Science

Microsoft file format approved as global standard, draws protests

Microsoft Corp.'s Open XML has been approved as an international document format, according to unofficial reports, prompting questions about the standardization process.

Microsoft Corp.'s Open XML has been approved as an international document format, according to unofficial reports, prompting questions about the standardization process.

The Geneva-based International Organization for Standardization isn't releasing the official results until Wednesday, but the global standards body began circulating the results to national counterparts Tuesday.

According to the unofficial numbers that have circulated around the internet, 61 of the countries that submitted ballots voted for the standard, while 10 voted no and 16 abstained.

Under ISO rules, a proposal to set an international standard must be supported by at least 75 per cent of national standards bodies that cast votes and 67 per cent of those that participated in discussing the proposal.

Microsoft claimed victory in a press release, saying that 86 per cent of the voting national bodies supported the standard, constituting "overwhelming support."

"This outcome is a clear win for the customers, technology providers and governments that want to choose the format that best meets their needs and have a voice in the evolution of this widely adopted standard," said Tom Robertson, Microsoft's general manager of interoperability and standards.

Open XML allows users to save spreadsheets, charts, presentations and word processing documents in a format that can be read by all software, not just Microsoft's Office programs.

'Serious irregularities'

Microsoft received approval in 2006 for the Open XML format from Ecma International, a Geneva-based industry group that establishes technical standards. The ISO turned down Microsoft's request for standardization last year after thousands of complaints from people in the technical industry.

Microsoft and Ecma later resubmitted the proposal for ratification after modifying specifications in the file format.

The unofficial approval has already met with opposition, however. Norway's standards body is protesting the ISO's approval and has requested the country's vote be suspended until an investigation can be completed, citing "serious irregularities" in the voting process.

"This decision does not reflect the view of the vast majority of the Norwegian committee, 80 per cent of which was against changing Norway's vote from No with comments to Yes," wrote chairman Steve Pepper in a letter to the ISO. "Because of this irregularity, a call has been made for an investigation by the Norwegian Ministry of Trade and Industry with a view to changing the vote."

Michiel Leenaars, a member of the Netherlands' national standards committee, also sent a message criticizing the decision to members of the OpenDoc Society, which opposes Microsoft's Open XML format. He said Microsoft's format has "literally crawled through the needle's eye."

"After a year of discussion and repairs it still receives the very minimum of support," he said. "This must be one of the worst results ever for a standard to pass within [ISO] in years."

Leenaars said a number of countries, including Canada, China, India and Brazil, voted against accepting the standard and that others could follow Norway's lead in protesting the outcome.

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