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SA appeals ISO's decision

SA is challenging the validity of the process used to fast-track the ratification of Microsoft's open document format, Open XML (OOXML).

SA is the first country to appeal the March decision by the International Standards Organisation (ISO).

“The SA National Standards Body (SABS), as a P member of JTC 1, hereby submits an appeal against the outcome of the fast-track processing of DIS 29500 Office Open XML,” the official document to the ISO reads.

The ratification has been dogged with controversy and many open source communities across the world voiced their disapproval. Emerging market leaders, including China, Brazil, India and SA, led by the SABS, were among those who voted against the recognition of OOXML as an international standard.

At the time, Shuttleworth Foundation fellow Andrew Rens said the procedures the ISO should have upheld were not and should have been questioned. “China, India, Brazil and SA represent the bulk of the world's population. It speaks volumes when the majority reject a standard and yet it is still recognised,” he said.

True to this sentiment, the SABS, in its appeal document, has questioned the integrity of its international counterpart. “In addition, SA wishes to register its deep concern over the increasing tendency of international organisations to use the JTC 1 processes to circumvent the consensus-building process that is the cornerstone to the success and international acceptance of ISO and IEC standards.”

Emerging concerns

Several countries involved in the fast-track voting process, including Norway, reported being overridden by either their government or large corporate organisations. SABS has addressed the possibility in its appeal document. “The ability of large multinational organisations to influence many national bodies, with the resultant block-voting over-riding legitimate issues raised by other countries, is also of concern.”

The Shuttleworth Foundation, which has been following the process conducted by the SABS since it began, says the appeal is an excellent move. “SA's decision to appeal is a fantastic and proudly South African moment,” says Rens.

Rens points out the appeal process is not aimed at Microsoft, but at the processes followed by the ISO during the ratification of OOXML. He says the appeal will force the ISO to assess the way it addressed the procedure. “The ISO needs to be true to protocol, no matter which standards are being addressed.”

It's just not ready

The foundation identifies three issues that were concerning during the fast-tracking of the document standard. Several countries expressed concern that OOXML would clash with existing standards. International, private (membership-based) standards organisation for information and communication systems ECMA responded to several queries, but not all. “Any further queries around this were ruled out of order and never addressed,” explains Rens.

In February, several countries' national standards bodies attempted to resolve the fact the OOXML was initially rejected from the fast-track process. “There was no time to resolve all the questions presented, because the new process had already begun. It comes across as an excuse, where they can claim a lack of time to process all the queries,” says Rens.

The final problem the foundation has identified is the standard does not seem to be in its final form. “The final form should be published 30 days after the ratification, which it hasn't been. The reason countries have 60 days to file an appeal is so that they can review the final form of the standard and approach an appeal process informed.”

Microsoft says: “This is an issue between ISO/IEC and the South African member standards body, so it would not be appropriate for us to comment on this specific situation. As a company, we have taken several major steps to support greater interoperability and openness in our products in recent months, and we will continue to work with customers, partners, and competitors to advance these goals in the months ahead.”


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