The standard that was not and the Hague Declaration

We are on the 14 th of May and OOXML is an ISO standard. Slight problem: there is no known specification or definitive draft of that ISO standard. To be sure, we know what the first version of Ecma 376 looks like, and we know it pretty well, although it’s 6000 pages long. What we also know is that over a thousands of comments were being addressed during the Ballot Resolution Meeting in Geneva, although a great part of them did not find a satisfactory solution. Regardless of the slight glitch in the JTC-1 rules that was witnessed in Geneva, it is likely that these 1000 comments will require some thorough rewriting of the first and only known version of Ecma 376 in order to become an ISO standard.This point was addressed partly by forcing having the national standards bodies worldwide to approve that specification even without reading a second draft.Some people including me do find this situation to be extremely damageable both to the standardization processes and the burgeonning digital public sphere.

Some others take a more pragmatical approach, but even that one is very much telling about the whole OOXML farce. In this category, we find the project. Despite what Microsoft will tell you, does not and will not provide OOXML « interoperability » . It will however provide an import filter that users will be able to use in order to import documents formatted in the format used by Microsoft Office 2007 and 2008 that bears the name of Microsoft Office Open XML(OOXML). What this means is that the project has to work directly on the files edited and created by MS Office 2007 and 2008 in order to provide compatibility and does not use the OOXML specification, as it is not implemented by MS Office 2007 and Microsoft Office 2008. So much for interoperability. The jury is still out, by the way, on the search for OOXML implementations. The ones that exist are either broken or else very limited (even the famous Novell plugin).

Sometimes, life can unfold its course like a novel by Borges. Despite the fact that OOXML does not exist , the DIN has invited the Afnor committee to participate in its convergence committee. This committee is in charge of studying the compatibility issues between ODF 1.0 and OOXML. But since OOXML as an ISO standard does not exist, I can only imagine how interesting their work sessions can be:

 « – Say Herr Dingsbumms, what do you think about the capacity of OOXML to rename every existing concept humanity has created so far in its very own way?

  • Herr Muschelschwantz, I think this is a great idea. But I don’t think it will map very well with the present ODF standard.
  • And what about OOXML’s ability to deal with every known and spellable word in any past or present language?
  • That is for sure a very interesting feature, Herr Muschelschwantz, but I think it’s too limited. We should work in the sense of having OOXML integrate every IMPOSSIBLE combination of letters, otherwise nobody will be using it.
  • But Herr Dingsbumms, that feature is already included! You just have to imagine it and it pops up inside the spec!
  • Really? Mein Gott! That’s is wunderbar! But tell me, how does all this map to ODF?
  • That is a problem to be sure. We cannot map these features to ODF…-Enters somebody from Microsoft-
  • Gentlemen, we found a solution: we’ll label these features transitionnal while you think very hard about other mapping issues between OOXML and ODF and the solutions to these issues will be the ones you decide!
  • Super! Well I think we worked very well today Herr Dingsbumms.
  • Indeed Herr Muschelschwantz, what an interesting job we have! » 
  • That little episode being over now, I would like to tell you about an existing initiative: The Digital Standards Group, of which I am one of the proud co-founders, has published a manifesto called the Hague Declaration. My respected colleague in this group, Andy Updegrove has written a very nice introduction about it.

    In short, what does the Hague Declaration and the Digital Standards Organisation stand for? The Hague Declaration ackowledge the growing role of information technologies in the daily lives of citizens, businesses and governments worldwide. This growing importance should not be understimated, and neither should the amount of our rights and civic processes be underestimated too. This is how the Hague Declaration makes the case for the use of openness and freedom in software and networks, and does it by recommending the use of Free and Open Source Software and Open Standards. In fact, Open Standards, more than Open Source, is the focus of the Digital Standards Organisation. It thus calls governments and vendors to realize both the challenge and the opportunity of Open Standards as technology now governs increasing portions of our political, civic, and social lives.

    By doing so, the Hague Declaration continues a worldwide conversation that has started with the development of OpenDocument Format. This conversation is far to be over; in fact, it is just starting, and everybody should take part in it, as vendors are rushing to propose evermore proprietary solutions relying on closed specifications, ultimately forcing us to relinquish our control over our data and our rights.

    We hope you will join us by signing this manifesto.

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