UK standards body taken to court over OOXML

UK standards body taken to court over OOXML

Summary: The UK Unix & Open Systems Users Group has launched a High Court challenge against the decision by the BSI to approve Microsoft's nascent document format

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TOPICS: Tech Industry
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The British Standards Institution has been taken to court by a group of Unix users in an attempt to get the standards body to recant its approval of Microsoft's Office Open XML document format.

The UK Unix & Open Systems User Group (UKUUG) said on Thursday that the British Standards Institution's (BSI's) decision to vote for approval of OOXML in a recent International Organization for Standardization (ISO) ballot followed a flawed decision-making process.

The UKUUG is also folding in many other complaints about Office Open XML (OOXML), such as unresolved patent issues and a lack of completion in the specification's documentation, and is calling for the High Court of Justice to force a judicial review of the BSI's decision. The UKUUG is hoping a judicial review would find the BSI decision to be flawed and reverse it.

OOXML is Microsoft's answer to the OpenDocument Format (ODF), an established ISO standard based entirely on open specifications. OOXML is also theoretically open, but central to the UKUUG's legal action is ISO's fast-tracking of the format into standardisation without properly addressing its many unresolved technical flaws — an issue exacerbated by OOXML's extraordinary length as a specification, at 6,000 pages.

Following a highly contentious vote among national standards bodies, ISO announced on 2 April that OOXML was to become an official standard. There is, however, a two-month window following that date, during which the process can be derailed if one of the national standards bodies makes a formal appeal.

Serious objections have been raised within the decision-making community about the approval vote — notably in Norway, by the head of that country's technical committee — but none yet have come officially from any country's national standards body.

The UKUUG has been in existence for 32 years and is, according to Mark Taylor, the head of the Open Source Consortium (OSC), a "venerable organisation of men with long grey beards". "It is a testament to the feeling of injustice here," he told ZDNet.co.uk on Thursday. "This is the first time they've done something like this."

Speaking to ZDNet.co.uk on Thursday, UKUUG head Alain Williams said his group's objection was that ISO and the BSI were "trying to put forward something that is not fit for purpose". "Microsoft is trying to game the standards process because they don't want a standard that can be implemented by other people," he said. "If they had wanted that, they could have gone with the ODF format [but], if they adopt something like that, they begin to lose their stranglehold on the desktop."

"Something that had that high a level of contention is not suitable for fast-tracking," Williams added, while referring to Ecma — the industry standards body that pushed for OOXML to be fast-tracked by ISO — as a "Microsoft poodle".

Williams claimed the official backing of OOXML would harm not only the UK IT industry, by virtue of perpetuating Microsoft's "monopoly", but the country as a whole by not using an open standard that is guaranteed to be usable into the distant future. "If you're talking about reading documents in one or two hundred years' time, you would have great problems in doing it [with documents based on OOXML]," he said.

The OSC's Taylor told ZDNet.co.uk that the UKUUG's action carried with it "prima facie evidence that the BSI's processes have not been complied with or done in a very strange way".

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"A lot of us believe there are questions to be answered," said Taylor. "The remedy that is being sought is a mandatory order to withdraw the BSI's vote approving [OOXML]. The BSI hasn't followed its own processes. For example, the [claim] that it was unanimously decided to pass [OOXML] — it wasn't. People will be called as witnesses to show there are serious problems with the BSI's processes."

Taylor, however, did not express confidence in the ability of the action — if successful — to reverse the ISO vote without similar actions being launched in other countries. "I don't believe the BSI on its own would be sufficient to pull the vote back, but it would certainly make a dent in it," he said. "Should there be others, it would certainly change the percentages [in the ISO tally]."

The BSI had not commented on the UKUUG's legal action at the time of writing.

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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9 comments
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  • Good Luck

    I wish The UK Unix & Open Systems User Group (UKUUG) all the best in this action to right a wrong. I urge other serious groups and/or individuals to join with them and support their action.

    Thanks also to David Meyer for a balanced article.
    The Former Moley
  • More balanced than Fox News even?

    Thank you - always good to feel appreciated. Although I hope everything I write is balanced!
    David Meyer
  • Microsoft is trying to game the standards process.

    This was their plan all along, they still want to be the only game in town, and will stop at nothing to attain that goal. I wish the UKUUG luck, but fear they are wasting their time. What Micro$oft wants, Micro$oft gets. BTW, you can always count on David for balanced writing.
    ator1940
  • ukuug quit BSI committee themselves prior to OOXML vote

    I seems that the ukuug quit the relevant BSI committee a few months before the OOXML vote.


    Also previously Alain Williams, Chairman of UKUUG said

    "We are very disappointed that BSI has chosen to take this decision against the advice of its technical committee."


    This is very odd because the BSI website states clearly:
    "3. What was the BSI vote on ISO/IEC DIS 29500 following the BRM meeting in February 2008? BSI British Standards exercised its right to vote BASED ON THE RECOMMENDATION OF ITS TECHNICAL EXPERTS who are members of IST/41.
    IST/41 reached a consensus decision and BSI voted in accordance with the committee
    Albert-a090a
  • For more balance

    BSI said:
    "IST/41 reached a consensus decision and BSI voted in accordance with the committee
    Albert-a090a
  • Yes - more balance

    Is that really the best you've got?

    Attacking the messenger doesn't bode well for your chances in court now, does it?

    Rather than an attempt to distract attention from the *real* merits of this case, perhaps you could explain:

    How ten against fast tracking it with one in favour can be written off as "no consensus", but four in favour of fast tracking with one against suddenly becomes "consensus"?

    How you could even have a vote over a document that <i>had not even been seen by anyone voting</i>

    Bottom line - the general ISO line of "trust us" and "stop being nasty about us" doesn't hold any water. It's time to explain yourselves in the full glare of public attention, and *prove* that your processes were all fair and above board. This isn't about anyone else, this is about the *BSI* and what *they* have done...
    Sothis-a86f1
  • Quitting and complaining

    The ukuug quit the standaardization proces.
    They could have had a vote in the official recommendation on Office Open XML to BSI but choose to leave.

    It would have have made certain they knew what the recommendation of the committee exactly was. As this is not public information the ukuug placing themselves outisde the proces has no more acces to the committee information.

    If BSI has claimed to follow the recommendation in their official communications I would have little doubt on that.
    If the ukuug would like to have a case they woyuld need to come up with the official recommendation of the committee and prove that BSI has not followed it.

    If that were the case it would be likely they had already done that to support the claims Williams made earlier which have not been supported by the tinyest bit of proof or even supportive 1st party claims from committee members.
    Albert-a090a
  • Changing the subject again?

    Sigh...

    At the risk of repeating myself - This is about the BSI, not UKUUG.

    "If BSI has claimed to follow the recommendation in their official communications I would have little doubt on that."

    Good for you. Judging from the reactions around the world though, not everyone shares your lack of doubt - that's kind of the point of the case, wouldn't you agree?
    Anyway, perhaps we should let the High Court decide, rather than taking your, or the BSI's, word for it?

    "If the ukuug would like to have a case they woyuld need to come up with the official recommendation of the committee and prove that BSI has not followed it."

    Again, perhaps we should let the Court decide?

    Oh, and wasn't there more than one committee? It was the policy committee that had the final say the first time round wasn't it? What happened recently?

    Funny old world...
    Sothis-a86f1
  • What proof, what right

    [quote]Anyway, perhaps we should let the High Court decide, rather than taking your, or the BSI's, word for it? [/quote]

    Actually the high court has nothing to decide as the ukuug has likely no standing and has not presented any case yet.
    If they were a participant in the BSI committee they might have some standing on what BSI states on therecommendations made by the committee but of course ukuug has left the committee and is not involved in the recommendation.

    Just stating that you do not agree does not make a court ruling on that issue. ukuug will have to show more than empty words for a court to rule on the issue in stead of dismisseing the case immediatly.

    Why would BSI be required to confirm their stament that they have followed the recommendation.
    There is no evidence of the contrary.

    And even then the BSI can do with a recommendation what they want. This is why ukuug has no standing whatsoever. BSI is an independant standards organ that can vote what they want without having to answer to ukuug or do what is in the particular interest of ukuug.
    Albert-a090a