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Microsoft fails to secure ISO nod for Office Open XML

NEW DELHI: The world’s largest software company, the $51-billion Microsoft Corporation, on Wednesday failed to secure an ISO approval in a preliminary vote for its Office Open XML (OOXML) standard in the wake of hectic lobbying from rival ODF (Open Documents Format) camp backed by tech giants like IBM, Sun Microsystems, Red Hat and Google. About 104 countries participated in the voting process. While 53% participating in the ISO technical committee voted for OOXML, 26% voted against it. To secure approval, Microsoft needed 66.66% votes and not more than 25% negative votes. According to an ISO statement, Microsoft failed to achieve both the criteria. India voted against Microsoft along with countries like Brazil and China, while US voted a ‘Yes’ with reservations. Hungary and Sweden abstained from voting amidst charges of unfair pressure on voting members by Microsoft camp in Sweden. Winning in the war over formats is extremely important commercially for both parties. Government agencies will find it hard spending tax payer’s money on a non-standardised software product in the future. Through ODF, IBM-Sun-Red Hat combine want to break the Microsoft monopoly on software globally. The standardisation of Open XML would allow other companies to build products using the file format and simplify file exchange between different software suites. While the open source community is cheering the prelim victory, another round of voting is yet to come up in February, next year. Ironically, Microsoft issued a carefully crafted press statement twisting defeat into victory: “We are delighted to see that 51 ISO members have voiced support for ISO ratification of Open XML. Many others have indicated they will support ratification once their comments are resolved in the next phase,” said Microsoft general manager for interoperability and standards Tom Robertson. The ODF camp however hailed Microsoft’s defeat as its victory. “This is a great day for open standards. Open standards for data interchange are extremely important to humanity because it helps us to share knowledge freely with each other,” said Open Source Foundation of India (OFSI) co-founder Venkatesh Hariharan. OFSI alleged that as the September 2 deadline approached, several new members joined the voting process pushed by the Microsoft camp. These countries include Cote d’Ivoire, Cyprus, Ecuador, Jamaica, Lebanon, Malta, Pakistan, Trinidad and Tobago, Turkey, Uruguay, and Venezuela. “With the exception of Ecuador which voted, “No with comments” and Trinidad and Tobago which abstained, all other new joinees have voted “Yes” or “Yes with comments. This is a blatant attempt to subvert the voting process,” added Mr Hariharan. IBM India’s open source affairs head Ashish Gautam said, “As per the ISO voting, there were only 32 members who voted of which 15 voted against. It means MS got only 53.12% members favouring it.” However, Microsoft is optimistic about the final voting in Feb-March, 2008. “Although no date has been formally set, the final tally is likely to take place in March 2008. We fully expect the total number of supporting votes to grow,” said Mr Robertson.

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