Ecma receives 3,522 comments on Open XML standards bid

Responses to objections from national standards bodies are on the way

Religious reformer Martin Luther may have nailed 95 objections to Catholic Church practices to the door of a church in Germany. But that's nothing compared to the 3,522 comments that Microsoft's Office Open XML document format attracted from the national standards bodies that participated last summer in balloting that at least temporarily derailed the effort to certify the format as an ISO standard.

Brian Jones, an Office program manager at Microsoft, disclosed the total number of comments that had been received in a blog posting on Monday. Jones also said that Ecma International, a Geneva-based standards body that already ratified Open XML and is shepherding the format through ISO's more exacting process, posted its first set of responses to the comments last weekend.

Jones is the sole Microsoft employee who is a member of Ecma Technical Committee 45, a 24-member committee made up of high-tech vendors.

Under ISO rules, only members of national standards bodies are allowed to view the various comments and TC45's responses via a Web portal that Ecma has set up. Jones wrote in response to comments appended to his blog posting that he would prefer to have the portal be publicly accessible. But, he added, limiting access is a general rule that ISO has "around this whole process, and unless they make an exception, Ecma needs to stick to those rules."

According to Jones, many of the 3,500-plus comments -- which mostly consist of objections and suggested changes to Ecma's standards proposal -- overlap with one another. "When you group them into similar buckets, it narrows down pretty quickly into a more manageable list," he wrote. Even so, he acknowledged that the number of comments is "still pretty impressive."

Open XML narrowly failed to win fast-track approval as an ISO standard in the initial balloting that concluded Sept. 2. Ecma's proposal won a majority of the votes that were cast but not enough to meet the requirements for approval.

Objections to the Open XML standards proposal that were submitted earlier in the year include claims that Microsoft's file format should be made more interoperable with the rival Open Document Format (ODF) for Office Applications, which was already accepted as a standard by Geneva-based ISO. Other objections cited alleged patent violations in Open XML, the short time allotted to evaluate Ecma's 6,000 page proposal and a variety of specific technical issues.

Microsoft is eager to get Open XML, the native file format in Office 2007, approved as an ISO standard in order to keep ODF at bay and help the software vendor maintain its dominance of the desktop applications market. IBM, Sun Microsystems Inc. and other opponents of the standards proposal are fighting it in order to help products such as OpenOffice.org, StarOffice and IBM's new Symphony software gain wider adoption among users.

Ecma has until Jan. 14 to provide responses and rebuttals to the comments submitted by the national standards bodies. The issues raised will then be debated at a so-called ballot resolution meeting that ISO will hold starting Feb. 25. A second round of voting after that meeting will be Open XML's last chance for approval during the current standards cycle.

Jones said in his blog posting that Ecma has posted 662 responses thus far and plans to add more every few weeks. "Most of the comments were accompanied by a proposed resolution, and most of them are great suggestions, so our response back is often that we'll do exactly what they are asking for," he wrote.

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