Meet ISO 29500

The war would finally appear to be over: Microsoft and Ecma International have succeeded in persuading the world’s national standards bodies to approve a revised draft standard derived from the Office 2007 file formats. OOXML officially becomes the ISO/IEC 29500 standard. In the end, 75% of national standards bodies voted in favour, comfortably above the 66.66% needed, and only 14%, including observers, voted against: well within the 25% ceiling. The standards bodies accepted that most objections have been addressed and the revised standard is good enough to stand beside HTML, PDF and ODF as an international standard document format. There’s a two-month delay now before ISO publishes the final standard, during which appeals may be lodged, but I doubt any will succeed.

Meet ISO 29500

It’s taken nearly two years to get here from Microsoft’s decision to submit its format to Ecma International: all the documentation and revision involved in producing the ECMA 376 standard; submitting this to ISO for consideration; the initial consultation with national standards bodies; their responses; replies to those responses; the first vote (which Microsoft lost); more responses to comments, including substantial revisions to the formats; the week-long “Ballot Resolution Meeting” in Geneva; another month of deliberation, and the final vote last weekend. It’s been a highly charged and, at times, acrimonious process, with accusations of abuse of process, ballot stuffing and worse.

At times there appeared to be three sides to this argument: pro- and anti-OOXML wings, with pragmatists and committee chairpersons trying to referee the dirty fight. But it’s interesting to note that, as the final vote approached, the anti-OOXML camp itself seemed to split down the middle. More moderate, pro-ODF people were talking about co-operation, harmonisation and how a well-defined, competitive “sister” standard could be good for ODF and the world. This left the “ABM” (Anything But Microsoft), anti-OOXML crowd sounding increasingly shrill and desperate, endlessly regurgitating old gripes already answered by extensive specification changes, and spreading FUD (fear, uncertainty and doubt) about everything from intellectual property rights to the maintenance of future versions of the standard. Typical FUD objections included asserting that Microsoft Office 2007 was the only implementation of OOXML, with some saying that no-one but Microsoft could possibly implement the specification because it was so big. Others claimed, without justification, that even Office 2007 documents don’t conform to ECMA 376: at my last count, I found 45 different applications on different platforms and from different manufacturers that could read or write OOXML files, with more being announced every week. Of course, not every implementation will read and write every feature of OOXML with 100% fidelity: many of these applications implement only the parts they need to support their features. See

On the other hand, the anti-OOXML camp boasted about how many different applications support ODF, but many are, in fact, the same OpenOffice code rebadged and released by different companies under different names. KOffice, StarOffice, NeoOffice and even Lotus Notes all use the OpenOffice code to a greater or lesser degree: I particularly like the honesty of the list at, where the number of stars awarded for the level of ODF support runs from one to five, but no application receives more than four.

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