Critical questions for national bodies considering OOXML/DIS 29500

As we move into the last 10 days before the final chance for national standards bodies to change their JTC1 ballot on Microsoft‘s OOXML specification expires, there are key questions that the bodies and the people who participate in them need to answer. Some are straightforward and some are controversial.

Each national body and participant must be completely sure that their vote can withstand strong scrutiny by their citizens, government, regulators, and concerned people and organizations around the world. Much as some might like to believe, this is not an anonymous process for the most part. Who voted and why will mostly become known. That is good and fine. In an open standards process that should be the norm, though virtually nothing about the OOXML process resembles that which should take place for an open standard.

In what follows, the recommendations on how to vote are my opinions, of course.

Regarding OOXML:

  • Was this specification appropriate for the Fast Track process? If not, it should not be approved in such a process and you should ABSTAIN or vote NO.
  • At each stage of this process, was sufficient time allowed to develop contradictions, completely review the specification in its entirety, generate all appropriate comments, review all proposed resolutions completely and explicitly, and fully review the updated document? If not, you should ABSTAIN or vote NO.
  • Have all your comments been fully and correctly addressed? Are the changes reflected correctly everywhere necessary in the specification? Have you verified this? If not, you should ABSTAIN or vote NO.
  • Is this high quality technology? If not, you should ABSTAIN or vote NO.
  • Can you can say that you completely understand the specification that emerged from the Ballot Resolution Meeting (BRM), with all its changes, and that it is now a very high quality specification? If not, you should ABSTAIN or vote NO.
  • Are you fully confident that no additional problems were introduced at the BRM that your national body would insist must be addressed? If not, you should ABSTAIN or vote NO.
  • As an international standard, does this specification inappropriately favor a single vendor and its products? If so, you should ABSTAIN or vote NO.
  • Are you 100% confident that there are no intellectual property problems that would prevent anyone from fully and completely implementing everything in the OOXML specification? Do you have this assurance from experts who are not from Microsoft or in their financial ecosystem? If not, you should ABSTAIN or vote NO.
  • Has the process as you have seen it been without undue and inappropriate influence by the supporters of OOXML? If not, you should ABSTAIN or vote NO.
  • Have the principles of balance and equilibrium in the standards setting process been violated to the benefit of OOXML? If so, you should ABSTAIN or vote NO.
  • Were rules broken or changed during this process? If so, you should ABSTAIN or vote NO.

Those were the easy and straightforward ones. The following ones are more controversial, but I don’t think anyone is naive enough to think they should not be considered.

  • If you voted YES on this, are you willing to stake your professional reputation on that action?
  • If you voted YES on this, can you personally attest to the high quality of the OOXML technology and the standards process it went through?
  • If you voted YES on this, will you publicly explain why and also detail any current or planned commercial interests you have in common with the supporters of OOXML?
  • If you previously did not support OOXML but recently changed your mind, will you publicly and in detail explain why you did this?
  • Do you personally feel that OOXML helps the ISO and IEC “brands” related to quality of technology and process?

None of these should make anyone feel uneasy. They’re valid questions and I’m sure you can think of more tough ones. These and more will all be asked in the days, weeks, and months to come. The answers will explain what plays out in the next week and one-half, but will also determine the scope of the rather fundamental changes that I think will sweep over the standards world in the next few years.

We’re witnessing events that will catalyze the most significant transformations I think any of us have seen in the standards world. We have a better idea than ever before what needs to be fixed. I suppose we should thank someone for that.

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