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South Africa rejects OOXML despite ISO vote

Other countries may follow

South Africa has appealed the adoption of the Microsoft-sponsored Office Open XML (OOXML) document format as a standard by the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) and the International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC), the ISO said last week.

It did not rule out the possibility that other countries may appeal.

Members of ISO/IEC Joint Technical Committee 1 (JTC1) adopted Office Open XML as a standard in a vote that closed on March 29. The so-called Fast Track process leading up to that vote has been widely criticized by participants and observers as too rushed and resulting in a poor-quality standard - although no one can say that for sure, as the final version of the standard had still not been formally released, over three weeks after the ISO-imposed deadline for publication.

That delay is one of the grounds for appeal given by Martin Kuscus, CEO of the South African Bureau of Standards (SABS) in identical letters sent Thursday to the general secretaries of ISO and IEC. The ISO said it is examining the notification.

Standards lawyer Andrew Updegrove quoted extensively from the letters on Friday in his blog, while Open Malaysia Blog published scans of the letters.

"No one can now say, until this is resolved, that OOXML 'is a global standard'," Updegrove said.

Microsoft announced Wednesday that it will not support the standardized version of OOXML, ISO/IEC 29500, until the release of a future version of its Office suite at an as yet unspecified date.

"That will presumably make the appeal be taken more seriously," Updegrove said. "After all, why push back violently when the urgency is obviously no longer apparent?"

Among the reasons SABS gave for the appeal, Kuscus charges that JTC1 did not organize the necessary meetings to allow committee members to resolve their differences, that it did not follow its own rules for reaching consensus on decisions at a meeting held in February and that it did not publish the final text of the standard within 30 days of the vote closing.

Kuscus concluded his letters: "It is our opinion that the process followed during all stages of this fast track has harmed the reputations of both ISO and the IEC and brought the processes enshrined in the Directives into disrepute, and that this negative publicity has, in turn, also harmed the reputations of all member bodies of ISO and the IEC."

If a draft standard may harm the reputations of ISO or IEC, that too is grounds for appeal under the directives governing JTC1.

Representatives of IEC, JTC1 and SABS could not be reached for comment.

South Africa is the first country to have made public its appeal. Other national standards bodies that took part have until May 29 to appeal the decision.

"Because the period for receipt of appeals remains open until the end of May, ISO will communicate on the next steps in early June, when it knows whether any other national bodies are appealing," said ISO spokesman Roger Frost.

In other countries, opponents of the standardization of OOXML have focused on trying to overturn their country's decisions, as a preliminary to challenging the JTC1 vote. That's the case in Denmark, where Jens Kjellerup, a member of Dansk Standard's technical committee, is challenging the country's support for the standard.

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