ISO Ignores Objections

Saturday, 2007-March-17 at 13:56 2 comments

Microsoft guns Open XML onto ISO fast track

ComputerWorld’s Eric Lai reported last week that the ISO has decided to continue pushing the ECMA 376 (ISO DIS 29500) “monop-a-doc” specification along the fast track. This decision was made despite 19 objections ranging from mild (comments about the definition of “contradiction” and the short length of time to raise objections as well as the confusing name chosen) to severe (this is redundant to ODF and needs to be harmonized with it and technical issues with the specification to “this should be taken the slow way, so that it can be fixed or rejected”).

According to an e-mail sent Saturday by Lisa Rajchel, the secretariat of ISO’s Joint Technical Committee (JTC-1) on Information Technology,the Open XML proposal, along with comments and criticism by nations that have already reviewed it, will be put on the ISO’s five-month balloting process.

This has been an eye-opener. For those who believed that the ISO contradiction period would lead to changes and slow-tracking, this was disappointing at best. Apparently, this is similar to what happened with the C++/CLI proposed standard, which would up being shelved by the very issues that had been raised during its contradiction period. Some people on Groklaw theorized that this is done to force an up-or-down vote, so that the ISO does not have to deal with the disputed issues.

However, it seems more likely that a large vendor and contributor to many such ISO standards has staked its financial future and its office suite’s dominance on getting this approval and heading off competition in the public sector.

Rajchel wrote that she decided to move Open XML forward afterconsulting with staff at the International Technology Task Force. Shedid not mention that the 6,000-page proposal, submitted by anotherstandards body, Ecma International, had garnered comments and criticism from 20 out of the 30 countries sitting on the JTC-1 committee.

She decided? Is that what it says? One person made this decision? Do you think maybe something smells fishy here? Maybe there will be more visits by Microsoft officials to those nations that are likely to vote on the issue. It seemed to help in Romania.

I note that there seems to have been a change in ISO rules on February 20th. Again, something smells fishy. It is this process–making standards that will affect everyone, yet only considering the interests of the vendor–that caused me to make the following comment to a post by Rick Jelliffe:

Whether it is now or in the future, the ISO process will change. The new Congress in the US will stand up for consumers and seek to ensure that internationally-approved standards consider the needs of end-users and not just those of vendors. The only question is when–before the PAS process ends or later, after revisiting the “net neutrality” issue–and whether ANSI will give in to Congress or lose its ability to serve as NIST’s representative.

Do not be dismayed. Change is coming. Just as open source software is the way of the future (and it scares some proprietary software companies so much that they lie awake at night trying to figure out how to derail it), so the days of “undue influence” by large corporations over standards and government decisions must end.

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