SABS, the National Body member of ISO/IEC JTC1 for South Africa, has filed a formal appeal with both ISO and IEC, challenging the Fast Track adoption of OOXML. With the filing of this formal appeal, DIS 29500 is now formally in limbo (i.e., cannot become an approved standard) until the appeal has been addressed.
The cited basis for South Africa's appeal is found in the following text of Clause 11.1.2 of the applicable Directives:
A P Member of JTC1 or an SC may appeal against any action or inaction, on the part of JTC 1 or an SC when the P member considers that in such action or inaction:
- questions of principle are involved;
- the contents of a draft may be detrimental to the reputation of IEC or ISO; or
- the point giving rise to objection was not known to JTC 1 or SC during earlier discussions.
The identical three page letters, signed by Mr. M. Kuscus, Chief Executive Officer of SABS, include other concerns not directly based upon the language of the Directives, as follows:
In addition, South Africa wishes to register its deep concern over the increasing tendency of international organizations to use the JTC 1 processes to circumvent the consensus-building process that is the cornerstone to the success and international acceptance of ISO and IEC standards. The ability of large multi-national organizations to influence many national bodies, with the resultant block-voting over-riding legitimate issues raised by other countries, is also of concern.
The letter then gives detailed arguments supporting its appeal under each of the subclauses (discussed below in greater detail), and gives the following summary in closing:
In conclusion, South Africa challenges the validity of a final vote that we contend was based upon inadequate information resulting from a poorly conducted BRM. Moreover, we challenge the validity of a process that, from beginning to end, required all parties involved to analyze far too much information in far too little time, involved a BRM that did not remotely provide enough time to perform the appointed purpose of that procedure, and for which an arbitrary time limitation was imposed to discuss and resolve a significant number of substantial responses, despite the
Directives not requiring any such limitation as to duration.
It is our opinion that the process followed during all stages of the fast track has harmed the reputations of both ISO and IEC and brought the processes enshrined in the Directives into disrepute, and that this negative publicity has, in turn, also harmed the reputations of all member bodies of ISO and the IEC.
The closing of the letter is both telling as well as ironic, coming just after Microsoft's announcement that it would support ODF in Office 2007, but not DIS 29500, the ISO/IEC JTC 1 version of OOXML, until the as yet unscheduled shipping of Office 14. As a result, the business basis for fast tracking OOXML to begin with - to benefit the enormous installed base of Office users - will be rewarded, at the earliest, in 2010. The Fast Track thus would appear to be a lose-lose all around: a huge imposition on all involved, a lower quality specification at the end than a more deliberative process would have proven, and a damaged reputation for ISO/IEC as well.
The primary bases given for the appeal are as follows:
A failure of the Contradictions process to be run in accordance with the Directives. The one month Contradictions period that begins a fast track process garnered of issues submitted by a number of National Bodies. However, no meeting was called to address these contradictions. The Directives do not require, but do provide for such a meeting when warranted. SABS notes that the Contradictions were not addressed to the satisfaction of the National Bodies, which continued to raise them during the following five-month comment period, indicating to SABS that a meeting was needed to give due consideration to the issues raised.
A failure to achieve consensus on most of the issues that were to be addressed by the BRM. SABS notes that more than three quarters of the issues raised prior to the BRM ("responses") were tabled, and ultimately dispensed with by "blanket voting." SABS calls this decision "procedurally flawed," concluding:
Effectively, this required the national bodies to write a blank checque approving the proposals of the authors of the proposed standard, which is inappropriate for any standard, never mind one that has generated considerable controversy.
The letter also challenges the voting procedure utilized at the meeting, which allowed all attendees, and not just P members, to vote, a controversy that has previously been aired an a variety of blogs, including that of Convenor Alex Brown.
ISO/IEC has failed to release a final version of DIS 29500 and the Meeting Report within 30 days of the close of the BRM: Clause 13.12 of the Directives provides as follows:
In not more than one month after the ballot resolution group meeting the SC Secretariat shall distribute the final report of the meeting and final DIS text in case of acceptance.
The BRM ended on February 29, and although Ecma delivered a revised draft based on the BRM to ISO on March 29 (at the very end of the period during which National Bodies could change their vote), that draft has still not been released, even to the National Bodies. SABS concludes this point with this observation:
Given the magnitude of the specification and the number of identified edits required it was clear that the directive could not have been met. This is the clearest possible indiation that DIS 29500 as submitted by Ecma and as modified by the BRM is not ready for fast track processing. It was not incumbent on the participants of the BRM to modify this clearly stated requirement.
And so, with the implementation of DIS 29500 in Office now postponed for the indefinite future (and therefore, presumably, its implementation by any other vendor as well), the formal post mortem on the process that hatched this orphan standard begins.
The full text of the letter, titled, Appeal from the South African national body regarding the outcome of the fast-track processing of DIS 29500 Office open XML can be found here.
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