Late surge of votes in favour of OOXML standard

Finland's national standards body SFS has voted to approve adoption of a file format based on Microsoft's Office Open XML (OOXML) as an international standard.

Countries previously against adoption or abstaining whether the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) adopts a file format based on Microsoft's Office Open XML (OOXML) as an international standard, such as the Czech Republic, Denmark and Finland, are now voting in its favour.

In the ballot, which closed on Saturday, 87 national standards bodies had a chance to vote on adoption of OOXML as an international standard for office documents.

ISO already has one standard for office documents, OpenDocument Format (ODF), which has the backing of many of Microsoft's rivals, including IBM and Sun Microsystems. ODF is the native document format in a number of applications, including Sun's StarOffice, IBM's Lotus Symphony and the open-source application OpenOffice.org.

That corporate rivalry has made for an often-acrimonious voting process, as the technical committees advising national standards bodies typically include representatives from many of these companies.

ISO held a first ballot on adoption of OOXML last September, but the format failed to win approval from enough countries. ISO rules require that standards bodies voting against adoption of a draft standard give technical reasons for their disapproval. ISO then organizes a meeting to improve the draft in light of those comments, after which the countries that took part in the original vote have a month to examine the revised draft and decide whether to change their vote.

For OOXML, the ballot resolution meeting took place in Geneva at the end of February, and standards bodies have until Saturday to inform ISO if they wish to change their vote.

To become a standard, OOXML requires approval from three-quarters of all countries voting, and approval from two-thirds of "participating" or "P-member" countries. In September, it missed both targets, with 74 percent support overall and just 53 percent among the more powerful P-members.

Some countries have been swayed by the changes made to the draft.

Denmark announced Friday that it would vote in favour, rather than against, while the Czech Republic announced a similar decision earlier in the week. Both are P-members.

Cuba, on the other hand, announced that it is now against, while Kenya, a P-member, has decided to abstain.

Finland, another P-member, is also now in favour. The national standards body SFS abstained in September, but changed its vote on Thursday after a five-hour meeting.

The debate was heated, said Juha Vartiainen, a technical adviser at SFS, with around 40 experts taking part in the discussion.

"There was strong opposition, but not so strong as last time," he said.

The tradition at SFS meetings is to reach a consensus rather than to vote on matters such as this, he said.

"We didn't fully reach it, but after five hours the chair made the decision," he said.

While Finnish software company representatives at the meeting remained entrenched in their positions, representatives of central and local government, who also have a voice, were persuaded that the Geneva meeting had improved the draft standard enough to approve it.

"It was mainly government bodies and communities that are for it, that was the big change," said Vartiainen.

(Additional reporting by Brenda Zulu in Lusaka, Zambia, and Rebecca Wanjiku in Nairobi, Kenya.)

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