CyberTech Rambler

April 17, 2008

OOXML and the ISO

Filed under: Uncategorized — ctrambler @ 2:46 pm

ISO put out an FAQ on OOXML. The fact that ISO is publishing an FAQ means it is feeling the heat. Rightly so.

It also give us some insights on how ISO sees itself. I read the whole thing as ISO does not seeing itself as the standard bearer for International Standard, but rather a potpourri of standards of different qualities, even if it can help it. That really hurts my high esteem for ISO.

The FAQ is dissected by Groklaw and Glyn Moody at ComputerWorld UK. I do not necessary agrees with all of them but a few points do stands out.

As stipulated in the ISO/IEC JTC 1 Directives under the section relating to the fast-track process, the criteria for proposing an existing industry standard for the fast-track procedure are a matter for each proposer to decide. In the case of ISO/IEC 29500, Ecma International considered that the fast-track procedure was appropriate.

Glyn Moody touch on this, saying that it is ISO washing its hand over fast tracking and put the blame on ECMA. He also mentioned that he though ISO might have some say over fast-tracking. I am not so diplomatic and will say that ISO admitting that it has loop-hole, a very big one indeed, which is to allow external bodies with different emphasis from ISO to dictate what is an ISO standard.

There is more that meet the eye in the answer to te FAQ item titled “Why would ISO and IEC allow two standards for the same subject?”. Implicitly, by implying there are a lot of similarity within different ISO standards (without mentioning ODF and OOXML by name) and by mentioning it is OK with multiple similar standards for the same thing, it shattered the illusion held by people who champion the argument that ODF and OOXML are two different standards.

The hidden patent issue is of interest. At things currently stands, I have no doubt that Microsoft’s patent pledge for OOXML satisfy ISO Random and Non Discriminatory (RAND) conditions as far as wording is concerned. I am not saying it is appropriate, but simply saying that like the fast-track, committee stuffing and other practice that both pro and anti OOXML employed, it is legal and on the surface, is within the rules. Funny enough that PJ and Jason Matusow both choose to link this with Microsoft’s Open Specification Promise, but this is a topic for another post.

This ISO FAQ and the recent Alex Brown posting on SC34’s move post OOXML balloting shows that ISO is interested in harmonizing ODF and OOXML. This is indeed a plausible middle road to take. Will it works? I don’t know. It will be interesting to wait and see.

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