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Nations question ISO's merit following dropped Open XML appeals

Brazil, South Africa and Venezuela 'no longer confident' in the process used

By Elizabeth Montalbano
September 2, 2008 12:00 PM ET

IDG News Service - Countries whose appeals were dismissed regarding ISO and the IEC's approval of Microsoft Corp.'s Open XML as an international standard are questioning the judgment and relevance of those two international standards bodies and the standards they approve.

In a statement made at the Congresso Internacional Sociedade e Governo Electronico (CONSEGI) 2008 conference, representatives from several countries, including Brazil, South Africa and Venezuela -- three of the four countries that appealed an April 1 vote to approve Open XML as a standard -- said they are "no longer confident" in the ability of both the international standards group ISO and the International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC) to be vendor-neutral and open when it comes to setting technology standards.

"What is now clear is that we will have to, albeit reluctantly, re-evaluate our assessment of ISO/IEC, particularly in its relevance to our various national government interoperability frameworks," said the statement by the countries, which also included Ecuador, Cuba and Paraguay. "Whereas in the past it has been assumed that an ISO/IEC standard should automatically be considered for use within government, clearly this position no longer stands."

The statement was posted on the blog of Aslam Raffee, the chairperson of the South African government's Open Source Software Working Group. CONSEGI is a Latin American government open-source conference; it was held this year in Brasilia.

Despite their concerns, however, the countries will not pursue their appeals against the decision by the organizations to move ahead with the publication of ISO/IEC DIS 29500 -- the name for the current Open XML specification -- as an international standard.

Earlier this month, ISO and the IEC gave the green light to publish the current Open XML specification after organization leaders rejected appeals from Brazil, India, South Africa and Venezuela to protest the vote that approved Open XML as a standard.

The specification is expected to be published within a few weeks after the standards bodies complete the final processing of the document, provided there are no further appeals.

Ironically, it was developing countries like the ones that protested the vote that Microsoft courted when it submitted Open XML to Ecma International, another standards body, in November 2005 in an effort to fast-track it through ISO's standard-approval process.

Microsoft created Open XML as an XML-based document format for Office 2007, the latest version of its productivity suite. Office and Microsoft's Windows operating system face competition from open-source and open standards-based software in developing countries, where it is often more cost-effective to use alternatives to proprietary software.

At the same time, governments in those countries as well as those in more mainstream markets increasingly are drafting mandates requiring their IT departments to use only software based on open-standard formats. Before Open XML was approved as an open standard, the use of that document format in Office would have precluded Microsoft's productivity suite from being on the list of technologies deemed acceptable under many of those mandates.

When Microsoft submitted Open XML to Ecma, another XML-based document format, ODF (Open Document Format), was midway through the ISO standards process. ISO approved ODF as an international standard more than two years ago.

The Open XML fast-track process and subsequent approval vote in ISO was riddled with complaints that Microsoft acted unscrupulously, the standards process was not implemented properly and the specification approved was too unwieldy to implement. As a result, the national bodies of Brazil, India, South Africa and Venezuela filed protests.

Reprinted with permission from IDG.net. Story copyright 2014 International Data Group. All rights reserved.
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