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South Africa launches formal objection at OOXML

Ratification as international standard could be delayed

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The official blessing of Microsoft’s controversial Office Open XML (OOXML) document format as an international standard could be delayed after a formal objection was lodged against it.

The South African Bureau of Standards (SABS) submitted an official complaint against the ratification of OOXML to the International Standardisation Organisation (ISO) late last week.

SABS said, in a letter to the ISO, that it objected to the fast-track process that led to OOXML, or DIS 29500, for a variety of reasons.

It claimed that members who participated in February’s ballot resolution meeting (BRM) in Geneva had not been given the opportunity to discuss alleged contradictions between OOXML and other standards.

SABS also slammed the “blanket voting” method used in the BRM as being “procedurally flawed”. It claimed that the majority of outstanding technical issues with Microsoft’s file format had not been properly addressed at the meeting.

“Effectively, this required the national bodies to write a blank cheque approving the proposals of the authors of the proposed standard, which is inappropriate for any standard, never mind one that has generated considerable controversy,” said SABS.

The national body also claimed that the ISO and IEC’s reputations had been harmed by the fast track process.

In April the OOXML specification secured enough votes from national standards bodies to see the document format approved by the ISO.

Following confirmation that Microsoft had bagged enough votes, the ISO – in line with procedures – began a two-month period during which the formal publication of the DIS 29500 standard could be delayed or even overturned.

SABS is so far the only participating or P member of the so-called JTC 1 process to have issued a formal protest ahead of the ISO's cut-off date of 29 May.

That decision follows months of heated arguments on both sides the OOXML debate, with ISO-approved OpenDocument Format (ODF) fanciers in one corner and lovers of Microsoft’s spec in the other.

Steve Pepper, who has strongly objected to OOXML being ratified as an international standard, unsurprisingly welcomed SABS' complaint to the ISO.

He said on his blog: “South Africa’s action confirms that the battle is not yet lost. Here in Norway we are working hard to get the Norwegian vote changed back to No and we think we might succeed. If we do, only two more votes will have to be changed in order for the final outcome to be a rejection of OOXML.”

The ISO was not immediately available for comment at time of writing. ®

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