National delegations from 37 countries will be participating in a ballot resolution meeting in Geneva, Switzerland, on 25-29 February 2008 on the draft international standard ISO/IEC DIS 29500, Information technology – Office Open XML file formats.

ISO/IEC DIS 29500 is a proposed standard for word-processing documents, presentations and spreadsheets that is intended to be implemented by multiple applications on multiple platforms. According to the submitters of the document, one of its objectives is to ensure the long-term preservation of documents created over the last two decades using programmes that are becoming incompatible with continuing advances in the field of information technology.

The objective of the ballot resolution meeting (BRM) will be to review and seek consensus on possible modifications to the document in light of the comments received along with votes cast during a five-month ballot on the draft which ended on 2 September 2007. This ballot was open to the national member bodies of ISO (International Organization for Standardization) and IEC (International Electrotechnical Commission) and its purpose was to decide if the draft should be published as an ISO/IEC International Standard.

The voting did not result in ISO/IEC DIS 29500 meeting the acceptance criteria. The comments that accompanied the votes will be discussed at the BRM along with modifications in an endeavour to make it acceptable for publication according to the ISO/IEC criteria.

No decision on publication will be taken at the meeting itself. Following the BRM, the 87 national member bodies that voted in the 2 September ballot will have 30 days – until 29 March 2008 – to examine the actions taken in response to the comments and to reconsider their vote if they wish. If the modifications proposed are such that national bodies then wish to withdraw their negative votes, or turn abstentions into positive votes, and the acceptance criteria are then met, the standard may proceed to publication.

The BRM is being organized by subcommittee SC 34, Document description and processing languages, of the joint technical committee JTC 1, Information technology. JTC 1 is one of the most experienced and productive of ISO and IEC technical committees, having developed some 2 150 widely and globally used international standards and related documents.

Approximately 3 500 comments were received during last year's ballot. By grouping and by eliminating redundancies, these have been edited by SC 34 experts down to 1 100 comments for processing during the five days of the BRM. The task will be carried out by 120 participants who have registered for the meeting. They comprise members of the 37 national delegations, plus representatives of Ecma International, the computer manufacturers' association that submitted ISO/IEC DIS 29500 for adoption by JTC 1, plus officers of the ISO/IEC Information Technology Task Force (ITTF) which is responsible for the planning and coordination of JTC 1 work.

The BRM is a technical meeting which will be open to delegates that have been duly nominated by the ISO/IEC national member bodies and registered for the meeting. Such technical meetings are not public events but do follow the orderly and inclusive process of ISO/IEC. This provides a valid context in which representatives may potentially reconsider national member body positions and move towards consensus.

In the ISO and IEC system, it is the responsibility of the national delegations to come to meetings prepared with a national consensus among stakeholders in their country, for debate with other national positions with the ultimate aim of reaching international consensus.

The robustness of ISO and IEC processes is underlined by the fact the demand for international standards of the type they develop has never been higher. ISO has more than 17 000 international standards and related documents in its current portfolio and publishes around 100 new or revised standards per month.

ISO/IEC DIS 29500 was originally developed as the Office Open XML Specification by Microsoft Corporation which submitted it to Ecma International for transposing into an ECMA standard. Following a process in which other IT industry players participated, Ecma International subsequently published the document as ECMA standard 376.

Ecma International then submitted the standard in December 2006 to ISO/IEC JTC 1, with whom it has category A liaison status, for adoption as an international standard under the JTC 1 "fast track" procedure. This allows a standard developed within the IT industry to be presented to JTC 1 as a draft international standard (DIS) that can be adopted after a process consisting of a one-month review by the national bodies of JTC 1 and then a five-month ballot open to all voting national bodies of ISO and IEC.

The five-month ballot process which ended on 2 September was open to the IEC and ISO national member bodies from 104 countries, including 41 that are participating members of the joint ISO/IEC technical committee, JTC 1, Information technology.

Approval requires at least 2/3 (i.e. 66.66 %) of the votes cast by national bodies participating in ISO/IEC JTC 1 to be positive; and no more than 1/4 (i.e. 25 %) of the total number of national body votes cast to be negative. Neither of these criteria were achieved in the DIS vote, with 53 % of votes cast by national bodies participating in ISO/IEC JTC 1 being positive and 26 % of national votes cast being negative.

If next week's BRM leads to a sufficient number of negative votes or abstentions being withdrawn or made positive within the 30-day period after the meeting, ISO/IEC DIS 29500 may proceed to publication as an international standard. Otherwise, the proposal will have failed and this fast-track procedure will be terminated. This would not preclude subsequent re-submission under the normal ISO/IEC standards development rules.


About ISO
ISO is a global network of national standards institutes from 157 countries. It has a current portfolio of more than 17 000 standards for business, government and society. ISO's standards make up a complete offering for all three dimensions of sustainable development – economic, environmental and social. ISO standards provide solutions and achieve benefits for almost all sectors of activity, including agriculture, construction, mechanical engineering, manufacturing, distribution, transport, medical devices, information and communication technologies, the environment, energy, quality management, conformity assessment and services.

About IEC
The IEC is the world's leading organization that prepares and publishes International Standards for all electrical, electronic and related technologies – collectively known as "electrotechnology". IEC Standards cover a vast range of technologies from power generation, transmission and distribution to home appliances and office equipment, semiconductors, fibre optics, batteries, solar energy, nanotechnology and marine energy to mention just a few. Wherever you find electricity and electronics, you find the IEC supporting safety and performance, the environment, electrical energy efficiency and renewable energies. The IEC also manages conformity assessment schemes that certify whether equipment, systems or components conform to its International Standards.