Changes to OOXML draft standard waved through

But questions remain about possible defects in the standard

About four-fifths of the proposed changes to a draft standard for the OOXML document format were waved through — undiscussed — at the conclusion of a weeklong meeting in Geneva.

If the specification for the Office Open XML file format is adopted as a standard in its current form, "there are likely to be hundreds of defects," said Frank Farance, the head of the U.S. delegation at the meeting.

OOXML, the default document format in Microsoft Office 2007, has already fallen at one hurdle on the route to becoming an international standard. Members of Joint Technical Committee 1 of the ISO and the International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC) rejected it in a vote last September. National standards bodies participating in the vote made 3,500 comments suggesting improvements to the draft.

At this week's ballot resolution meeting (BRM) in Geneva, the sponsor of the draft standard, industry consortium ECMA International, presented 1,100 recommendations for changes to the draft. However, delegates only had time to discuss and modify around 20% of those, said Farance, an industry consultant with expertise in standards issues.

"Virtually every comment we processed did not survive unedited," he said.

The 80% of comments that were not discussed during the meeting were put to a "default vote," resulting in the automatic adoption of ECMA's recommendations without modification by delegates, he said.

Farance questioned why the meeting's business had to be rushed. "I see no particular rationale for why we were limited in time. I don't know how you can deal with 6,000 pages with 3,500 comments in a week. It's like trying to run a two-minute mile," he said.

Andy Updegrove, a Boston lawyer who works with industry consortia on technical standards, described the meeting process as unsuccessful. "Hopefully, the national bodies will not compound this error by approving a clearly unfinished specification during the voting period ahead," he said.

Although not a delegate to the BRM, Updegrove spent the week in Geneva at the meeting venue. He said he had heard from people within the meeting that only six countries had voted in favor of adopting the undiscussed recommendations.

Representatives for ISO and IEC could not be reached as the meeting ended.

Now that the ballot resolution meeting is over, the 87 national standards bodies that voted in last September's ballot have 30 days to vote on the revised draft. That ballot concludes March 29.

Copyright © 2008 IDG Communications, Inc.

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