Open XML - US Vote Progress Continues

I have spent the past 2 weeks looking at really big trees and getting my perspective reset as it applies to scale and time. Yet, as I come back to email and industry news, things are still moving along with Open XML. I have been in touch with a bunch of people over the past 24 hours and here are some thoughts on the US vote and the status of a few things in general.


Even though there were early predictions of doom for Open XML from Andy Updegrove and Rob Weir (and others), the US vote is likely to be either a “Yes with comments” or “Abstain” – not a ”No” vote. While the parties opposed to ISO adoption of Open XML have gone quiet on the US vote in the blogosphere, I think it is worth taking a close look at this key vote. In order to clarify my opinion – here are the details as I understand them.

The INCITS Executive Board voted on July 19 to distribute a ballot on Open XML with “Yes with Comments” as the US position. This was not the final vote of the US National Body for submission to ISO, only one step in the procedure to get to the US position. Votes were submitted and reviewed in another meeting of the EB on Wed, August 15. The first round of voting had resulted in 8 “yes,” 7 “no,” and 1 “abstain” vote (the only three options on the motion before the EB). The individuals who voted “No” discussed the basis for their votes, and the meeting progressed as the group worked on resolving some of these issues. By the end of the meeting enough of those who originally cast a “No” vote indicated likely support for a second “Yes with Comments” ballot to begin on Thursday August 16. Thus, the ballot will move to the next phase as “Yes  with Comments” heading into a Resolution Meeting on August 29. At that meeting, if Open XML gets 10 supporting votes, the US position on Open XML will be “Yes with Comments.” If it does not get the 10 needed votes, the EB is being asked to consider “Abstain with Comments” as its fall-back position. At this point, it seems a “No with Comments” is off the table.

IBM’s Motivations

If it has been unclear as to why IBM is so interested in keeping Open XML from being an ISO standard, the recent release of IBM Notes and Domino 8 continue to underline the fact that IBM has development investment, product sales, and consulting practice interests in the success of ODF. (I find it interesting that in their press release for Notes 8 they talk about ODF but NOT ISO ODF - why then so much concern about ISO Open XML from them?)

OK, that is fine – they should be interested in the success of their products, but this interest also drives the desire to have ODF / Open XML and ISO/IEC standardization as a differentiator. Given this self-interest, the irony is not lost on me that they are generating numerous technical comments for Open XML and advocating to National Bodies that these issues warrant a “No” vote even as IBM and Sun are working hard at OASIS on ODF to fix its many technical issues. Should ODF 1.0 not have been approved as an ISO standard because it was submitted prematurely in order for the interested parties to get a market competitive differentiator? (Keep in mind, the Massachusetts ETRM policy does NOT specify the ISO spec for ODF – they specify the OASIS spec because the ISO version is no longer current.)

The Standard Works

Even more important than the clash of the titans I keep referring to with IBM and Microsoft is the number of Open XML implementations already being delivered to market. Open XML is being widely adopted on Linux, Mac, and other platforms for office productivity products:

  • OpenOffice Novell Edition
  • OpenOffice Linspire edition
  • open-source spreadsheet project Gnumeric
  • Xandros has announced its intent to implement Open XML on desktop Linux solutions
  • Neo-Office 2.1 (based on for the Mac platform
  • Apple’s support in iWork ’08, as well as on the iPhone
  • Palm ‘Documents to Go’ from Dataviz   

A big question raised by the detractors of Open XML has been about only one vendor doing an implementation of the specification. There are HUNDREDS of organizations doing this already and the specification has been and Ecma standard for less than a year. The process of opening the doc format through the standards process is doing what it is supposed to do – the standard works.

Accusations Will Fly

The rhetoric is going to heat up as we move through the beginning of September. There will be wrangling over process, over technical changes, over business strategy, etc., etc. Keep in mind, the actual outcome of this standardization effort will not be known until after the formal ISO/IEC JTC 1 Ballot Resolution Meeting sometime in early 2008. Everyone with a vested interest in this – both pro and con – are working with all of the tools available to them. No matter what people argue about, though – at the heart of this remains the idea that making document formats more open is a good thing.