Last week I reported that the United States body reviewing OOXML had decided to take a conservative approach to defining what "contradiction" should mean under the ISO/IEC process. Since then, a few stories have appeared indicating that Great Britain and Malaysia would each identify at least one contradiction in their response. The actual results would only become known after the deadline had passed on February 5.
In that first blog entry, I concluded that Microsoft had won the first point in the contest over whether its document format would become a global standard or not. With the deadline past, who would be found to have won the next?
Well the results are in, and an unprecedented nineteen* countries have responded during the contradictions phase - most or all lodging formal contradictions with Joint Technical Committee 1 (JTC), the ISO/IEC body that is managing the Fast Track process under which OOXML (now Ecma 376) has been submitted. This may not only be the largest number of countries that have ever submitted contradictions in the ISO/IEC process, but nineteen responses is greater than the total number of national bodies that often bother to vote on a proposed standard at all.
[*Update: make that twenty]
When it is recalled that any national body responding would first have had to wade through the entire 6,039 pages of the specification itself, and then compose, debate and approve its response in only 30 days, this result is nothing less than astonishing. Truly, I think that this demonstrates the degree to which the world has come to appreciate the importance of ensuring the long-term accessibility of its historical record, as well as the inadvisability of entrusting that heritage to a single vendor or software program.
The countries that chose to respond on this expedited schedule are as follows:
Italy [later added]
In all (to quote Monty Python once again), "Rather a lot, actually."
According to one story, at least one of these countries (India) was considering responding by abstaining from voting, in protest over the extremely short amount of time provided to review the voluminous specification. Instead, it appears that it opted to knuckle down, finish its review, and submit contradictions instead. In some cases, I am told, the contradictions submitted are brief, while in others they are substantial.
Ordinarily, contradictions would be posted at the JTC1 site relatively quickly. However, in this case I am told, Ecma will be given the opportunity to prepare responses before the contradictions will be posted, with a deadline of February 28. On or before that date, Ecma will respond with its proposed “resolution” for each contradiction. Once this has been received, JTC 1 will publish the response, accompanied by the text of the contradictions themselves, as submitted by the national bodies. At that point, a decision can be made on the next step.
[Update added 2/9/09: What significance should we attach to this many comments being received? See Rob Weir’s post on that topic here, in which he does the math.]
All in all, not a very auspicious start for OOXML. And not one that augers well for a very fast Fast Track experience. It will be interesting to see how Microsoft deals with this slap in the face. One possibility would be to push the national bodies more aggressively than ever to vote for adoption. Another might be to withdraw the specification and prepare a less controversial submission, that is responsive to the many early objections offered, even before the opportunity has been offered to submit technical objections, as compared to contradictions with existing ISO/IEC standards and rules.
Meanwhile, ODF continues to move forward, with version 1.1 being adopted as an OASIS standard, and bills being submitted in both Minnesota and Texas to require open document formats. I’ll be posting a blog entry on that topic later tonight.
For further blog entries on ODF, click here