ISO calls for end to OOXML 'personal attacks'

ISO calls for end to OOXML 'personal attacks'

Summary: The ISO committee handling OOXML braved open-source protests to meet in Oslo last week and work out how to ensure interoperability with ODF

TOPICS: Tech Industry

The International Organization for Standardization has called for "personal attacks" to cease in the debate surrounding Microsoft's Office Open XML standard.

The move came as an ISO committee meeting in Norway attracted protesters, who gathered to call for the retraction of Open Office XML (OOXML) from the ISO standardisation process.

At the start of April, the document format won enough votes to become a fully fledged ISO standard. Many observers had been against that standardisation, pointing out that the OpenDocument Format (ODF) already existed as an ISO standard, and arguing that OOXML's documentation contained too many unanswered technical problems to be passed.

Last week the ISO committee in charge of document standards, SC 34, met in Oslo to discuss the way forward for OOXML and ODF. The plenary session was marked by protests outside, largely carried out by delegates from a nearby open-source conference. The protesters were calling for OOXML to be withdrawn from ISO standardisation — something that could theoretically happen if a national standards body were to protest against its own vote within the next month or two.

One result of the SC 34 meeting was an open letter, signed by 30 members, which read: "We the undersigned participants at this SC 34 meeting wish to make it clear that we deplore the personal attacks that have been made during the [OOXML] standardisation project in recent months. We believe standards debate should always be carried out with respect for all parties, even when they strongly disagree. We call on all organisations and individuals involved in SC 34 standardisation to support this view, and to refrain from initiating or engaging in any such personal attacks."

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Microsoft wins its battle for OOXML approval

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The committee passed several resolutions relating to OOXML. The most significant was the establishment of an ad hoc working group to "maintain" the standard. This is a temporary measure, as the committee foresees the need for three document standard-related working groups: one to maintain OOXML, one to maintain ODF, and one to "work on interoperability/harmonisation" between the two.

Another ad hoc group will also become operational in three months' time, collecting reports of "possible editorial or technical defects" in OOXML from national standards bodies, "liaison organisations" and the general public.

All members of the SC 34 committee will have to be given access to the final text of the OOXML standard by 1 May at the latest, the meeting also resolved.

Topic: Tech Industry

David Meyer

About David Meyer

David Meyer is a freelance technology journalist. He fell into journalism when he realised his musical career wouldn't pay the bills. David's main focus is on communications, as well as internet technologies, regulation and mobile devices.

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  • ISO lost all credibility

    ISO allowed the working group to be stacked, just one week before the first vote in September 2007.

    Countries with no capacity to make any contribution, simply voted Yes.

    Here are some countries from the list of shame (Participating members with full voting rights):

    # Azerbaijan
    # Cote-d'Ivore
    # Jamaica
    # Kazakhstan
    # Lebanon
    # Malta
    # Trinidad and Tobago

    Even more countries from the Observer members joined at the last moment.

    For the full list, see
  • You missed the real story with the meeting in Oslo

    <a href="">Private deal to approve OOXML? More evidence surfaces"</a> --- Universal Interoperability Council.

    "Circumstantial evidence is mounting of one or more private deals having been struck to approve DIS-29500 Office Open XML ("OOXML") as an international standard, a deal that may have played a role in several key national standardization bodies changing their voting position to approve OOXML."

  • If there's such strong disagreement, OOXML shouldn't have been fast tracked

    "We the undersigned participants at this SC 34 meeting wish to make it clear that we deplore the personal attacks that have been made during the DIS 29500 standardisation project in recent months. We believe standards debate should always be carried out with respect for all parties, even when they strongly disagree."

    As I said, if there is such strong disagreement about the fact that there are so many flaws, irregularities, and breaches of ISO's core mandate by OOXML, then OOXML shouldn't have been fast tracked.

    "We call on all organisations and individuals involved in SC 34 standardisation to support this view, and to refrain from initiating or engaging in any such personal attacks."

    It is interesting that they are trying to make out that there is some kind of personal attack involved. It is nothing of the kind - it's criticism of the process and of corrupt practices and irregularities by some of the members of the committee that has those members worried, and perhaps the EU investigation into irregularities in the SC34 committee.
  • ISO process has been gamed, why back off?

    Given (a) the numerous reports of national standards bodies forcing through an acceptance vote, (b) the EU investigation of same (see your own site's article on the subject) and (c) the sudden influx of full-voting-rights P members just ahead of this particular proposal, the inescapable conclusion is that the ISO approval process has been thoroughly gamed by Microsoft to get their de-facto standard an ISO stamp of approval. This allows them to compete "standard-to-standard" with the vendor-independent ODF format approved by ISO last year.

    There is now a problem reported by the SC 34 chair that these new P members have sat silent on other items coming before the committee, causing roadblocks for lack of quorum, again giving the appearance of a manipulated result for Microsoft's favor.

    This 'cease-fire' effort only seems to be an attempt to quiet the protests in the hope of them dying down with time. Given the numerous complaints raised, this matter is not likely to go away having been dragged out into the light without actively working to address the issues. ISO needs to sack up and deal with it, or watch their reputation decline.
  • If there was ever a place for non-violent protest...

    All ethical means possible should be used to prevent anything Microsoft produces becoming an international standard. Their shoddy products, consumption centered design, and taking good ideas and making them worse are just fine for deluding you and me directly, causing us to waste time and money in confusion and mediocrity, but an international body determining what is best for the world needs to be educated. Microsoft does not create stability. They do not create standards. They create schlock.

    The highest scrutiny and care must be used in forming "International Standards". It is an awesome responsibility and concerned folks everywhere must stand up and hold the ISO to do its job.
  • Personal attacks?

    I suggest that these folk with their "open letter" talk to the EC people who are investigating the allegations of dubious dealings. Or are they saying that the EC investigators are personally attacking them?

    That being said, where's Microsoft in all this? Having got the standard approved they seem to have skedaddled (one of my favourite Americanisms!). Where are all their people making the standard work, fix the problems etc? Where now is their commitment to it?

    Ah well, why would they care, I'm sure they were only ever going to support their "special enhanced version" of OOXML that has so many hooks to it that you could mistake it for a long line.
  • Personal Attacks?

    Not that I have noticed any personal attacks, the whole process has thoroughly rejected constructive technical input from competent sources. Consequently what else could critics do but raise a lot of objection to the completely flawed process.

    ISO requires to mend fences now, not defend an untenable position by raising a false complaint. There have been no personal attacks as such.
    The Former Moley
  • Oh, hating Microsoft is so cool...

    Even if Microsoft invents a ultra mobile spaceship for everyone, it will still be monster that wants to rule the world by it's evil tentacles and poison our brains with some destructive ideas.

    OOXML is a good format that will soon be recognizeable by 90% of all word processors used in whole world. No matter how much you all hate Microsoft, OOXML is already a atandard.
  • If they weren't thugs, we wouldn't hate them

    As for being recognized by 90% of the word processors... what does that mean? It will be recognized by Word, which covers 90% of the market, because of Microsoft's previous thuggish behavior. Does that make it a good thing? Does that mean we should all jump on the bandwagon, and praise Microsoft for pounding yet another "proprietary standard" down our throats?

    What is really happening here is that Microsoft was getting eliminated from more and more organizations which insisted on open standards. So Microsoft decided to buy themselves a standard, which they have now done. Too bad for all of us.
  • Well said LadyRoot

    Too many people let their anti-Microsoft bias cloud their opinion on the issue. If it had been one of the current Tech darlings of the moment like Apple or Google with the same OOXML there would be nothing but praise.
  • Microsoft has right to dictate standards; they&#039;re meaningless

    "As for being recognized by 90% of the word processors... what does that mean? It will be recognized by Word, which covers 90% of the market, because of Microsoft's previous thuggish behavior."

    It means that OOXML documents will be recognized same as is the .doc format now. You can edit .doc in word processors in MS Office, Open Office, KOffice and many others - just because it is (was?) the most common document format (same as MS Office is the most common office suite).

    Millions (billions?) users will not throw away their office software in a day just because some jealous idealistic geeks have just a mission to save the world from (an evil ;)) corporation. No company will change it's whole IT system just for the idea of community (BTW there was a legal system in my country that everything then was commune and... it didn't work). The reason we will use OOXML is simple: it will be (is) common and it already is a default document format in our word processors (ok, in my it already is, in your perhaps will be soon).

    Microsoft, as you mentioned, has done some (thuggish) things that led it to the place the corporation is now. No matter, how much you hate it, you cannot change history. Microsoft has also done an increadible influence on our lives. From early '80s peaple are getting used to technology that suddenly appeared and even seem to be friendly. Millions of us grew up in a changin' world that was attacked every day by another technology invention. Microsoft has found the way to give the technology to us in a very friendly way. We do want use products that we are accustomed to, that we used it before (and got it legally or not).

    You all (those, who attack Microsoft) are trying to say, that we must have freedom of choice. In fact, WE DO HAVE A CHOICE. I choose Microsoft product. I find it good (technically), popular (you cannot belive the MS Office suite will just disappear from the market in a day) and now also open and standarized. I see no point of seeking other product, but you are free to go.

    MICROSOFT HAS RIGHT TO DICTATE STANDARDS to it's products. Let's say it: my product is my own and I can expect my customers will use my formats. In this way, STANDARDS ARE MEANINGLESS. Does your product really must comply? It is your own choice, if you implement a standard or not. 'Standard' is just a word in a dictionary. Means that we agreed to do sth in some way. If you don't agree - than it's your problem. You don't have to read my document. Or we both can agree to write in Mongolian but to reverse characters. We agreed, but do we need international certificates, tons of papers, documents? DO WE REALLY NEED STANDARDS?


    P.S. I am not connected with Microsoft Corp. in any other way than using their software.
  • CoolAid required

    Sorry love, this is misguided, ill-informed gibberish.
  • Mostly right, with critical exceptions

    First, I agree with most of what you say about standards in general, and even about Microsoft in general. I also agree with David Long, that Microsoft is getting a lot of bashing over this which other "currently fashionable" companies wouldn't get. That may or may not be deserved, based on previous behavior, but I would point out that if Apple tries a few more tricks like "bundling" Safari with iTunes, they are likely to be climbing into the same boat.

    I could write a lot more about past behavior or manipulation of the standards process, but the bottom line is, things Microsoft has done in the past with C++, Java, WMF, PDF, Flash and now ODF do not cause me to have a lot of trust in their good intentions. However, you are right, a lot of people (including me) use Windows and Office because, for many years, they worked when nothing else did. I have said many, many times over the years that I would LOVE to switch from Windows to a Mac - but I couldn't, because I couldn't get the things that I needed on a Mac. Likewise, I have tried so many versions of Linux (and Minix, if anyone remembers what that was), and could never get one to work properly and provide the things that I need on my laptops. But just as past misbehavior by Microsoft doesn't mean that everyone should despise them and toss all of their products, past success should not give them license to do anything they want now.

    There is a certain responsibility when you control the market and wield the power that Microsoft does, and the very questionable events around this ISO standard do not give the impression that Microsoft is respecting that responsibility.
  • But OOXML is a non-standard

    The problem is that OOXML is a non-standard. Like each file format Microsoft brings out every three to four years, it is designed to be incompatible with other vendors and previous Microsoft products, in order to lock Microsoft's competition out, and force existing Microsoft users to pay for an upgrade.

    That is the only purpose and function of OOXML, and the only reason why Microsoft hasn't included an ODF filter in MS Offife is that ODF really is a standard, and one that allows competing vendors to interoperate.
  • Lady Root, I sincerely hope you're just trolling.

    A brief list of the problems with OOXML is given here:

    So no, it is not a "good format" by any means. The fact that Microsoft is now able to steamroller it out as a new defacto standard anyway is deeply troubling. And Microsoft needed only to destroy the credibility of the ISO to do it.
  • Microsoft should not dictate standards to ISO

    Your comment that MICROSOFT CAN DICTATE STANDARDS TO THEIR PRODUCTS is completely true.

    What has happened, though, to all appearances, is that in order to get a "meets-international-standards" checkoff for said products to compete against ODF-based competitors, they have pressured national standards bodies to fast-track OOXML into an ISO standard. The political gaming has been documented in numerous articles, and the EU is now investigating the procedure to see if/how this approval process was subverted.

    Other companies, interested in competing on common ground (ODF) based on their products' merit, have convinced ISO said cross-vendor, cross-platform format is a valid standard to hold them to. Microsoft has wrapped XML tags around their existing product's format and railroaded their de-facto standard through ISO by highly questionable tactics, so that 20 years from now we'll still be paying MS in order to read our own files. Which is more competitive, and more cooperative?
  • Apple and Google are "tech darlings" for a reason... Their stuff rocks.

    Microsoft, the company behind this "product", is definitely part the problem. But, I'm sure if OOXML was submitted anonymously, it would have been dumped, dumped, dumped.

    Branding it with the Microsoft logo just makes it worse because there is a clear distinction between Microsoft and darling Apple and Google, and it is not that they are the flavor of the day. Apple and Google represent good design, and good thinking, Microsoft represents profit and devastation.

    The reason so many people so deep in technology hate Microsoft is because Microsoft has ruined the potential of what computation could have been over the last 20 years. We are witnessing the uprising frustration of a generation of software developers who have witnessed slaughter and felt helpless to do anything about it.

    To continue the comparison, Microsoft was built by a man and now a culture whose only focus was to beat the competition to death and take over market for the sake of profit, Google and Apple have, by actions and by words, served the public, created high quality products, and pro-actively adopted global standards and open source (Apple: Firewire, USB, IDE, Unix, Samba, MPEG, PHP, Apache, etc, and Google: SOAP, REST, etc).

    What can be said said about Microsoft except that they do good business? They know how to create markets, they know how to make products that birth an entire new industry and workforce to deal with the bad design foisted upon unsuspecting CEOs and users (massive IT departments and MSCE garbage), they know how to put stuff in a box and sell it.

    As a computer advocate, user, developer since I first time I heard buzzing and beeping coming from a cassette tape representing the amazing universe of software that would come, I am saying that there is a real difference between Microsoft and the quality of companies like Google and Apple. Microsoft took opportunity and bludgeoned their way into the void over the last decades. That doesn't mean they deserve to stay and be given "international welfare" and a position in history (as the company that wasted another 20 years of our computational and social evolution). Not this time!

    I have suffered for too long with Microsoft products and I will not anymore stand idly by when future generations and our entire world depend on computers. Clarity and generosity is what is needed, not business and strategy. We're shooting for the moon, not trying to steal it.

    Let's not pretend that Microsoft is anything other than the sum of their actions, and their actions suck to this very minute. OOXML shall not ever truly become a "standard" since that's an oxymoron as others have pointed out: Slippery, vague, unresolved, specs. That sounds like Vista, XBox Live, Zune, and lots of lawsuits to me...

    We can all individually be hornswaggled into using Microsoft products and pay the consequences for our choices (and all the reboots required. I can't wait till people have to start rebooting their Lincoln Navigators with "SYNC" installed), but we must not allow that dilemma and the weight of bad design take our focus off demanding strong, robust, and truly universal standards.

    On a side note, I feel somewhat sorry for some of the software developers who get their paycheck from Microsoft. I wish them the best. I sort-of see them as the victims of a mass delusion crafted by management, that they're building something great. All that talent, stuck in the mire that is disgusting code, and harsh business practices over doing what's right for the world of computing.

    Microsoft will die, but it will be a horribly slow thrashing death. Preventing the foolhardy adoption of OOXML and all 6000 pages of its shifty spec as a standard will ease the world's pain and help the us get past this era when selfish businesses attempted to take control of something that needs to be in the public domain.
  • OOXML personal attacks.

    Well stated Chris, had this format gone through a normal presentation, and was as clean as ODF, then maybe it might have made it on it's own merits.
    Unfortunately, this is not the Micro$oft way of doing business. Wait for a few years and watch OOXML, as it may be the only non-standard, standard available.
  • Eyes have been opened

    Good link Chris - my eyes have been opened. If just 1 of those issues listed would give cause for concern but with all of them I have no idea how OOXML was even considered as a standard.
  • O(O)XML and .docx

    Don't loose site of the fact that even Microsoft's own products do not support O(O)XML at this point in time.

    .docx is just another iteration of Microsoft's proprietry formats, but it is not O(O)XML compliant, although I think Microsoft would have the uninformed believe that their formats are now standards compliant.

    I note that many comments appear to suggest an implied acceptance of .docx as compliant. I'm sure that's a fiction which Microsoft are extremely keen to promulgate.
    The Former Moley