OOXML approval system open to abuse

Summary:The Office Open XML approval process is not up to standard. Pushing ahead will be a mistake

It is hard to consider the current high drama of Office Open XML and the International Organization for Standardization as anything other than a global soap opera. From Ghana, reports of "anti-Microsoft fundamentalism" being used as an argument against technical objections. From India, complaints that "we didn't oppose ODF, so why are you opposing OOXML?". And from Sweden, more than 20 new companies, overwhelmingly Microsoft partners, joining the committee voting on ISO certification within days of the final vote.

Whether or not OOXML is a good candidate for an open standard is beside the point: there is prima facie evidence of voting in bad faith, without proper consideration of all the aspects of the proposal. This is not something that can be fixed later; there are severe implications for the industry in adopting a standard that has not been fully analysed. Those who vote without understanding what they vote for, or because they have primarily political or commercial reasons, are guilty of subverting the process.

Now we have solid evidence of commercial pressure on companies to vote in a certain way. Microsoft says a leaked memo which is open to "potential confusion" and could be construed as offering two Swedish partners Microsoft resources in exchange for participation in the voting process was an isolated mistake by an employee. Yet nobody could read the memo and really be confused about its meaning.

It is no longer safe to assume the voting process is working. There remain many good and pressing technical, legal and practical issues connected with OOXML: part of the standardisation review process is the intention to identify such issues, fix them if possible and discard the standard if not. This too is not happening: "Vote it through now and fix it later" is the message.

For the sake of the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) itself, the entire effort should be halted and reviewed. It is highly unlikely, given the elevated emotions and increasingly irascible claims made by all sides, that OOXML will be properly passed: if it is voted through, then necessary changes will not have been made and, if it is not, then a chance to make a key part of our IT infrastructure truly open may have been missed.

Either would be a mistake. Soap operas are fine as long as they stay fiction. Let's not create one we'll have to inhabit for decades to come.

Topics: Apps

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