Gates goes to Washington as US OOXML decision nears

Question from US state rep leads to impromptu lobbying moment

Microsoft's last-minute lobbying in the US on behalf of its Office Open XML document format included a visit by outgoing chairman Bill Gates to a US Congressional committee last week.

The executive board of the InterNational Committee for Information Technology Standards, or INCITS, is expected to tally the results of a letter ballot whether or not to maintain its position in favor of OOXML's ratification in ISO.

Most of INCITS' 19 members are large high-tech vendors, including Microsoft, HP, EMC, Intel, Sony Electronics, and Apple, all of whom supported OOXML last September, as well as opponents such as IBM and Oracle.

But more than a third of INCITS' members are federal groups, such as the US Department of Defense, the US Department of Homeland Security and the US National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), or industry trade groups with close ties to Washington DC. The industry contingent includes the IEEE, the Electronic Industries Alliance, GS1 US, and a new member, RFID and barcode standards consortium AIM Global.

Gates spoke ( YouTube video) Wednesday in front of the US House of Representatives' committee on science and technology. Though most of his talk was devoted to his own predictions concerning the future of IT, he answered a question from Washington state congressman Brian Baird, who said he was "particularly interested in the issue of Open XML and the broader question about standards."

Gates answered that Microsoft wants to see OOXML become an ISO standard, in part, "so that families and researchers and archivists will be able to access information from the past and use it to interact in the future. And it's by mining data like this that I think a lot of the advances in understanding how education is best done, or understanding what should be in the medical field. So it's both an important thing for innovation and an important thing for citizens to have access to information."

Baird, who represents Washington's capitol (Olympia) and other towns south of the Seattle metropolitan area in the US, where most of Microsoft's employees live and work, replied that he "appreciated" and "applauded Microsoft for its leadership in this area and the whole issue of standards."

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