The month of the zombie standards

OOXML…. It’s been a long time I had not blogged about it. Well, there are news, and not of the mundane kind. As a starting point, always assume that despite what you are about to read everything is normal and OOXML (the ISO standard) has still not been published . That’s it, everything’s normal. Even Alan Bryden, the ISO Secretary General says it , « everything is normal » sounds more and more like a sequel of a not so well standardized HAL computer.

Recently, we had the opportunity thanks to the Noooxml website to review what is believed to be the OOXML specification that should be the ISO standard (ISO/IEC 29500). The result is astounding. This is like zombie movies where the story gets worse every two minutes. OOXML now sports a whooping 7228 pages a different set of sections, and many other changes.

But confusion does not stop here, otherwise there would be no fun: Regardless of the actual availability and authenticity of that document, the appeal process started by several national standards boards has suspended OOXML.

Another «leaked document » has appeared on the wikileaks site (looks like it’s the season) . This one comes from the IEC (remember, it’s yet another standards development organization) and is about the fast track process. It basically summarizes the expected benefits of this wonderfully attractive process. It’s a bit complex but I really like the fact that this document goes back to the basics concerning the Fast Track process. For instance, the document goes on to explain that a fast-track process implies a certain level of quality of the specification at hand, which was not the case for OOXML. The document could also lead to the conclusion that the Fast-Track process is not so much the problem than the upstream specifications being submitted through it (read: the Ecma and its standards).

But this just came in: The official document reporting on the TMB meeting (the ISO meeting where the four appeals against the Fast Track Process has been released to national bodies and consequently to the Afnor. What does it conclude? Aside being a lavish ode to Microsoft, it is a quite complete document, with copies of each of the four appeal letters. The ISO decided to leave the question of the validity of the appeals to the national standards bodies; but its recommendation is quite clear:


20. 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.”

Ah, here we are back in 2007, in the good old summer 2007 where everything for the ISO was fine. Everything works just fine, there’s nothing to see, so mind your own business folks. Worldwide fraud, four appeals for a standard that has “been conducted in conformity with the ISO/IEC JTC 1 Directives” pressures on governments standards bodies, one investigation on OOXML led by the European Commission… and appeals “should not be processed further”?

Somehow I think we have missed one thing or two with the ISO. I don’t exactly know what it is we missed. Perhaps it was a better understanding of how they work. Perhaps it was money. Perhaps it was just all about taking them out for a walk and show them the world before they all got brainwashed. Or more seriously, perhaps it was all about understanding something that was somehow missed ever since beginning: ISO considers its mission and the question of standards in our global economy in a very different way that somebody like me or like my colleagues at Digistan and OpenForum Europe do. The ISO just thinks that the more standards there are, the better it gets. I am part of the people who think that relying on Free and Open Standards in many areas of our economy is an excellent things, and thus standardization process should be improved . But what I stand against is lowering the bar and allowing the quality to worsen just because one major industry player wants things to run its way. And there you find the conundrum of standardization: should standards be the fruits of closed-door industry consensus or an open process emphasizing quality and relevance while allowing fair and unbiased competition? I think the latter should prime in today’s economy. The former only reinforces large trusts and established monopolies.

But all this will be quite interesting to watch as the works around the EIF 2.0 have started and they do not seem to appeal to Microsoft & friends. Expect them to assault the IDABC and every other commission’s directorate out there. Remember, they are like zombies…

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