CyberTech Rambler

April 21, 2008

OOXML is substandard and ISO does not think it has to police itself

Filed under: Uncategorized — ctrambler @ 1:15 pm

Interesting article on ZDNet UK. On the surface, nothing new, but the devil is in the detail.

First, we know Tim Bray is not happy with OOXML standardization process, saying it is unsuitable. In this article it appears that Dr Bray is now calling it a “marketing tool” for Microsoft. That is an escalation.

Second escalation is from former SC34 chair Dr Mason. We know since last year that he thinks that the writing is substandard. While he emphasize that it is good thing that publishing information contained in OOXML is important, he don’t think it should be a standard. (I agree with him) Now he  quoted as saying OOXML is simply a “tutorial and user guide” for people to write products around Microsoft Office. As for ISO and ECMA, “neither the Ecma nor the ISO process did anything to turn it into a specification.”. While I think ECMA deserve all the blame, I am not so sure about ISO. After all, unlike ECMA which has all the time it need to refine OOXML, asking ISO to do so under fast track rule is impossible.

The biggest bombshell is that ISO thinks that it does not have to police its democratic processes! It maintains that the controversy seen so far happens in National Bodies and it is National Bodies’ duty to reacts to these events. ISO is simply an administrative body that collects and tally votes from National Bodies. Technically ISO is correct, all the controversy we see are “internal affairs” of the respective National Bodies. I would accept this arguement if it does not spill over into ISO. The spill over here is the standard is issued in ISO’s name. That makes ISO part of the process, a stakeholder. As a stakeholder, it has responsibilities, such as policing itself.

Is the fast track process broken? No. It is a useful and meaningful process, but it can be abused. Therefore, it needs to be changed. In the current OOXML saga, there are two problems that interacts to make it larger than the sum of the two. First and foremost is that OOXML is not suitable for fast track. Too many problems that cannot be fixed in time. This is something ISO can and should fix. The current defence that ISO cannot reject any Fast Track proposal on quality is a farce. Second problem is the controversy in National Bodies, i.e., ISO constituents. ISO cannot fix this by itself, but it can help guide and push the process in National Bodies. ISO is a stakeholder here. It must excercise its right as stakeholder.

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