Fighting OOXML

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Submitted by admin on Fri, 07/20/2007 - 17:14
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The normally boring world of international standards has turned into a bloody fist fight between the most brutal monopolist of modern times, and the Community. Just the name, “Office Open XML” makes my head spin, and when I start to read Microsoft’s so-sincere explanations that “users demand multiple standards”, my blood begins to boil. But before I turn green and rip off my shirt, let me take a deep breath and look calmly at how Microsoft is trying to do to ISO what Borat wanted to do to Pamela.

ISO standards are like the old ladies of the standards world, respectable, prim, a bit musty, but irreproachable. No-one ever got fired for implementing an ISO standard. And with good reason—ISO has always been a careful process of assembling diverse opinion, negotiating away conflict, and reaching consensus. Membership of ISO committees is voluntary and unpaid. In other words, ISO is a sitting duck for someone with the money and the will to abuse the system.

This fight is over the future of Microsoft’s desktop monopoly. If OOXML gets passed as an ISO standard, Microsoft will be rolling out more ‘standards’ and end up with a stack of ISO standards that only it can implement. It is already spinning “open standard” to mean “closed format heavily protected by secrets and patents”. Free software won’t be able to implement OOXML, and users will be locked-in to Microsoft’s proprietary world for decades. It’s a clever abuse of the standards process.

The FFII is working as part of a large community which includes the free software world, to fight this threat. Our goal is simple: get ISO to vote “NO” to OOXML. The deadlines are short—end-August to end-September depending on the country.

Microsoft is working as follows: they are getting their business partners to submit comments to the ISO committees in each country. This has been going on for some time. Then, they do the normal rigging of committees—getting the chair, excluding dissenting voices, cutting back on discussion, forcing an early vote, etc. It’s worked in a few countries but more and more, it’s back-firing and creating real resentment. In South Africa, the committee voted 13 to 4 against, helped by lots of support from the South Africa free and open source movement!

So it is possible to fight the Microsoft machine. The NoOOXML.org site has lots of information on how to help, and a petition to sign and pass around.

If you think you can help organise an effort in your country, send us an email at noooxml@ffii.org.

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Pieter Hintjens
President, Foundation for a Free Information Infrastructure (FFII)