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Microsoft Shows Up Where You Least Expect It - Joins INCITS V1
Tuesday, March 21 2006 @ 07:41 PM EST

Do you remember when we learned about the ECMA process, how Microsoft was sending its XML there, and how ECMA has a fast track to the ISO? I wonder if maybe Microsoft is worried it's still not fast enough to beat ODF, because the company has just joined the group in the International Committee for Information Technology Standards (INCITS) that decides if ODF is ready to move forward in the ISO process. Here they are on the list, bold as brass, on the INCITS V1 list, the group that has the job of reconciling comments ISO voters make with the work OASIS is doing and deciding whether resolution has been reached. There sits Microsoft, waiting, like a spider.

I know. They just want to help out.

I hope I'm not giving them ideas, but all they would have to do to slow ODF down, I'm thinking, is ensure lots of discussion, review, documentation, exploration, etc. to arrange that ISO can't ratify ODF until ECMA is ready to submit their competing XML.

That can't be the plan, I'm sure. That would be mean and anticompetitive.

It's rare that there would be no comments needing resolution. And if there is a comment, it has to be sent around to everyone, and then there has to be a response, and then consensus has to be reached. You get the picture. Meanwhile, Microsoft's XML is whizzing through ECMA's special fast track process. You'll remember their description [PDF] on page 20 of the ECMA value:

"Offers industry a 'fast track', to global standards bodies, through which standards are made available on time....

Offers a path which will minimise risk of changes to input specs."

I am imagining ODF plodding along, with Microsoft asking questions, fine combing through the comments, "did you mean this or that?", getting bogged down in minutia until, lo and behold, either Microsoft's XML makes it as an ISO standard first, or they arrive neck and neck.

Well, just imagining, and I could be completely wrong, I suppose. We can just wait and watch. I would be delighted to be wrong. But since Microsoft has told us it has no intention of supporting ODF, and it has a competing standard it would like the world, and Massachusetts most particularly, to choose instead, it does seem a trifle odd that they suddenly, at the 11th hour, hop on the very committee that decides ODF's fate. By the way, ANSI has a page providing some examples showing why competing standards are not a good idea.

Here's the INCITS FAQ that explains how you get to be a member: "All directly and materially affected parties shall have the opportunity for fair and equitable participation in INCITS." Here's how they answer the question, What is INCITS?

The InterNational Committee for Information Technology Standards (INCITS) is the forum of choice for information technology developers, producers and users for the creation and maintenance of formal de jure IT standards. INCITS is accredited by, and operates under rules approved by, the American National Standards Institute (ANSI). These rules are designed to ensure that voluntary standards are developed by the consensus of directly and materially affected interests.

They have a page on AntiTrust Guidelines, which all members must follow. And here's a chart that explains the whole interaction of INCITS, consortia, and standards bodies. The article, by Andy Updegrove, says that INCITS is kind of like a bridge between consortia, like OASIS, and standards bodies like ISO:

Faced with competition from the proliferation of consortia, some SDOs -- like INCITS -- have adapted by providing a link between consortium-originated standards and the international de jure bodies, such as ISO/IEC....Today, besides acting as an SDO in its own right (it has been accredited by ANSI since its inception), it plays an important role in both further developing consortium-originated standards, as well as introducing those standards into acceptance by ISO/IEC....

INCITS entered 2003 with a stronger link to ISO/IEC, and acquired responsibility for the Joint Technical Committee 1 (JTC1) Technical Advisory Group (TAG), which had formerly been a separate organization with SDOs, vendors and users as members. Other ANSI-accredited standards organizations integral to the "new" INCITS in its JTC1 TAG role are the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE), the Electronic Industries Alliance (EIA - itself an alliance of six major standards bodies), and the Uniform Code Council (UCC). The collective standards output of this grouping -- which includes EIA's Home Electronic Systems (HES) HomeGate, IEEE's 802.11 family of wireless standards, and the UCC's barcode-related standards -- accounts for nearly all of the SDO-based IT standardization work in the world. The only international IT standards that top INCITS-related standards in sales are the ISO 9000 series of quality standards.

As a result, INCITS finds itself in the middle of a great deal of standards setting activity involving diverse organizations.

Yes, and that is where ODF is right now. With Microsoft, which has not participated in the ODF process at all, by its own choice, now joining the very group that will decide how rapidly ODF becomes an ISO standard, or even, I suppose, if it ever does. Gulp.

UPDATE: Andy Updegrove has the following additional information (as well as a clear and more detailed explanation of the standards process):

It will be interesting to see how many comments were made during the ISO balloting, as well as how expeditiously they are reconciled. If you'd like to keep track of that process, here are some further details, as kindly provided by Patrick Durusau, the Chairman of V1 and the Project Editor for the OpenDocument Format submission.

Martin Bryan of the UK delegation is the Chair of the ballot resolution process. Patrick Durusau will be responsible for producing the draft (with assistance from the SC 34 Secretariat) that emerges from the ballot resolution process, and he is also the Errata editor in the OASIS OpenDocument Format TC (the errata process is a committee reconciliation of any comments received from the ISO National Bodies prior to the actual ballot resolution meeting).

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