ISO takes full charge of Open XML, sets up 'harmonization' group

It will now be up to a new working group, yet to be given an official name, to manage the process of making OXML play nice with ODF. It's out of Microsoft's hands.

We can't call it "Office Open XML" anymore, because it no longer belongs to Microsoft Office exclusively. As of yesterday, International Organization for Standardization committee SC 34 passed a resolution that effectively assumes stewardship of Open XML, the document format standard originally produced by Microsoft, and which is now officially under new management.

"The passage of ISO/IEC 29500 has instituted a new era of standards activity in SC 34 related to document formats," reads the text of one of 20 resolutions considered by SC 34 this week, and whose passage was formally announced yesterday. "ISO/IEC 29500 does not represent an isolated phenomenon, since SC 34 is also responsible for ISO/IEC 26300 and for interoperability between these and other projects."

ISO/IEC 29500 is, of course, Open XML; while ISO/IEC 26300 refers to OpenDocument Format, now the first of two XML-based document formats to receive international standard accreditation.

The resolution called for the creation of three working bodies within SC 34, each of the first two being devoted to one of the two document format suites. The third working group will be devoted to "interoperability/harmonization between document format standards."

To that end, SC 34 members considered ways in which both OXML (now with one less "O") and ODF can be maneuvered to co-exist with other standards, such as the Open Font Format that received standards accreditation in 2005. OFF includes a system for incorporating and re-rendering both PostScript Type 1 and TrueType fonts in a common fashion, which borrows OpenType's hinting method for rendering fonts more legibly at smaller point sizes.

Thus at least one of the predictions of OXML's entry into the annals of international standards is coming true: Microsoft's methodology will indeed start to sway the development and evolution of ODF.

Last week's decision by ISO committee JTC 1 was characterized by BetaNews as something of a squeaker, although Microsoft -- citing the three-fourths margin of passage -- took issue with that phrasing.

But in a personal blog post yesterday, Alex Brown, a key participant in the process and a convener of JTC 1 meetings, summed up his fellow members' feelings about the DIS 29500 adoption process going forward as nothing short of sheer exhaustion. "Although the margin of votes in its favour was (surprisingly to me) reasonably comfortable, the overall mood of acceptance seems less of a, 'yip yip yahoo!," Brown wrote, "and perhaps more of a, 'well, alright.' Everybody is now watching very carefully."

Today, the ISO lists standard 29500 as having obtained stage 40.99 of its history, "Full report circulated: DIS approved for registration as FDIS." That means it can be registered, though it does not mean it has been registered; that's stage 50.00. That approval and publication process may still take several months. A long road still lies ahead for FDIS 29500, even if it's a downhill one.

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