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ISO: there can be only one

Microsoft OOXML or open ODF?
Thu Jun 12 2008, 17:28

ONLY ONE STANDARD type of electronic document will survive the struggle for supremacy between convicted monopolist Microsoft and the Open Source movement, said the world's leading standards regulator.

A regulatory scrum has formed around the question of whether the architecture of the world's electronic documents and archives should be designed by the Microsoft cowpowayshen or the Open Source cooperation.

The outcome of that struggle has been foretold by Alan Brydon, secretary general of the International Standards Organisation (ISO), arguably the world's chief pedant. Brydon told the INQUIRER: "Naturally, its desirable that there is only one international standard. The market seems to be going for two. But eventually one international standard will be listed."

But which will out? The proprietary standard that officials fear might help Microsoft shore up its dominant market position and stifle competition? Or the little-used but much-loved exercise in heart-warming, organic fellowship called ODF?

The ISO's decision in April, along with fellow aedile the International Electrotecnical Commission, to award Microsoft's OOXML document standard an international certification was tarnished by something of a revolt led by supporters of ODF, a standard that had already been certified. Amidst international appeals, a street protest, law suit and a European Commission anti-trust investigation, the New York state government said the two standards were both as bad as each other.

It requested that chief techies of all US state governments get behind a campaign to make the ISO merge the Microsoft and ODF standards into one. Brydon refused to say whether he thought one standard would emerge because the ISO would merge them or whether one would win over the other. But he was careful to note that he was not supposed to speak about things.

He might be best placed to say them, but his role at the ISO is merely to facilitate the process by which national standards bodies reach consensus among themselves over which standards out to be ratified or not. In this case, he says, "the market" has delivered two standards. But serious questions are being asked about how much say the market has in deciding the fate of Microsoft's document format.

OOXML's role in shoring up Microsoft's dominant market position is not only the subject of an EC investigation, but the subject of a long-running disagreement with the UK's education sector and the substance of appeals made to the ISO about its certification. NY state said that Microsoft itself had suggested the ISO merge OOXML and ODF into one format, on the eve of the ISO meeting that endorsed the software giant's standard.

Microsoft was unavailable to comment. So was the IEC. µ


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