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20 June 2008, 14:52

UKUUG action against BSI fast tracking OOXML standard rejected

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The UK Unix & open systems User Group's (UKUUG) application by to the High Court for a Judicial review of the British Standards Institute decision to fast-track Microsoft's OOXML as a standard has been rejected. The UKUUG is appealing the decision since it believes the judge was wrong in his reading of the papers. The matter will now be heard in open court.

Justice David Lloyd Jones observed: "The application does not disclose any arguable breech of the procedures of the BSI or of rules of procedural fairness.", and "In any event the application is academic in light of the adoption of the new standard by ISO." His last comment refers to the approval on the 2nd of April of ISO/IEC DIS 29500 as an international standard by the International Organisation for Standardization (ISO).

OOXML had already seen a rough ride through the ISO standards procedure, only passing on its second attempt, despite accusations of voting irregularities. Since then ISO has put the standard for OOXML on-hold after receiving formal complaints from the standards committees of Brazil, India, South Africa and Venezuela. Like the BSI application, the ISO application from Microsoft was 'fast-tracked' and critics claim this was an inappropriate use of the fast track procedure.

The wider argument is over the interoperability and long term viability of file formats. Proprietary formats are often favoured by individual application developers because they can lock customers in to continuing to use software from the same supplier. Commercially this is balanced by the negative effects of incompatibility with applications from other vendors.

Microsoft claim that their attempt to establish OOXML as an ISO standard is in the spirit of open standards and interoperability. It is seen by its opponents as Microsoft's attempt to retain ownership of document formats in the face of the adoption of ODF – the Open Document Format, an open standard already accepted as an ISO standard. OOXML is deemed unnecessary and has been criticised because of the size, imprecision and incomprehensibility of the Microsoft specification document, a document seemingly designed to make it almost impossible for any company, other than Microsoft, to write applications that are OOXML compliant.

Alain Williams, Chairman of UKUUG, said, "We are concerned about future generations being able to access today's electronic documents. That can only happen with fully disclosed document formats. To ensure continued profits, Microsoft prevents effective competition in word processors by keeping file formats secret. Adopting OOXML would be like setting to sea in a sieve, Lear's Jumblies might make sense of it, but I can't."

For more information on the adoption of OOXML as a standard see also:

(Terry Relph-Knight)


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