British standards body mum on OOXML vote

The British Standards Institution won't divulge who's on its technical committee or discuss the outcome of its vote on OOXML.
Written by Tom Espiner, Contributor
The British Standards Institution has sent its response to the International Organization for Standardization on the subject of whether Microsoft Office Open XML should be certified with the ISO, but has refused to say whether it voted "yes," "no" or "abstain."

BSI did say in a statement, however, that it had "identified a number of technical issues in the document which need to be addressed before the U.K. can approve" Office Open XML as an international standard.

In the fast-track process to approve OOXML as an ISO standard, some sources have said, the only vote that would prevent a specification from being automatically recommended for ISO certification would be a "no, with comments."

However, BSI did not confirm or deny that this is correct. "A large number of (BSI) comments have been submitted (to ISO). Anything you deduce from that can't be attributed to the BSI," said a BSI spokesperson.

"The voting pattern is information we don't disclose," said Richard Taylor, head of market development for the ICT and electronic sectors at the BSI. "It's not our practice to share those details. We've put forward technical comments and JTC1 (Joint Technical Committee 1) will review those comments."

A subcommittee of JTC1 known as SC34 is the part of the ISO that will deal with whether OOXML will become an international standard. If OOXML is accepted as a standard, it could pave the way for its use by the government and the public sector.

"The ultimate goal is to develop a robust standard. The job of JTC1 is to arrive at that, if that's possible," said Taylor.

Microsoft has admitted attempting to influence its partners to join national standards bodies around the globe with the intention of pushing the OOXML specification through the ISO fast-track process. This has drawn accusations from the Free Software Foundation that Microsoft has tried to "stuff the ballot boxes."

The company has also been accused of offering compensation to partners in Sweden who joined committees--allegations that Microsoft said had arisen due to a "confusing" e-mail sent by one of its employees.

Microsoft partners have joined committees around the world at the last minute, which has led critics such as the Free Software Foundation to say that those partners could not possibly be voting from an informed position because the OOXML specification is more than 6,000 pages long. Partners simply would not have had time to review the document, said FSF Europe.

However, the BSI said that its OOXML technical panel had seen no members joining late, and that membership was by invitation only. The BSI refused to divulge the make-up of the committee, but it said that everyone who applied had been given a place.

"We set up the technical panel with wide industry representation, and we had no latecomers to that. We had 30 technical experts from government, industry and academia. We put out invitations, then people applied through us to become a member. Everyone who applied was given a place. In the end there has been sufficient time for us to pull together comments and give (the specification) a rigorous review," said Taylor.

Tom Espiner of ZDNet UK reported from London.

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