Arnaud's Blog

Opinions on open source, standards, and other things

What does the world have to gain from rushing OOXML through ISO?


I’ve already stated several times before how inappropriate the Fast Track process is, simply based on the size of the specification, the number of reported errors, the lack of time, etc. But as I was attending the OFE conference last week in Geneva I was told something that really made me ponder about the reason this is even taking place.

What I was told is the following: during a break XXX from Microsoft was overheard asking a delegation, that had expressed its dismay over the way the BRM was being conducted, something along the following lines: “you want to throw away all this work? waste it all?” And his tone and attitude was reported to be fairly aggressive.

One can wonder about the appropriateness (and effectiveness actually) of trying to press on delegates by making them feel responsible for wasting everybody’s time but the thought that went through my mind when I heard this story was: “Why? Why does it to have to be a waste? Why does it have to be all or nothing? And why does it have to be decided NOW?? What’s the hurry?

The level of interest, discussion, argumentation, involvement, and passion put into the various debates taking place around the world have clearly demonstrated that OOXML is important to people – whether they love it, hate it, or are somewhere in between -.

Given that, it seems obvious to me that it should be given the time it needs to get proper treatment and that giving OOXML more time should be in EVERYBODY’s interest.

Indeed, more time would allow the malcontents to articulate their point of view better, list all the issues they have (and not just the few they have a chance to raise during the artificially constrained timetable of the Fast Track process). More time would allow the OOXML supporters to address all issues raised, and make their position stronger with an improved specification. Finally, more time would allow those on the fence to more carefully weigh the pros and cons and take a decision in a more serene atmosphere.

More time would most certainly allow to get all parties closer to one another if not to completely agree.

So, why is it rushed? Well, let’s see.

The only ones really pushing for this to happen faster rather than carefully are Microsoft and Ecma.

In the case of Ecma it is easy to see why. Ecma is nothing more than a rubber stamping organization for hire with no soul, which is pushing for OOXML to go through as fast as possible and with as little change as possible simply because this is what it is paid to do. This is what their “value proposition” is all about: ‘timely publication of international standards […] “fast track” […] minimize risk of change‘.

The case of Microsoft isn’t as simple on face value. If, as it claims, Microsoft really wanted to be more open it would have a keen interest in improving the quality of the specification and ensuring maximum interoperability. The world at large would also gain from having a better specification that actually enables competition – be consumers or vendors -.

So why is Microsoft favoring time to “ISO standard” over quality of the specification? The only possible explanation is that its claims about openness are mere pretense. If it’s only pretense then everything becomes obvious.

Microsoft has an inherent conflict of interest in the OOXML standardization process. Not only it does not have any interest in improving the quality of the specification, in fact, the worse it is the better for Microsoft. The lower the quality of the specification the more difficult it is for others to implement OOXML and actually compete with Microsoft products.

All Microsoft really cares about is the ISO standard label, so that it can declare that it’s now safe for everybody to buy its product because (in theory) it is based on an ISO standard. The faster Microsoft can get it, the better.

Unlike every other vendor Microsoft doesn’t need a good specification to develop its product, it already has a product. This really is why the OOXML specification is of such a poor quality. It is not accidental.

Now, what I don’t understand is why should anybody else play Microsoft and Ecma’s game. National Bodies have nothing to gain from playing this game.

NBs shouldn’t feel intimidated by Microsoft’s implications that they would be responsible for wasting a lot of effort by saying No to OOXML. NBs shoud instead tell Microsoft to stop wasting everybody else’s time for its own self and sole interest and request that Microsoft demonstrates genuine interest in opening up its format by taking it to the normal ISO standards process so that due process can take place.


March 4, 2008 - Posted by | standards | , , ,


  1. I think this kind of information should be sent in to all NBs taking part of the vote. A very acurate description of reality.

    It is very depressing that so many NBs have fallen for the fairytale of that all opposition to OOXML can be ignored since it comes from “enemies” of Microsoft.

    Comment by Fiery Spirited | March 5, 2008 | Reply

  2. […] our “Ecma” category is certainly worthwhile. Additionally, here is a new reminder from an IBM employee: So, why is it [OOXML] rushed? Well, let’s […]

    Pingback by Boycott Novell » Quick Mention: BRM/Vote Stuffing, Rigging, Stacking and Other OOXML Abuses Come Under Fire | March 5, 2008 | Reply

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