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12 July 2010, 11:31

Lessons learned from a hasty standard

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ISO Logo At the beginning of July, the International Standardisation Organisation's (ISO) Joint Technical Committee for standardisation issues in information technology (JTC001) published changes to its procedural guidelines. The new approach can be viewed as a reaction to the large volume of criticism after the expedited adoption of the Office Open XML (OOXML) document standard, which serves as the default format in Microsoft Office 2007. In particular, critics charge that complaints voiced during the expedited proceedings in 2008 were not sufficiently taken into account.

While Microsoft is working with Germany's Fraunhofer FOKUS to document and improve the highly touted interoperability of its office suite, the global standards committee continues to hear complaints that Microsoft's format should not be qualified as an open standard because the criticism voiced during the proceedings did not receive proper consideration.

The joint committee apparently believes that the expedited proceedings, which provided major state organisations with only three days to file complaints, did not allow enough time for the complaints to be properly reviewed. Now, the guardians of the gate to standards have replaced this deadline for comments with a general requirement that committee members must review all comments. In addition, when the committee votes, complaints can no longer be rejected without reason. Instead, parties that consider a complaint irrelevant will have to state their reasons for the record during the proceedings.

As the Pro-Linux (German language link) website explains with obvious glee, JTC001 has also rethought its attitude on the sanctioning of OOXML. Originally, the participation of Jan van den Beld was praised. At the time, Van den Beld was Secretary-General of the downstream ECMA (European Computer Manufacturers Association) standardisation committee, which proposed OOXML as a standard to ISO in the first place. Microsoft's decision to work with ECMA was unusual because this organisation is not an obvious candidate; critics say that Microsoft elected this partner as some kind of avoidance strategy.

In contrast, supporters of the OpenDocument Format (ODF) worked with OASIS (Organisation for the Advancement of Structured Information Standards), an obvious choice, to prepare ODF as an ISO standard even before OOXML was ready.


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