Details emerge of 'shocking' OOXML meeting

At last month's OOXML ballot resolution meeting, 81 percent of the technical issues around the format were apparently resolved without being properly addressed
Written by Peter Judge, Contributor

As Microsoft's bid to have its Office Open XML specification made an ISO standard approaches the final deadline of midnight on Saturday, more details have emerged of last month's meeting in Geneva which attempted to resolve technical issues.

In the run-up to the dealine, some national standards bodies have changed their stance. Denmark has made a last-minute switch to approve Office Open XML (OOXML), while the British Standards Institution (BSI) has been advised by a technical committee to change its vote to "yes". The BSI today refused to say whether it will follow that advice, promising a statement on Monday; the vast majority of standards bodies will keep silent until after the deadline passes.

The silence around last month's ballot resolution meeting has been broken, however, with details supplied by a Brazilian delegate providing a "shocking tale", according to IT law site Groklaw's detailed post. The site links to the original meeting notes, and also suggests that South Korea's vote has changed from "no" to "yes".

Delegates to the meeting, held in Geneva, were presented with a decision like the one facing the central character of the movie Sophie's Choice, in which a woman has to decide which of her children will die, according to Brazilian delegate Jomar Silva.

After working painstakingly through a tiny minority of the issues which national standards bodies had raised with the OOXML specification, the vast majority of issues were lumped together and the delegates given four options: either accept them all, reject them all, hand them over unresolved to ISO's Information Technology Task Force (ITTF), or else go for a "batch-approval" vote. Silva called the last option "the least ridiculous", although it apparently ended up resolving 81 percent of the comments at a stroke.

It has also emerged from the list of attendees that, of around 120 people at the meeting, 17 of the national delegates were employees of Microsoft, as were two of the representatives of the fast-track standards body Ecma, while others, such as those representing Clever Age, are Microsoft affiliates, according to Groklaw. By contrast, IBM had nine delegates, Sun had two and Oracle had one.

With full details of the meeting only just emerging, standards makers around the world are evaluating whether it actually resolved their issues effectively. The Danish standards body, for instance, has said it is satisfied with the batch-approval of its comments. Others may not be sure yet but they have only got until midnight on Saturday to decide.

"The bottom line is that, in my view, this race will be too close to call until the final announcement is made on Monday or the vote reaches the public informally through one of the [national bodies], who will be given private access to the results once they are tabulated," said standards lawyer Andy Updegrove on his Standards Blog on Thursday.

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