ISO dismisses OOXML appeal

The International Organisation for Standardisation (ISO) has dismissed appeals by emerging market leaders SA, Brazil, India and Venezuela on the publication of Microsoft's Office Open XML (OOXML).

Heads of the ISO and the International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC) released a recommendation to the ISO Technical Management Board (TMB), saying the board should dismiss appeals that were lodged.

In April, SA became the first country to appeal against the widely criticised process to fast-track OOXML as an international document standard. India, Brazil and Venezuela joined SA to successfully prevent the standard being fully ratified.

Shuttleworth Foundation fellow Andrew Rens says the recommendation is a blow for the emerging markets and could well destroy the credibility of the ISO. "The CEOs of these organisations have failed to acknowledge the gravity of the situation."

He says the response is an attempt to minimise the issues raised by the countries that lodged appeals. "It looks like a way for them to avoid dealing with the problem."

Not final

<B>OOXML ratification timeline</B>
August 2007: Microsoft's initial request to have Open XML fast-tracked to standardisation is rejected.
2 April 2008: In a second fast-track attempt, OOXML is ratified through the fast-track process by the International Organisation of Standardisation. Emerging market leaders, China, Brazil, India and SA, which were among those who voted against the recognition of Microsoft's Office OOXML, voice heavy criticism.
April 2008: Throughout the month, ISO processes are criticised and several irregularities in national standards bodies are revealed. Angry protests in Norway and Germany, where technical committees were overridden in the voting process. France also reports irregularities. Countries across the world call for a revision of the ISO standardisation process.
18 April 2008: Open Document Format (ODF) is approved by the South African Bureau of Standards as a national standard. Government supports the move. Open source groups in SA challenge Microsoft to support ODF and drop OOXML.
22 May 2008: Microsoft announces it will support ODF among several other document standards. Industry greets the announcement with optimistic scepticism.
End May/begin June: South Africa becomes the first country to appeal the ratification of OOXML. SA challenges the validity of the process used to fast-track the ratification of OOXML. Venezuela, India and Brazil join in the appeal process.

However, Rens believes the recommendation is not the end of the road for SA and its emerging market partners. "Now the TMB needs to decide whether to follow the recommendation or not."

If the TMB decides not to follow the recommendation, it will be coup for the appellants, but an unprecedented move, says Rens. "It would be like the board of a company overriding the decision of the CEO."

The next step for the ISO is for the TMB to vote on each appeal, with each member being entitled to vote yes, no or abstain on one or the other of the resolutions, which are either to not process the appeal at all, or to process one or more of the appeals.

In its appeal document, the South African Bureau of Standards questioned the integrity of its international counterpart: "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."

Claims denied

The ISO and IEC have also dismissed Brazil's appeal as irrelevant, since it does not appear to be a participating member. Rens says it is "absurd" to allow the country to vote in the process, but not to allow it to appeal.

Despite worldwide criticism on the credibility of the process followed during the ratification of OOXML, the document states categorically that due procedure has been followed. This statement is largely the basis for the organisations' dismissal of the appeal claims.

The document says: "All judgments made during the course of the process were appropriately made under the directives. The fact that the BRM [ballot resolution meeting] voted on all proposed resolutions in some fashion satisfies the directives. The fact that a sufficient percentage of national bodies ultimately voted to approve DIS 29500 ratifies the process and any flaws in that process; and many objections, regardless of their merits, are irrelevant to the appeals process."

Another factor the document details is that countries, specifically India, did not stipulate changes to the specification in its appeal document. Rens slams this, saying: "The OOXML specification has never been published, so there is no way that India could have made changes."

According to the ratification process rules, the standard should be published one month after the ratification, so that appellants have a chance to review the standard and make changes. However, according to Rens, OOXML is still a mystery to most countries.

The Consortium blog and Groklaw have the detailed recommendation to the TMB.

Related stories:
Time to get over OOXML
ISO process slammed
Emerging markets back SA
SA appeals ISO's decision
Cautious optimism for MS decision
Emerging markets reject OOXML
ODF is SA's national standard
MS defends interoperability

See also