ISO/IEC officials allegedly advise rejecting OOXML appeals

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

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

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 supportfor 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 the 1105 Enterprise Computing Group.


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