Rubber-stamping of OOXML raises concerns

Critics have reacted angrily after most of the proposed changes to a draft standard for Microsoft's Open Office (XML) standard were waved through at an ISO meeting last week in Geneva.

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Critics have reacted angrily after most of the proposed changes to a draft standard for Microsoft's Open Office (XML) standard were waved through at an ISO meeting last week in Geneva.

Some 80 percent of 1,100 proposed changes to Microsoft's OOXML document format were passed on the nod. But if the standard is adopted in its current form, "there are likely to be hundreds of defects", said the head of the US delegation at the meeting, Frank Farance.

The OOXML draft has already been rejected at one ISO vote last September. The 87 national standards bodies participating in that vote made 3,500 comments suggesting improvements.

At last week's ballot resolution meeting (BRM) in Geneva, delegates only had time to discuss and modify around 20 percent of the 1,100 changes to the draft recommended by its sponsor, the industry consortium Ecma International.

"Virtually every comment we processed did not survive unedited," the US's Farance said.

The four-fifths of comments that were not discussed during the meeting were put to a "default vote", resulting in the automatic adoption of Ecma's recommendations without modification by delegates, he said.

Farance questioned why the meeting's business had to be rushed.

"I see no particular rationale for why we were limited in time. I don't know how you can deal with 6000 pages with 3500 comments in a week. It's like trying to run a two-minute mile," he said.

Andy Updegrove, a Boston lawyer who works with industry consortia on technical standards, described the meeting process as unsuccessful.

"Hopefully, the national bodies will not compound this error by approving a clearly unfinished specification during the voting period ahead," he said.

Although not a delegate to the BRM, Updegrove had spent the week in Geneva at the meeting venue. He said he had heard from people within the meeting that only six countries had voted in favour of adopting the undiscussed recommendations.

Now that the ballot resolution meeting is over, the national standards bodies that voted in last September's ballot have 30 days to vote on the revised draft. That ballot concludes on 29 March.

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