Rhinoceros, Final Version

That’s official, and an interesting, sad, and probably ridiculous page of the I.T. History is about to be turned: OOXML has been published in its final version. Has it really? Well, it turns out that OOXML does have lots of tricks up its sleeve. It seems that the specification document is actually the same than the last time we saw it. Let me rephrase this: We know several versions of OOXML. Some succeeded to others, some others are concurrent; but we can roughly consider two major versions of OOXML. One is used inside Microsoft products such as MS Office 2007 and is thoroughly undocumented and not standard. Another one is the ISO standard, ISO-IEC 29500.

Today, we’ll focus on the “standard standard”, so to speak. This “standard standard” has just been officially published. But there’s a big surprise. The text seems to be exactly the same version of OOXML we once saw, the ghost version of OOXML (do you understand now why it took so many times for Microsoft to release Vista? The answer comes out clearly now: they were working on different versions of OOXML as if they were planning to shoot Pres. Kennedy on Elm Street).

Why does it matter? Because this ghost version, the “Final DIS text” is the one that was supposed to be the version to be approved by the various national standards committees after the BRM. Both the Ecma and the ITTF explained at the time (March 2008) that this text didn’t exist. But it does, and it was ready to be published ever since that time as it had been seen once on the ISO’s JTC 1’s server a while ago.

In short, national standards bodies voted on a text they never read, and the result was an astounding yes prompted by pressures of various kinds. The rest is history: The appeals that never got answered properly, the dubious voting procedure, the letter of protest sent by four countries to the ISO… Once again, this chapter is full of darkness, lack of transparence and maneuvers in dark alleys. Once again, the ISO has not hesitated once to dive in the mess and proudly follows what it believes is the reasonable way; so reasonable, in fact, that if told to define the Law of Gravity the ISO would now claim that any physical body falls on the ground if released from above not because of Gravity, but because it is reasonable.

All in all, the history of OOXML is not over. The maintenance phase is actually going to be hilariously complex, as you will see experts haggle over the countless existing issues and bugs of a standard that never got implemented ( so what? Can’t we be funny from time to time?) while probably trying to come up with a dubious workgroup on implementation conformance, if that role has not already been taken by the joint Afnor-DIN committee where nobody ever really meets but everyone receives emails from unknown superiors that preside over the work of that committee.

Yet, all the fun stuff set aside, something odd keeps coming back in my mind. Am I the only one to see that this new, final OOXML version was published -although it existed for months inside the ITTF- right at the time where the period for new appeals ended?

Call me disingenuous if you wish. But don’t call me an Ionesco; we already have similar artists in Geneva and in Redmond…

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