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Issue Date: April 2008

AnalystWatch: The Open XML standards decision

April 2008
David Mitchell, Ovum analyst

It emerged earlier this month that ISO/IEC DIS 29500 should gain formal ratification as an ISO standard for documents, following the ballot resolution process (BRM) meeting.

This reverses the previous rejection of the standard in September 2007.
The standard was originally submitted by Microsoft to ECMA, and was approved as ECMA standard 376 before being submitted to ISO through the Fast Track process. Of course, this is the Open XML standards decision that has been hanging over the industry for some time.
The decision in favor of Open XML has been a long time coming. Although the decision has been widely predicted since the BRM in Geneva in late February, everyone also predicted that the vote would be very close.
For the previous rejection to have been overturned it needed the National Bodies of many countries to change their votes. Among the countries that changed their votes from 'disapprove' to 'approve' were Czech Republic, South Korea, Denmark, Norway, United Kingdom, Ireland, Trinidad & Tobago, Japan, Thailand, and the Philippines. Those changing from 'abstain' to 'approve' were Peru, Mexico, Israel, Mauritius, Finland, and Slovenia. Of course, there were some countries such as Venezuela who changed from 'approve' to 'disapprove'. The two geographic blocks where changes drove the process were: Northern/Western Europe and North East/South East Asia. Together their changes tilted the balance of the process.
So, what will change now that the standard has been ratified? In the short term very little will change. Those who were protesting and opposing the Open XML progress through the standards process will still oppose it. The nature of their protest will evolve. To begin with, there have been challenges to the process, and these will continue.
Those who are supporters of Open XML will need to move into the implementation phase, because standards are simply documentation. One of the companies that many will expect to take a lead with implementation is Microsoft. The standard initially submitted through ECMA has been revised by the standards process, generally improving it on the way.
As such, Microsoft will need to update its existing products and planned future products to support the format that was actually ratified. It is likely to take some time for this to be completed and Microsoft will also need to provide tools to convert from the existing Office 2007 formats into the new Open XML standard. Other ISV developers like Apple, IBM, Sun, et al will also need to put their plans in place for supporting this standard; it would not be wise for the developer community to ignore it.
This does not mean the demise of ODF, one of the other ISO ratified document standards. But it does mean that developers of software that work with documents will have to support both formats, and that these developers will need to compete on the basis of the intrinsic merits of their products rather than using a standards body lockout, from either the ODF or the Open XML camp.


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