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To read comments to this article, go here
ISO puts out a face-saving (it hopes) FAQ
Tuesday, April 15 2008 @ 03:40 PM EDT

Here's a new ISO FAQ that it hopes will convince you that it did a fine job handling the OOXML standards process. In it, it hints that it can withdraw approval of OOXML if Microsoft misbehaves about patents in the future:
What about hidden patent issues?

The ISO/IEC/ITU patent policy requires that licenses be available on reasonable and non-discriminatory terms and conditions to all patents needed to implement an ISO/IEC International Standard and/or ITU Recommendation, and that all identified patent owners make a declaration to that effect.

Microsoft, the holder of patents involved in the implementation of ISO/IEC 29500, has made such a declaration to ISO and IEC. If, after publication of the standard, it is determined that licenses to all required patents are not so available, one option would be to withdraw the International Standard.

By that they must mean they'll withdraw it if Microsoft misbehaves going *forward*. They surely didn't care about the way Microsoft dragged us all to this neck of the woods. The Microsoft OSP is discriminatory already, so as it is implemented, it will have to be implemented in a discriminatory way, because it was written that way. Patents and Linux and FOSS don't mix. So RAND terms in Microsoft's hands are discriminatory. Period. There is no escape from that problem.

So the standards world will have to decide if it cares about open standards and Open Source. Microsoft will kill it off otherwise, using patents on standards to enforce lock-in.

Dear ISO, damage control doesn't work, if you let the damage remain. That's like putting out a statement that if an oil spill you caused does any damage in the future, you'll clean it up right away, but for now, you'll leave the spill in place and wait to see what happens going forward. Oil spills need to be cleaned up before they do more damage.

ISO tries to also explain having two standards for document formats:

The ICT industry has a long history of developing multiple standards providing similar functionalities. After a period of co-existence, it is basically the market that decides which survives.

Oh, you mean when Microsoft told us OOXML was for something altogether different from ODF, that wasn't true? Well, how do you like that? So, the *market* decides. And here I thought it was Microsoft forcing itself on us.

I see what ISO means. A monopoly has a standard and 90% of the desktops. Along comes a standard that really works, but only cutting edge and technically savvy people who understand that a standard should work for everyone, not just the monopoly, explain to the world how it will help you avoid vendor lock-in and interoperability problems the monopoly is historically noted for, and somehow it is supposed to "win" in the market. Son, when there is a monopoly stranglehold on a market, no one "chooses". The monopoly is the default. You have to work hard to escape, as ISO has so vividly demonstrated. Here's the FAQ's response to that:

In this particular case, some claim that the Open Document Format (ODF), which is also an ISO/IEC standard (ISO/IEC 26300) and ISO/IEC 29500 are competing solutions to the same problem, while others claim that ISO/IEC 29500 provides additional functionalities, particularly with regard to legacy documents.

The ability to have both as International Standards was something that needed to be decided by the market place. ISO and IEC and their national members provided the JTC 1 infrastructure that facilitated such a decision by the market players.

There is a difference between market *place* and market *players*. Microsoft is a player, and we all saw how fairly they play. The market place tried to speak, and we were called emotional or secret operatives for a market player. For shame, ISO, for shame. So, after the monopoly-distorted market "chooses" OOXML and "kills" ODF, as the FAQ suggests, I'm sure ISO will withdraw OOXML. Not. And even if it did, the poor victim of Microsoft's litigation pincer move will not benefit. It will be too late.

What about the contradictions? They tell us it's none of our business. If they find any, they'll fix them in the maintenance process, which is like selling you a car with four different sizes of tires and assuring that that if you see it's a problem, you can always bring it in for maintenance:

What about contradictions with other ISO and IEC Standards?

A number of such claimed contradictions were identified during the one-month JTC 1 fast-track review period, prior to its release for voting and comment. The submitter, Ecma International, responded to these comments at the end of the review period.

Some of these comments were reflected in national body comments on the fast-track Draft International Standard (DIS). These comments, e.g. the non-alignment with ISO 8601, Data elements and interchange formats Information interchange Representation of dates and times, were dealt with in the ballot resolution meeting (BRM).

It is possible that others may still remain, but these can be taken care of during the maintenance of the standard. In all cases, the final decision on whether there are contradictions and how to resolve them rests with the national members of ISO and IEC.

Standards are supposed to at least work out of the gate. No? Too naive?

To those who think that ISO showed itself to be broken, and noticed some irregularities, ISO has a word for you: butt out. They have it under control and the fox will clean out the henhouse without your help:

Will ISO and IEC review how ISO/IEC 29500 was adopted?

We reviewed the process before it started, all the while during its course and afterwards as well. While the voting on ISO/IEC 29500 has attracted exceptional publicity, it needs to be put in context. ISO and IEC have collections of more than 17 000 and 7 000 successful standards respectively, these being revised and added to every month. This suggests that the standards development process is credible, works well and is delivering the standards needed, and widely implemented, by the market. Because continual improvement is an underlying aim of standardization, ISO and IEC will certainly be continuing to review and improve its standards development procedures.

I am sure you are relieved to hear it. Anyway, now you know. If Microsoft plays dirty with patents, ISO might withdraw OOXML as a standard. And as we've seen watching the OOXML standards process play out, when ISO says something, they reeeeeally, reeeally mean it.


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