ISO process slammed
SA, Venezuela, India and Brazil have successfully stalled the publication of Microsoft's Office Open XML (OOXML) format by the International Organisation for Standardisation (ISO).
This move has generated mixed reactions from international and local XML experts.
The ISO received the 75% majority required to have OOXML standardised in April; however, it has since been dogged by controversy. According to a document circulated to standards bodies involved in the voting process, the majority of votes opposing the ratification of the standard were emerging market participants.
The four emerging nation's appeal was based on the dissatisfaction within the maturity of the format and the ratification process in general.
According to Jon Bosak, the Sun Microsystems engineer who organised and led the working group that created XML, standards development has become an arena for market dominance.
"The root of the problem is clearly that the whole ISO process was designed for a time when technical experts were people of goodwill who were primarily interested in working together to find the best technical solution. Sadly, that time is past."
He says there are still questions around whether the "obvious ambiguities and contradictions" in the joint technical committee of the ISO (JTC1) directives are to blame or whether fast-tracking a standard as complex as OOXML is at fault.
"At the moment, I'm inclined to think it's more the latter."
No appetite for controversy
Rob Weir, co-chairman of the OASIS Open Document Format (ODF) technical committee, says the blatant committee backing around the world to have the standard ratified was disconcerting. He says in several countries, countries voted yes at the last minute and were "heard of no more. It makes a mockery of the system."
However, he is hopeful the current process will follow procedure. "I don't think there is much appetite for a repetition of the OOXML fiasco. So I'd expect to see changes. It remains to be seen whether we see an entire overhaul of JTC1, or whether we will see slower, deliberate, targeted reform of JTC1 procedures, especially in the area of fast-track processing."
However, Patrick Durusau, co-editor of ISO ODF and OASIS ODF, says halting OOXML publication is good for no one. "Some 61 countries voted in favour of OOXML and only four have lodged appeals. With all due deference to the concerns of the four appellants, consensus does not mean that the majority should be held hostage by a determined minority."
He says with the appeal process holding back the publication, no work can be done on making mappings to, or repairs of, OOXML. The appeal could halt the publication of open XML by up to eight months, he says. "Allowing a minority of members to hold the majority hostage is a bad idea.
"Rather than appealing, I would urge SA and others to put the standard on the JTC1 plenary agenda; simply resolve the appeal as a whole committee," he says.
Durusau believes allowing the publication of the standards can enrich future discussions of ODF and other markup formats.