Criticism and calls for an investigation have come close on the heels of the formal announcement that Microsoft’s Office Open XML file formats had received the necessary number of votes for approval as an ISO/IEC international standard.
In a statement released April 2, the ISO (International Standards Organization) and IEC (International Electrotechnical Commission) said 75 percent of the participating Joint Technical Committee members cast positive votes, with just 14 percent of the total national member body votes being negative.
Approval required at least 66.66 percent of the votes cast by national bodies to be positive, and no more than 25 percent of the total number of ISO/IEC national body votes cast to be negative. “These criteria have now been met,” the statement said.
This followed the confirmation April 1 by standards organization Ecma International that the ISO and IEC had approved the Office Open XML File Format as an international standard.
Bob Sutor, vice president of open source and standards for IBM and one of the harshest critics of the Open XML format, conceded that enough countries had changed their votes from the September ballot to allow the specification to move forward into the publication preparation phase.
“So is that it? Of course not. The process of international standards-making has been laid bare for all to examine. People now have some sense that not all standards are created by a community of independent stakeholders, as some people may have previously assumed,” Sutor said in a blog post.
Furthermore, “The lack of transparency, the ability to see who voted and why, leads to less understanding and accountability,” Sutor wrote.
Publication of the standard is still two months away, and any of the ISO/IEC national bodies can lodge a formal appeal during this time.
Norway appears the most likely member to lodge an appeal, given that the chairman of the Norwegian standards committee responsible for evaluating Office Open XML has sent ISO a letter asking for its “yes” vote to be suspended pending a Norwegian governmental investigation into why the country’s vote was changed.
In his blog, Sutor wrote that the process had also shown that there is no way to put the brakes on pushing the wrong standards though the existing processes; that politics, and not just standards politics, has fully entered the process. There is also a lack of balance that comes from having a body of independent people considering a standard rather than just a majority of business partners, he wrote.
“I believe that thousands of motivated yet pragmatic people will now move on to fix the systemic issues I’ve identified, with fresh evidence of why it is necessary. There are now, as there have always been, much bigger issues than Office Open XML itself. For that reason, we are still in the early phases of the worldwide movement to true open standards,” he said.
True openness would mean that the best technology for all wins, and that the process was clean, visible and incorruptible, he wrote.
“Openness must be earned. I think that’s worth fighting for. There has been tremendous progress and it’s happened far faster and wider than most people ever imagined possible,” Sutor wrote. “While fully cognizant of these current results, I’m energized to take the bigger fight for openness to the next level with the thousands of individuals who are now convinced that the standards system needs fixing, and soon.”
The nature of their protest will evolve
In regard to how to change the process now that the standard has been ratified, David Mitchell, senior vice president of IT research at analyst firm Ovum, said he believes very little will change in the short term.
“Those who were protesting and opposing the Open XML progress through the standards process will still oppose it. The nature of their protest will evolve. To begin with, there have been challenges to the process-and these will continue,” Mitchell said. “Those who are supporters of Open XML will need to move into the implementation phase, because standards are simply documentation. One of the companies that many will look to take a lead with implementation is Microsoft.”
The standard that Microsoft initially submitted through Ecma was revised and improved by the standards process and, as such, the software giant will need to update its existing products and planned future products to support the format that was actually ratified, Mitchell noted.
“It is likely to take some time for this to be completed, and Microsoft will also need to provide tools to convert from the existing Office 2007 formats into the new Open XML standard. Other ISV developers like Apple, IBM, Sun, et al. will also need to put their plans in place for supporting this standard-it would not be wise for the developer community to ignore it,” Mitchell said.
The ratification of Microsoft’s file formats also does not mean the demise of ODF (Open Document Format), which is also an ISO-ratified document standard.
“What it does mean is that developers of software that works with documents will have to support both formats, and that these developers will need to compete on the basis of the intrinsic merits of their products rather than using a standards body lockout-from either the ODF or the Open XML camp,” Mitchell said.