I like GROKLAW and think Microsoft is always worth the wariness you should afford any territorial bull elephant, or even a meek kindly HIV-vaccinatin’ elephant,
but a recent GROKLAW article
about Microsoft joining the US committee which will deal with some technical and procedural aspects of ISO standardization
of both the OASIS OpenDocument Format and MIcrosoft’s proprietary competitor through ECMA disappointed me.
I have been involved in that world (ISO SC34 in particular) for more than a decade now, and her (GROKLAW’s) concerns do not seem realistic to me.
For a start, standards are voted on by national bodies. So even if Microsoft got membership on all the local committees of every country that has a vote, they cannot stop ODF being standardized. You cannot compare ISO with groups like W3C or OASIS where corporation representatives get a direct vote on final issues. Cynics might say that one reason for the anti-ISO message that periodically erupts from some large companies stem from their lack of ability to influence ISO standards as strongly as they can influence other standards bodies. Now if the MIcrosoft representative or their cypher had the job of counting the votes then there would be the possibility of fraudulent miscounting or “losing” ballots, I suppose. But the interest in these standards and minimal diligence by national bodies in verifying that their cast vote was counted easily addresses this. Back to reality: there is oversight from Ken Holman on behalf of the Canadian standards body, Martin Bryan on behalf of the UK body, both of whom I know quite well, and neither of whom are Microsoft stooges.
So I don’t see how Microsoft can prevent ODF. And EXCMA fast-tracking is no faster than OASIS fast-tracking in SC34. But GROKLAW worries about Microsoft using legitimate procedural tricks to slow ODF down.
My initial reaction is “let them!” The more review that a standard gets, the better it is. A delay in ISO rubberstamping will not really affect uptake or implementation that much, in this case.
Actually, I don’t expect Microsoft would use those tactics in order to get their proprietary schemas rubberstamped first, because the other team could just adopt the same tactics.
I don’t see much opportunity for endless delay here. ISO has a deadline operating by which guarantees that stalled processes die, and a strong committee chairman and sympathetic committee members at INCITS can be expected to stare down silliness. I know one of the committee members, Lynn Price (she was the first person to get a PhD in markup issues, I believe): though I think she would support efforts to make sure ODF and Microsoft’s fake standard format were properly scrutinized, I doubt she would would support obvious delaying tactics. If INCITS somehow became ineffective on ODF, I would expect SC34 to sideline them, anyway.
Of course Microsoft will appoint someone to manage their ISO fast-tracking. What do people expect? I think many SC34 people will welcome Microsoft to the table as I certainly do; they have so much to offer (err, I am not soliciting bribes, I mean they have a lot to offer technically :-) However, it is possible that Microsoft’s ECMA fasttracking will have a tougher time than ODF’s OASIS fast-tracking, because of the strong feeling of some of us at least that even when rubberstamping an pre-existing standard there needs to room to resolve problematic parts and tweak things according to the SC34 vision. Some of these are easy window-dressing: for example, I am sure the Japanese members of SC34 would be happier with a schema expresed using RELAX NG as the normative version, and XSD as an informative version. And I think other members would be happy if it were clear that the Microsoft formats included no special hooks to proprietary and non-standard Windows APIs unless they were expressed in a URI syntax that allowed non-Windows uses. Think graceful degradation.
One of the most interesting things about Microsoft attempting to standardize one of their own proprietary formats is that it may not actually give them the advantage they seek. What happens when Microsoft wants to evolve their format? If they add a new attribute or whatever, suddenly Word produces non-standard data which will be rejected by any validation tool; procurement officers would then take Word and Office off the list of software which supports standards, and the whole exercise would be in vain. It would be in Microsoft’s interests for the ISO version of their schemas to be as open and flexible as possible, especially for allowing elements and attributes in different namespaces. (Cue knee-jerk embrace-and-extend concerns…!)
What I expect will happen is this: ODF and Microsoft will get their ISO rubberstamp, with some edifying tweaking on the edges. Word will offer saving to the ISO standard format as an option, but within some small time Microsoft will evolve their product and the ISO format will be just one of the alternate output choices. So procurement officers and corporate schema governance officers wanting to ensure a level playing field need to consider whether they will get what they want if the default save format is not the ISO standard format, but an incompatible enhanced one which reflects the internals of the product as it evolves. The same issue is true for ODF. Procurement and governance need to ask the question “Is it enough to provide import and export to the ISO standard format, or must this be settable as the default format for saving documents?” Otherwise, they may as well be saving RTF or HTML.
Welcome to ISO have a nice day