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ISO / JTC 1/SC 34 / OOXML: What is Really Going on There???

Posted in Formats, ISO, Microsoft, Open XML, Standard at 1:11 am by Dr. Roy Schestowitz

Standardisation efforts behind OOXML are not over and it would be naive to assume that they are. When a multi-billion dollar cash cow is at stake, people will work relentlessly and resort to dirty tricks. The closer we look at the latest details, the more irregularities appear. Yesterday, we said we would keep an eye on developments, so indeed we do. Here are some of the latest findings. You can explore a trail of previous incidents by following the hyperlinks (cross references in particular), thereby moving backward in time to get a broader and more complete picture.

Comment Recycling

Remember the alleged spamming of ANSI? Repeated comments that overwhelm decision makers in a very ineffective way? Watch the following:

The DIS 29500 ballot comments have been published on the SC34 web site (ZIP of Word documents).

Glancing through them, I am struck by how much is word-for-word identical between countries. Maybe countries shared comments (and certainly the open Wiki for UK comments may have been a source), or maybe some of the larger multi-national organisations reviewing DIS 29500 their fed pooled comments down to many different nations. Ultimately, though, the source of comments does not matter; what matters is whether they have technical merit.

The fact that Word format is used here (see jtc1sc34.org) gives away some possible biases. The remainder of this essay talks about the fact that the comment will not be effective when it comes to squashing deficiencies. Gross reuse, rather than independent thinking, leads to a situation where there is no constructive criticism. it’s just repeated criticism, whose scope is narrower, thus it’s easier to address. This begs the question: did the panels just ‘import’ some arguments? Were panelists thinking for themselves? The next bit reveals more disturbing evidence.

Assessment of a Misinformed Puppet

Good critics are strong critics. For good criticism, one must understand the position he or she defends. In the past, Microsoft was ‘caught’ sending non-technical people to introduce OOXML. It’s no coincidence. Such a strategy turns a discussion about technically poor specifications into a powwow about industrial ‘politics’.

If you thought that was bad, have a look at those who are supposed to be competent enough and party neutral. Look who is actually deciding on future formats.

One is the “I don’t understand” role. When the technical experts get going, they decide on something, and then they need to figure out how to word it in the specification. Making these experts come up with a good way of explaining the issue and the resolution is incredibly important, but often doesn’t happen as the others on the committee are too embarrassed to admit that they don’t understand.


In the end, technical committees need members who can talk to other people; who listen to a different point of view and can respectfully disagree; who can admit when someone has a better idea; and who can check their ego at the door.

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