The Standards Blog

OpenDocument Approved by ISO/IEC Members

OpenDocument and OOXML

The six month voting window for ISO/IEC adoption of the OASIS OpenDocument Format (ODF) standard closed on May 1, and at midnight (Geneva time) last night it was announced internally that ODF had been approved by the ISO members eligible and interested in casting a vote.  The vote passed with broad participation and no negative votes (there were a few abstentions), and ODF is now ISO/IEC 26300.  While there are still some procedural steps internal to ISO/IEC that are required before the official text of the standard will be finalized and issued, these steps (described below) are formalities rather than gating factors.

With adoption of ODF by ISO/IEC now assured, software that implements the standard will now become more attractive to those European and other government purchasers for whom global adoption by ISO/IEC is either desirable, or required.  Given the ongoing unhappiness in Europe with Microsoft over what the EU regards as unacceptable bundling and other practices, this may be particularly significant, especially when taken with the desire of many European and other purchasers to use open source products whenever possible.  Offerings such as OpenOffice and KOffice therefore should receive a boost in appeal and usage, as well as for-sale versions, such as Sun's StarOffice and IBM's Internet-based offering.

Microsoft's Open XML specification, also headed for consideration by ISO/IEC, is still in process within Ecma.  Upon completion, it would be submitted to the same voting process. 

The remaining formal steps for ODF adoption, as described by Patrick Durusau in a blog entry of mine on March 23 are below (Patrick is the Chairman of the INCITS V1 committee that managed the voting on ODF by interested U.S. parties, and is the Project Editor for the OpenDocument Format submission):

The votes on those ballots are due on May 1, 2006. The votes and any comments will be communicated to the appropriate parties in the ISO process.

Once the votes and comments have been distributed, a ballot resolution meeting will be held to resolve any comments and to determine the text of ODF that will be issued as an International Standard.

The scheduling of the ballot resolution was discussed in SC 34 (a subcommittee of JTC1) and unfortunately the early discussion of a date for that meeting was based on a clerical error in reading the required time delay between the vote and the ballot resolution meeting. The JTC 1 directives were drafted prior to the immediate communication afforded by email and sets a minimum period of two and one-half months between the distribution of the voting results (including comments) and a ballot resolution meeting if necessary.

The return date for votes and comments being May 1, when considered with the JTC 1 rule on scheduling of a ballot resolution meeting *not less than* two and one-half months after distribution of the voting results (including comments) means that the original SC 34 discussion was based on an incorrect reading of the relevant JTC 1 directive.

Assuming agreement on the final text, which is the goal of the ballot resolution meeting, the Convener of the ballot resolution committee (Martin Bryan) and I (as Project Editor) have thirty (30) days to prepare the final report from the ballot resolution meeting and the final text of ODF to be published as an International Standard. Those items are then distributed by the SC 34 Secretariat.

The ballot resolution meeting is most likely going to occur in early August to conform to the two and one-half month requirement. Note that the scheduling of the ballot resolution meeting depends upon the date of the distribution of the voting results and so there is some uncertainty at this point on the exact dates for the ballot resolution meeting. That is a clerical issue and not one of substance.

I am expecting that press releases will be issued by several organizations and others today, and will update this blog entry later in the day as those announcements become available.

Update: 10:00 EDT:  From a press release issued at this hour by the ODF Alliance, the organization formed in March (now with over 150 members) to support and educate potential government adopters of ODF:

Washington, DC - The OpenDocument Format Alliance (ODF Alliance), a broad cross-section of associations, academic institutions and industry dedicated to solving the problem of improving access and retrieval of electronic government documents, today congratulated the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) for its sweeping approval of the OpenDocument Format as an international standard.

"Approval of the OpenDocument Format by ISO marks an important milestone in the effort to help governments solve the very real problem of finding a better way to preserve, access and control their documents now and in the future," said Marino Marcich, Executive Director of the ODF Alliance. "There's no doubt that this broad vote of support will serve as a springboard for adoption and use of ODF around the world. At the same time, it also represents a milestone for the ODF Alliance, which in just weeks has seen a groundswell of support and continues to grow everyday."

The full text of the press release is here.

For further blog entries on ODF, click here

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Dear Andy,

I work for Finnish Customs but my opinions are my private ones. I do enjoy your blog, thank you very much for that.

Question about essence of standard has puzzled me since the announcement from Microsoft about Ecma/ISO process for MS Open XML format. I can understand parallel standards for competing standards organizations representing competing financial interests. Just to make my point I refer to ISO Multiannual Strategic plan 2005 - 2010  " materialize the aim of "one standard..." ".

So, if ISO would approve later MS OpenXML as a ISO standard as a parallel standard to ODF 1.0, it would under undermine the core essence of signifigance of standard.

May 4, 2006

Markku Oraviita

First, thanks for the kind words about my blog.

With respect to multiple standards covering the same need:  in an absolute sense, you are correct in saying that more than one standard for the same purpose is a bad thing.  However, it is often the case that what look like multiple standards for the same purpose turn out not to be for exactly the same thing.  For example, in the early days of wireless standards, Bluetooth, WiFi, HomeRF and other efforts all purported to be right to link individual PCs into networks, with Bluetooth looking more to the office environment.  Over time, Bluetooth became an accepted and useful standard for purposes other than individual PC networking, WiFi took over the home and office networking space, and HomeRF died out entirely.

So in this case, starting multiple standards was a good thing, since choosing (for example) HomeRF to start would, in hindsight, now look like a bad idea.

An established market that was looking to become standardized is generally not a good place to have multiple standards that really do address the same need, nor is it a good idea to have multiple formats where the intention is to take over a market solely for proprietary purposes (such as charging royalties).  The video space provides too many sad examples of this phenomenon (e.g., VHS/Betamax and Blu-Ray and HD-DVD).

Be all that as it may, ISO rules to do not preclude multiple standards.  This is in some ways more understandable when one remembers that ISO has been around since before the advent of information technology.  As a result, there is a place for regional and other standards involving physical goods where (for example) local conditions may be different.

Unfortunately, these same rules apply in ISO for all types of standards.  Since IT and CT standards relate almost by definition to non-physical standards, multiple standards of this type will less frequently prove to be a good thing.