February 29, 2008

Back to the Drawing Board for OOXML?

Even some pretty shady manipulation of the various national committees doesn't appear to have helped Microsoft much in their bid to get OOXML, the proprietary format describing Office documents, declared an international standard. The ISO/EIC Ballot Resolution Meeting in Geneva has ended with what can at best be considered an inconclusive result, with only eight of the 'P' countries and ten countries altogether registering any kind of vote on the main matter put to them.

The real problem here is Microsoft's attempt, with the assistance of ECMA, to put the standard through the fast track process; that was clearly not appropriate for a standard of such complexity and political significance. There were over 1,100 dispositions to be decided at the meeting, and only 20 substantive dispositions received any measure of individual attention.

The meeting's convenor attempted to reach a conclusion by bundling together 900 dispositions that had not been discussed and asking the delegations to vote on each without discussion. Unfortunately this led to over 80% of the delegations either refusing to register a vote or abstaining on all dispositions.

The real problem is that rather than being a standard driven by the requirement to describe structured documents of all types, OOXML is simply an XML-based description of an existing proprietary format.If Microsoft truly want to embrace standardization they should now get behind the Open Office ODF format and support it with all the weight they can. This seems unlikely given their prior position on ODF support, which can at best be described as half-hearted. They apparently have a lot of work to do to make OOXML acceptable.

Technically there is now a 30-day period in which the ISO/IEC members can vote to approve the adoption of OOXML. I doubt even Microsoft has sufficient clout to persuade them that this travesty or a process represents a satisfactory basis on which to build an international standard.

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