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Microsoft and the OOXML ISO standard process
Saturday, March 03 2007 @ 09:48 AM EST

Both Computerworld and the Standards Blog report that ECMA answered the objections that several ISO members had against fast-tracking the ECMA 376 standard. Groklaw has its own copy of ECMA answers to objections (pdf). ComputerWorld:
Microsoft Corp.’s Open XML file format cleared a small hurdle Wednesday, after documents released by the International Organisation for Standardization (ISO) showed fewer countries harboring strong objections than had been expected.

But the number of countries with reservations about Open XML in its current form remains large enough that the format might not be approved by ISO if it were put to a vote today....All eleven countries expressing negative opinions sit on ISO’s 30-member JTC-1 Committee on Information Technology....

It's unclear what happens next....According to sources familiar with the process, Ecma can either officially submit the Open XML proposal to ISO as-is hoping it can sway voters in 5 months, or it can attempt to address concerns by making changes to its proposal.

What really triggered me to write this article was:

Netherlands (brief response): "The Netherlands Standardization Institute is changing its reaction on [OOXML] [from? This is not indicated]. The Netherlands Standardization Institute votes "abstain."
[Updated 3/2/07: I have heard from multiple sources that the Netherlands experience replicated the American National Body experience. See my comments and those of some visitors at the end of this blog entry for further details.]
What does this mean? Well, maybe this page (translation from a Groklaw contributor follows) from the Association française de normalisation shines more light on the issue: The national bodies require consensus on their ISO votes.

Note also that the Linguistic Society of America has posted its letter to ANSI, in which it explains deficiencies it sees in OOXML. -- MathFox


Association française de normalisation

Office productivity formats: ODF, Microsoft Office and International Standardization SHEET 8 | Standardization of office productivity formats: ODF, OOXML, and the ISO

ODF, Microsoft Office and International Standardization


An open format for electronic office documents, ODF, for Open Document Format, was adopted in 2006, following a proposal of the OASIS consortiumi, by the International Standards Organization (ISO)ii, of which AFNOR is the French member.

The openness of this format is made possible by the use of XML (eXtensible Markup Language), a W3C Recommandationiii which has been very widely used since its introduction in 1998. It is the first electronic document format which benefits from the time of its introduction with support in software products (, KOffice, StarOffice, online Google tools...) and a community of users.

Numerous public administrations (in North America, Latin America, but especially in Europe) have taken steps encouraging, and sometimes imposing, the use of the ODF format in administrations. In France, the General Reference for Interoperability (RGI)iv defined by the General Management of State Modernization recommends the use by administrations of this ODF format, cited under its International Standard ISO/CEI 26300 reference. Other, similar initiatives exist, notably, in Europe, Belgium and Denmark; across the Atlantic, the federal states of Massachussetts, Minnesota, and Texas have also taken similar measures.


The company Microsoft, which has dominated the market for office productivity software since the 1980s, has proposed an alternative format from its software suite Office 2007 to an association of industrial firms from the information technology sector, ECMA Internationalv. The latter endorsed it in 2006 as industrial standard ECMA 376. A specific workgroup headed by Microsoft was specially created within ECMA to coordinate this work (ECMA TC45).

An association originally created by European computer manufacturers (under the name European Computer Manufacturers Association), ECMA has established a longstanding relationship with the ISO which allows it to propose standards for international recognition.

ECMA therefor submitted this format to the ISO using the predefined procedure.

A virtuous circle?

We can highlight a circular effect around the ISO standard:

  • The recognition by the ISO of industrial standards simplifies their use in electronic administration (for example, the French RGI),
  • This deployment by large organizations encourages industrial firms to seek the status of ISO Standard for their specifications.


The procedure used in this particular casevi consists of two successive inquiries conducted with the national members of the ISO:

1. The first phase of the inquiry, 30 days long, was completed on Monday, February 5, 2007. This inquiry was meant to identify possible contradictions between the proposed text and existing international standards.

  • Concerning this first phase, AFNOR identified the possibility of contradictions between certain international standards and the ECMA document, following discussions in the relevant committee.
  • 20 countries in total expressed themselves on this question and submitted comments. It should be noted that in the absence of consensus, the USA (represented by ANSI - the American National Standards Institute) did not wish to make any comments.
  • This will result in further examination and appropriate responses from ECMA, whose response is awaited by February 28th. The ISO will then determine the calendar of the second phase.
2. The second phase is an inquiry of 5 months on the opportunity to give this document the status of ISO Standard. The member countries of the ISO must then determine when the time comes between the following options:
  • approval,
  • rejection duly justified,
  • abstention, notably in the hypothesis that the relevant committee cannot come to a decision by consensus.
In such a case, to prepare its position, AFNOR will submit the ISO proposal to a national probationary inquiry of 2 months, published in the Journal Officiel and open to all, the results of which will be thoroughly scrutinized by the relevant committee.

The ISO's decision will then be taken with the approval of at least 2/3 of the countries and the rejection of fewer than 1/4 of the countries.


The relevant committee put in place by AFNOR is a coordination group entitled "Information Technology General Commission".

This committee is an open structure which includes, on a voluntary basis, information technology firms, telecom operators, specialized services companies, public administration representatives, user groups.

Two government representatives in particular (Ministry of the Economy/General Management of State Modernization/Department of Development of Electronic Administration and Ministry of National Education) participated in the meeting which drafted the comments for the first phase.

Other concerned parties may be invited. AFNOR has notably a rule that any concerned party having emitted observations during the probationary phase of the inquiry be invited to defend their observation.

Taking into account the great interest shown by a number of actors on the subject of standardization, AFNOR is prepared to welcome into the relevant committee other representatives of the State or of communities having a direct interest in the subject upon request, in order to further improve the quality of the collective decision.

The Decision-Making Process Within The Committee

The decision will be made by consensus, in other words by the search for a point of view acceptable to the majority of represented sensibilities. There is no vote: it is therefore impossible for an actor or a category of actors to impose a point of view merely by having the greatest number of representatives. If the points of view remain irreconcilable, AFNOR will be led to abstain. However, as in general this is not in anyone's interest, it is rare to not find a common ground, even if this conclusion does not correspond to one or the other's original position.

Other source of information: PRIME (Privacy and Identity Management for Europe) Standardisation Workshop:


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