From February 25 to 29 in Geneva, the next step in the seemingly never-ending show-down over whether Microsoft's Office Open XML document format should be granted ISO standard status is taking place.
Microsoft is interested in gaining ISO's approval for OOXML so that it can tout the format as being "open" and "standard-compliant" -- two criteria that a growing number of business and government customers are requiring when purchasing software. Many of Microsoft's competitors have been agitating against Microsoft receiving ISO standards approval for a variety of reasons. Many Microsoft competitors are hoping that failure to gain ISO standardization for Office will give them a way to better chip away at Microsoft's 90+ percent desktop office-suite marketshare.
The week-long "DIS-29500 Ballot Resolution Meeting" (BRM) won't culminate with a final vote this week. Insead, the delegates attending the meeting will have until March 29 to vote yes, no or abstain on Microsoft's bid to get OOXML fast-tracked as an ISO standard.
Here's a summary of what will/won't -- or perhaps I should say should/shouldn't -- happen this week for those following along at home.
Q: What is the purpose of the BRM?
A: "The meeting is for resolving comments that NBs (national bodies) have submitted (with their votes) on the text being Fast Tracked. This is done, essentially, by the meeting agreeing a set of revisions to the originally submitted DIS 29500 text." ("ISO/IEC DIS 29500" is the draft standard for Microsoft's Office Open XML file formats.)
Q: Why is this BRM necessary?
A: After five months of balloting on whether or not OOXML should be fast-tracked as an international ISO standard, Microsoft's OOXML standard proposal failed to get approval. Since that time, Microsoft has made a number of modifications in response to thousands of public comments on its proposal. According to ISO, "the comments that accompanied the votes will be discussed at the BRM along with modifications in an endeavour to make it acceptable for publication according to the ISO/IEC criteria."
Q: Who is attending this week's ballot-resolution meeting?
A: According to ISO officials, the only people permitted to attend the meeting are "representatives of the 87 NBs (national bodies) that are recorded as voting (either approve, disapprove or abstain) in the 2 September letter ballot, and who remain members of ISO/IEC; a delegation from the submitter (Ecma) ISO/IEC (ITTF) officials and administrators." The press and the public are not allowed to attend the meeting. According to ISO, 120 participants have registered to attend the meeting.
Q: What's next?
A: From ISO's press statement: If (this) week's BRM leads to a sufficient number of negative votes or abstentions being withdrawn or made positive within the 30-day period after the meeting, ISO/IEC DIS 29500 may proceed to publication as an international standard. Otherwise, the proposal will have failed and this fast-track procedure will be terminated." Microsoft would have the option of resubmitting OOXML for ISO standards consideration.
Q: The fine print?
A: BRM Convenor Alex Brown reminds "bloggers and commentators" that "properly speaking OOXML is attempting to become an 'ISO/IEC' (International Organization for Standardization/International Electrotechnical Commission) standard, not just an 'ISO' standard. JTC 1 is the body which carries out dual standardisation for these parent organisations."
And, as Brown notes on his blog, "In Switzerland, jaywalking is illegal. Let this be symbolic for expected standards of behaviour at the BRM!"