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NIST Votes for U.S. 'Approval with Comments' on Office Open XML Standard to Meet International Voting Deadline

From NIST Tech Beat: August 31, 2007

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Contact: Ben Stein
301-975-3097

In preparation for the September 2 international voting deadline, the Commerce Department’s National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) has supported a U.S. national body consensus position to vote “approve, with comments” on a proposed international standard known as Office Open XML (OOXML). 

If approved by the international standards organization, known as ISO/IEC, the OOXML standard (numbered ISO/IEC DIS 29500) would join the Open Document Format (ODF) standard as another international standard for open documents.  Open document standards are applicable to word processing, spreadsheets, and other types of documents, potentially allowing computer users to exchange documents more easily between software programs and across hardware platforms.

When the U.S. voting body, known as INCITS, issued its first ballot in late July, NIST voted for conditional approval of OOXML based upon the need to have numerous technical issues identified by the U.S. resolved in the proposed standard. Specifically, NIST supported the U.S. voting to “disapprove with comments.”  This is in accordance with the international guidelines for the balloting process, which states that “conditional approval” should be cast as “disapprove, with comments.”  In this initial U.S. vote, however, there was insufficient U.S. consensus among the 16 U.S. voting members to vote “disapprove, with comments.”  INCITS then issued a second round of ballots in order to try to arrive at a U.S. consensus position by the international deadline of September 2.

In the second round of balloting, NIST supported a U.S. vote of “approve, with comments” for two reasons, according to George Arnold, deputy director of NIST’s Technology Services unit.  “First, it became clear that a U.S. consensus would not be achieved to vote ‘disapprove, with comments,’” he said.  “Second, we wanted to ensure that all of the U.S. comments would be considered when the proposed international standard is edited.”  If the U.S. voting body had remained in deadlock, the U.S. would not have been able to submit its comments for consideration by the ISO/IEC.

According to NIST electronics engineer Mike Hogan, some examples of comments by the U.S. body include the following: many key terms in the standard are not yet defined and therefore concepts are ambiguous; some aspects of the standard still refer to some proprietary information; and some requirements of the standard are not sufficient to support accessibility requirements of Section 508 of the U.S. Rehabilitation Act.

Final approval by the U.S., and ISO/IEC approval, will ultimately hinge upon the outcome of the review and disposition of all of the comments received from all of the national bodies participating in the vote.  As noted in the first U.S. comment, “The US National Body would like to note that, in accordance with the JTC 1 fast track process, any National Body voting on the DIS 29500 fast track ballot will have the option of reaffirming or changing their vote based upon the final text for DIS 29500.”

An OOXML Ballot Resolution Meeting is planned for sometime in early 2008.  The goal of the meeting is to incorporate various nations’ comments on OOXML into a final draft of the standard such that allows a broader consensus for approval. 

Link to fact sheet on NIST position.