OOXML appeals: Now or never

Rob Weir has published an extensive blog entry detailing why the OOXML appeals process should be allowed to go on. He says, in part,

Dismissing an appeal with so many open unresolved issue is not expediency. It is merely creating more dissent, more distrust and more trouble that we’ll all need to deal with next time around. It is better, I think, to hear the appeals, get to the bottom of this, seek resolution, consensus and closure, and then to move on. Ignoring mistakes will not make them go away.

We are now down to a matter of days for the countries on the ISO TMB and IEC SMB to decide whether the appeal process should continue. From what I have seen and heard, most people are extremely pessimistic about the likelihood of this happening. That is, the sentiment is that the conservative bureaucracies that let OOXML get this far will not tolerate any challenge to their process and decision making, and therefore want this appeals business to be killed right now. This, in my opinion, would be a huge mistake.

I think that ISO and IEC are on the edge of a precipice which, if they fall off, will cause them to rapidly lose relevance to IT (ICT) developments in many parts of the world, especially emerging markets.

What they appear to be saying to India, Brazil, South Africa, and Venezuela is “Go away, our process works. We love our process. You are wrong. Live by our rules and be quiet.”

If the appeals process is cut off without detailed community examination of the charges against what happened in the OOXML experience, I think that the reputations of the ISO and IEC will continue to diminish. It does not seem to me that anyone at the senior levels of these organizations gets this. Rather than giving these four nations the cold shoulder, and doing it with what appears to this reader as having arrogant undertones, it makes far more sense for ISO and IEC to allow the process to carry on.

This would allow the various stakeholders to explain their arguments, mutually understand what did and didn’t work, and come to common conclusions. It would also lay the groundwork for whatever reforms are necessary so that the OOXML embarrassment never happens again.

If this is stopped now, we will instead be left with the sense if not knowledge that the monolithic ISO and IEC organizations are inflexible and ultimately believe themselves to be infallible. “Thanks for your opinion. You are wrong. Go away.”

To the countries that are voting on whether to continue the appeals process, I say that stopping it now is just bad foreign policy. The emerging nations are critically important to the IT future of the world. Want them to use common standards with everyone else? Want them to stop developing regional or national standards in conflict with “international standards”? Want them to believe that engaging in the international standards process is not a bureaucratic waste of time? Let the appeals process continue.

Read Rob’s blog entry to understand the reasons why the process should continue. Demonstrate that the stakeholders in the international standards process will not be stifled. Show that the ISO and IEC processes can withstand examination and evolve to support the needs of this century.

Either way, things are going to change. The OOXML debacle was a wakeup call for people around the world to see how the game was played. Many of them didn’t like it. If the ISO and IEC does not want to be pushed into the background in the future of ICT, they need to change and respond intelligently and responsibly to what we saw happen with OOXML.

For reference, here are the countries that sit on the boards:

ISO TMB Countries IEC SMB Countries
Brazil Brazil
Canada Canada
China China
Denmark Denmark
France France
Germany Germany
Japan Japan
Netherlands Netherlands
Spain Spain
Australia Norway
Italy South Africa

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