ISO offers to take on ODF maintenance

The move has been prompted by concerns ODF was not being properly maintained by its creator Oasis, says an ISO committee member, rejecting claims of a pro-Microsoft takeover

The international standards body ISO has offered to help maintain the ODF document standard alongside its work on the rival Microsoft-originated OOXML specification, saying its creator Oasis is not dealing with defect reports quickly enough.

At a meeting in Korea last week, the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) committee for document standards, SC 34, issued a liaison statement to Oasis, the body that created ODF. It requested an "alignment" of maintenance of ODF between the work done at Oasis and that within ISO.

According to a member of SC 34, this move was prompted by fears ODF was not being updated properly by Oasis. However, it has been described as a 'coup', aimed at putting ODF under the control of a body dominated by OOXML supporters, by critics such as lawyer Pamela Jones, writing in the Groklaw blog.

Delegates from 15 national standards bodies unanimously agreed to send the message to Oasis, because they are unhappy with its work maintaining ODF, said Alex Brown, convenor of WG1, a working group within SC 34. These nations include strong ODF supporters such as Brazil, India and South Africa — countries whose national bodies objected to the approval of Microsoft Office Open XML (OOXML) as a standard, Brown said,

ISO put the SC 34 committee in charge of standards for 'Document description and processing languages'. That means it has been instructed by JTC 1 — the top of the ISO hierarchy — to handle both the ISO standard based on OOXML (known as ISO/IEC 29500), and that based on ODF (known as ISO/IEC 26300), Brown wrote in an email to "We did not ask for that responsibility; we have been given it: JTC 1 has included ODF maintenance in our work programme", Brown said.

Brown said Oasis has not been acting on reports of defects in ODF from standards bodies, some of whom are in the process of applying the document format as a national standard. "When flaws are found in an international standard, nations… want to see the problem fixed pronto," he said. "Now they find the mechanism they thought they had for this (Oasis via SC34) does not appear to function. Their defect reports are being shelved."

The ISO move has come in for criticism: "I call it a takeover attempt of ODF," Groklaw's Jones wrote. "If the takeover were to succeed, SC 34 would get to maintain ODF as well as Microsoft's competing parody 'standard', OOXML." The ISO committee is dominated by Microsoft supporters, Jones said.

But Brown says Jones's post is "chock-full of misinformation and spin". ISO/IEC standards have to be managed and published by ISO/IEC committees, even if they are created elsewhere, and ODF cannot have a free ride any more than OOXML, he said. "Ironically, during the OOXML furore there was much talk of ISO 'rubber-stamping' OOXML," Brown noted. "Now the dust has settled, it turns out the rubber-stamp accusation is more justly levelled at ODF."

At the same meeting in Korea, SC 34 applied tighter control of OOXML, Brown said, writing the private standards group Ecma, which first promoted OOXML as a proposal, out of the process of standardising it and giving it only a secretariat role. Objections to ODF getting the same treatment would harm the ODF standard in the long run, he said.

The SC 34 committee has declared it is "open to suggestions" to reach a "mutually acceptable" resolution.

Whatever the future path of the standards, the OOXML adoption process is still causing trouble. Thirteen members of the 23-strong document standard committee at Norway's standards body, Standard Norge, have sent an open resignation letter. They protested that Norway decided in favour of OOXML, when only two members of the committee voted in favour of doing so. Standard Norge followed 37 identical letters from Microsoft partners, instead of the advice of its own expert committee, according to the resignation letter.

Meanwhile, the OOXML standard has been leaked, breaking copyright statements.

Oasis has not made any official response to ISO's move. It appears, however, that the body will welcome ISO involvement, even though some ODF supporters may object. Patrick Durusau, ODF Editor and a member of Oasis's ODF technical committee, welcomed the regularisation of ISO's management of the OOXML standard. He also warned that at least one ODF supporter, IBM, might resist efforts to apply the same strictures to ODF.

"An early objection to ISO/IEC 29500 was that Ecma was going to [maintain the standard]," Durusau said. "Having lost that objection, IBM wants to avoid discussion of the same question for ISO/IEC 26300. Sauce for the goose isn't sauce for the gander, at least at IBM."


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