Bonum Certa Men Certa

OOXML Believed to be on Path to a Loss at ISO (ITNews) (Updated)

Marbux has just mailed us this pointer, suggesting that OOXML is unlikely to be approved, at least judging by the following early assessment:

With less than two days to go before the International Standards Organization (ISO) decides on whether or not to approve Microsoft’s Office Open XML (OOXML), lovers and haters of the format are intensifying their arguments for a last hurrah.

[...]

For OOXML to be approved, at least two thirds of the participating countries need to have voted in favour of the format, and no more than one quarter of the total number of votes can be negative.

As things stand, numbers are not looking good for Microsoft. 18 countries have voted in favour of OOXML, and 14 countries have voted against it. Nine countries, including Australia, have chosen to abstain from the vote.


The is some more new coverage of Document Freedom Day, including this report which ends with:

"But [OOXML] fails the test for an Open Standard in various ways, including an unclear legal status as well as inclusion of and reference to proprietary technologies. It has all signs of a vendor-specific format that only Microsoft will be able to implement completely," the group writes on its site.


If you are interested in OpenOffice.org, be aware that its Web site has just had a major redesign. Also, you may wish to see this new feature walkthrough of version 2.4.0.

When updating extensions, OpenOffice.org will launch the web browser to the appropriate web pages for more convenient updating. Extensions can have non-geeky-looking display names, but if the publisher omits the display name, the geeky-looking filename is used instead. Extension publishers can include links to their sites and to release notes.


Personally, I never use office suites (I'm more of a LATEX person), but knowing how OpenOffice.org eliminates barriers to Free software adoption, I am willing to help promote it. ODF is supported by dozens of applications from many different vendors (whom Sun/IBM/Red Hat/Oracle/Google did not have to pay/bribe, unlike Microsoft). ODF is not to be confused or seen as analogous to OpenOffice.org.

Update: Marbux adds the following good bits, which he permitted us to share in public.

Even if DIS-29500 ("OOXML") is approved by JTC 1, that is not the end of file format war; it is only the beginning. Under the Agreement on Technical Barriers to Trade ("ATBT'), international standardization is merely *preparation" for decisions to adopt technical regulations at the regional/national/local level. See sections 2.4 and 2.6. And what do we find in section 2.2?



Members shall ensure that technical regulations are not prepared, adopted or applied with a view to or with the effect of creating unnecessary obstacles to international trade.


So even if Microsoft wins the "prepared" stage, it still has to win the "adopted or applied" phases.



Similarly, under the Agreement on Government Procurement ("AGP"), Article VI sections 1 and 2, we find:



1. Technical [procurement] specifications laying down the characteristics of the products or services to be procured, such as quality, performance, safety and dimensions, symbols, terminology, packaging, marking and labelling, or the processes and methods for their production and requirements relating to conformity assessment procedures prescribed by procuring entities, shall not be prepared, adopted or applied with a view to, or with the effect of, creating unnecessary obstacles to international trade.



2. Technical specifications prescribed by procuring entities shall, where appropriate:



...



(b) be based on international standards, where such exist; otherwise, on national technical regulations(3), recognized national standards(4), or building codes.


Note that the footnotes I have omitted from the original text directly paraphrase ATBT definitions.



While the requirement that technical specifications be based on international standards in section 2 would seem to create tension in the context of OOXML with the section 1 prohibition against procurement specifications that create unnecessary obstacles to international trade, traditional legal analysis would call for resolving that tension by looking to the purpose of the Agremeement. So under my interpretation, the prohibition in section 1 would trump section 2. But I caution that this is an issue the WTO dispute resolution process has yet to rule on.



Both the AGP and the ATBT apply to every level of government in signatory nations. So, e.g., in the Massachusetts situation, the battle was over a technical regulation that was also to be used as a procurement specification. Hence the decision was subject to both treaties.



Think of the "prepared, adopted, or applied" phrase as a three-phase test that has to be applied by governments at every step of the way, in their NB positions, in their national standards decisions, in their state standards decisions, in their municipal standards decisions, in their procurement decisions.



In other words, OOXML approval at JTC 1 is simply phase 1. There are myriad battles yet to come even if OOXML survives JTC 1. All subject to challenge by individual nations in the WTO dispute resolution process. The AGP also requires that competitors be provided with a judicial review remedy on procurement decisions by each signatory nation, although in the U.S., Congress in ratifying the Uruguay Round Agreements (includes both AGP and ATBT), declined to acquiesce to this provision in regard to state governments, a reservation of dubious legality because of the AGP and ATBT's "all or nothing" provisions for accession to the agreements.



I'll note here that government procurement of software as a service is governed by a third treaty, the General Agreement on Trade in Services. But I'll save that discussion for another day.



So short story: The fight ain't over 'til the fat lady sings. Microsoft can be knocked out in Round 1 and lose the war at JTC 1, but at best it can only survive into Round 2. I.e., the best Microsoft can do is win a battle, not the war. That is why I have not been worrying too much about what happens at JTC 1. The real war is in the government software market, in the potentially thousands of technical regulation and procurement specification battles. And it will not be the big vendors making those decisions. It will be their customers.

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