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That's ISO not I-S-O

The next time you're talking about the standardization and the International Organization for Standardization comes up, be sure to pronounce it as "Iso" and not "I-S-O."

We say this because ISO does not, in fact, stand for the International Organization for Standardization (or the International Standardization Organization, which doesn't even exist).

We heard this neat tidbit the XML 2007 conference, held in Boston last week.

Ken Holman, who this week steps down from the role as the international secretary of the ISO subcommittee responsible for the Standard Generalized Markup Language(SGML), gave a briefing on ISO and related matters during the conference's lightening round sessions Tuesday night.

He noted that the ISO name actually comes from "iso," the greek prefix for equal. For instance, Isometric refers to the equality of measurement.

"That is where the ISO comes from. It is not an abbreviation," Holman said.

Turns out that ISO is a simply the universal short form that the founders bestowed on their organization.

If the International Organization for Standardization were to be abbreviated, it would come out as IOS, not ISO, anyway. But the three letters are the same, so naturally, confusion has ensued among many trade publications. Even dictionaries get this wrong.

So when you see the designation ISO 9000, for instance, you'll know to pronounce it ISO and not I-S-O. And please don't call ISO an abbreviation.

* * *

Holman dropped another tidbit during his talk as well. We may see a new ISO/IEC working group devoted to office document formats, such as Office Document Format and the Microsoft Office Open XML standard.

First some hierarchy needs to be explained. ISO works on a wide variety of standards, from everything from medical equipment to film (ISO 400, ISO 200, etc.).

In many information technology standards designations, a lot of times we'll see ISO in conjunction with IEC. For instance, ISO/IEC 13818 is the internationally-approved designation for MPEG-2.

The two bodies often work together on IT standards. The International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC) was founded a little over 100 years ago (by none other than Lord Kelvin, among others!) to standardize the then-emerging field of electrical componentry.

Both IEC and ISO were doing work in IT, so in order to eliminate duplication, they founded a joint body, called the Joint Technical Committee (JTC 0001), the only working group between the two organizations.

JTC has a number of subcommittees, handling standards from everything from biometrics to user interface conventions. SC34 is the committee that begat SGML, which in turn begat XML, and so on.

SC34 itself has a number of different working groups. WG 1 handles the data types and character types for XML documents. WG 2 handles the presentation of documents, including the font management and the like. WG 3 took the World Wide Web Consortium's Hypertext Markup Language specification and made it an international standard.

Now there is talk of making a fourth working group to handle office documents formats. While now they are usually handled by WG 1 or WG 2, the volume of work required of ODF and OOXML is threatening to overwhelm the members of those groups.

"Is there going to be a WG 4? Stay tuned," Holman said.

Posted by Joab Jackson on Dec 13, 2007 at 9:39 AM


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