. "I think it's fair to say there was a pretty rigorous review of those issues."
For Open XML to be finally adopted by the ISO, it must gain the support of three quarters of all voting members and two-thirds of the national standards bodies that work on a specific proposal.
At the last ISO vote in September, Open XML failed on both counts, getting "yes" votes from 74 percent of the former group and 53 percent of the so-called participating members.
Microsoft hopes that enough countries will change their minds in the next 30 days as a result of the BRM result.
That could easily happen. The US position has flip-flopped several times during the fast-track process that began in early 2007.