ISO/IEC Officials Allegedly Advise Rejecting OOXML Appeals

Microsoft's Office Open XML (OOXML) document format may survive an appeal

Microsoft's Office Open XML (OOXML) document format, which was technically approved in April as an international standard (ISO/IEC 29500), may be on its way toward surviving an appeals process -- the last challenge to its legitimacy as a standard.

A leaked document, apparently from executives at the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) and the International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC), recommends that the ISO Technical Management Board reject appeals lodged by four participating members.

Brazil, India, South Africa, and Venezuela have all filed formal appeals questioning the process by which IEC/ISO 29500 was accepted.

The Groklaw Web site, a critic of the standardization process for OOXML, provides a PDF of the leaked document. Groklaw alleges that the document's authors are Alan Bryden, ISO's secretary-general and CEO, and Aharon Amit, IEC's general secretary and CEO.

Under ISO rules, there is a two-month window for appeals to be lodged after a standard is technically approved.

OOXML was first approved by the IEC and then submitted to ISO via a fast-track approval process. The fast-track process is allowed under ISO's Joint Technical Committee 1 (JTC-1) procedures, but critics have complained that participating members did not have time to digest Microsoft's OOXML documentation, which numbers about 6,000 pages.

For instance, near the end of the process, international bodies had just one month to consider revisions to the OOXML standard, and they voted without seeing those revisions, according to Marino Marcich, managing director of the ODF Alliance.

The leaked ISO document denies that the ISO approval process was unfair. Moreover, the ISO and IEC executives recommend rejecting the appeals.

"The processing of the ISO/IEC DIS 29500 project has been conducted in conformity with the ISO/IEC JTC 1 Directives, with decisions determined by the votes expressed by the relevant ISO and IEC national bodies under their own responsibility, and consequently, for the reasons mentioned above, the appeals should not be processed further," the letter states on page 4.

The next step in the appeals process is for the ISO Technical Management Board to vote on the objections raised by the four participating members. The ISO Technical Management Board is expected to vote on the matter on August 4.

The board can decide "not to process the appeal further" or set up a conciliation board to process one or all of the appeals, according to blog commentary by Andy Updegrove, an attorney with Gesmer Updegrove LLP.

The ISO/IEC 29500 standard has not been distributed yet, and Brazil complained that its lack of availability violates ISO's directives. Under the rules, all final versions of standards are supposed to be "distributed on not more than one month after the end of the BRM [Ballot Resolution Meeting]", said Brazil's complaint. The BRM was concluded at the end of February, meaning that four months have passed without distribution of the standard.

Ironically, Microsoft Office 2007 doesn't yet support the current ISO/IEC 29500 standard, even though it's based on Microsoft's OOXML technology. OOXML is a file format that is used in the Microsoft Office 2007 productivity suite, enabling interoperability and metadata exchange among programs such as Excel, PowerPoint, and Word.

A rival document format standard, OpenDocument Format (ODF), has already been approved as ISO/IEC 26300. ODF is used in free productivity suites such as and Lotus Symphony. Microsoft plans to add support for ODF in future iterations of Microsoft Office.

The whole OOXML vs. ODF debate has been very important for government and educational institutions, many of which have saved their files using the older Microsoft Office file formats (.xls .ppt and .doc). They have institutional interests in seeing that their documents remain accessible -- long after the associated document formats become unsupported "old technology."

About the Author

Kurt Mackie is senior news producer for 1105 Media's Converge360 group.

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