ISO blows fanfare for OOXML

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With the elan of an international standards organisation, the International Standards Organisation has declared Microsoft's OOXML document format will be an international standard.

There are now two incompatible, international document standards on which the world can conduct its discourse, manage its business, and record its archives: Odf, which was produced by the people, for the people; and OOXML, which was produced by Microsoft, the convicted monopolist.

Odf and OOXML are now squared up for a fight to the death. ISO has said there can ultimately be only one document standard, and "the market decides which survives".

ISO rang the starting bell yesterday when it said that it had cleared OOXML after considering appeals against its decision to approve Microsoft's standard. Complaints by Brazil, India, South Africa and Venezuela were not supported by the requisite two-thirds of votes from the appeals boards of the ISO and the IEC, its partner in pedantry.

There is time yet for more appeals before OOXML gets its official sanction as ISO/IEC standard number 29500 "in the next few" weeks, said ISO.

But the conflict has already evolved beyond the standards awards and into the real world, where questions are being asked in important places about the influence powerful companies have in deciding matters like the format in which the world communicates.

The European Commission's ongoing investigation of all matters Microsoft has encompassed ISO's approval process, the implication being that Microsoft might have had an improper influence over it. Being reticent at the best of times, ISO indicated yesterday how much impact these allegations made.

"Experiences from the ISO/IEC 29500 process will also provide important input to ISO and IEC and their respective national bodies and national committees in their efforts to continually improve standards development policies and p rocedures," it said.

But the substance of the real world struggle for supremacy between the two standards will also consider more fundamental questions that are of increasing relevance in a world of global corporations and communications.

How do proprietary standards help a monopolist shore up its position and to what extent do they stifle competition? Now OOXML is now recognised officially as open standard of sorts, the matter is not quite to clear cut. (c) 2010 Incisive Media

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