Microsoft’s efforts to fast-track its Open XML document format through the international standardisation process have taken another hit, as the British Standards Institution (BSI) has joined 18 other countries in issuing objections at the initial review stage.
Open XML was submitted to the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) at the start of January by standards body Ecma.
National standards bodies had until 5 February to review the supporting documentation and issue their feedback. In response, 19 countries, including the UK, Japan, Australia and Germany, issued contradictions to the Open XML specification.
"In view of contradictions between the ECMA-376 [Open XML] standard and existing ISO and JTC 1 standards, [the BSI] does not believe that the fast-track procedure is appropriate,” said Jonathan Mason, public relations officer for the UK’s national standards body.
Mason added that the BSI has recommended that Open XML goes through the normal standard channels.
The ISO has granted Ecma until 28 February to prepare its response to the contradictions, prior to them being posted online.
OpenForum Europe, which supports the competing OpenDocument Format (ODF) standard, was part of a campaign to urge national standards bodies to issue contradictions to Open XML.
Graham Taylor, OFE’s chief executive, welcomed the latest developments. “Common sense and reason has prevailed,” he argued. “I don’t think the ISO has ever had this level of response before, so I was pleasantly surprised. The huge body of countries replying shows it’s an important issue.”
Taylor added that OFE would now be writing to the BSI to encourage it to
support a unified focus on ODF, which has already obtained ISO status.
Andrew Updegrove, editor of the ConsortiumInfo.org standards blog, said the high response levels reflected the importance of having an open document format standard.
“I think that this demonstrates the degree to which the world has come to appreciate the importance of ensuring the long-term accessibility of its historical record, as well as the inadvisability of entrusting that heritage to a single vendor or software program,” Updegrove wrote in a blog posting. “It will be interesting to see how Microsoft deals with this slap in the face. One possibility would be to push the national bodies more aggressively than ever to vote for adoption. Another might be to withdraw the specification and prepare a less controversial submission.”
However, Microsoft played down the news. The software giant issued a statement arguing that it should not be assumed that all 19 submissions were contradictions or substantial responses. “We expect that some are either statements of support or simple statements that the ISO member has no comments at this stage,” the firm said.
Microsoft added that it was still confident that the ISO would ratify Open XML, although it is now subject to a further three-month consideration period followed by a five-month technical review. “Customers want choice among document file formats based on their needs,” the vendor said. “These standards can coexist and do interoperate.”
As evidence of this interoperability, Microsoft pointed towards the release of an open-source translator tool released last week, which is designed to let users switch between ODF and Open XML.
However, Microsoft received another blow with the news that Texas is considering passing a bill that would require government agencies to use open document formats. Texas is the third US state to consider such an option, joining Massachusetts and Minnesota.