ISOC.nl regrets absence of Netherlands decision on OOXML
On August 16th 2007 the final meeting of NEN NC 381034 "Behandeling en uitwisseling van tekst", the Netherlands' mirror committee of ISO/JTC 1 SC 34 resulted in an "abstain without comments" which places the Netherlands outside of the remainder of the DIS 29500 process.
Since the start of DIS 29500 the Netherlands committee worked very hard for several months in a constructive and positive manner on taking away the technical and legal concerns that lived among members of the committee. The committee can be commended for its professional and correct disregard of the international turbulence around this specific standard, and working towards a joint result worthy of the ISO process.
The result of this intensive process was that during the last meeting on the subject on August 16th 2007 in Delft - where the vote was to be cast - after a majority rejection of a proposal for an "Approval" a final proposal for a so called conditional approval (i.e.: a no vote that would turn into a yes vote if a number of reasonable and already determined conditions were met at the next stage) almost got unanimous support - from all but the local support branch of Microsoft. This isolated position caused the vote to fail and the Netherlands to automatically vote for an "Abstain".
From the view of the international standardisation process Internet Society Netherlands feels that a submitting organisation of a standard should not actively seek to influence the local decision process in such a way. There were no technical reasons stated and therefore the persistent block of this vote should be considered as tactical and predetermined - best characterised by the fact that Microsoft staff had already told journalists some hours before the meeting that the Netherlands were going to abstain. A prewritten press release by Microsoft sent out immediately after the meeting mentions also an "Abstain", but was not updated to the surprising factual outcome of the meeting - which was that the technical comments and problems that were unilaterally agreed upon by the committee will not be submitted to ISO.
This surprising result was the outcome of a lenghty discussion on whether or not it was fair to those members that had submitted several more controversial comments earlier that - without consensus on the compromise that had been worked on for months - these comments would not be included. This included some fundamental comments such as the mandatory use of ISO date codes, exclusive usage of the Gregorian calender (according to ISO 681), problems with intellectual property rights, etc). In addition some felt that during the process they had agreed on many comments to be ameliorated ('censored') in order to come to that same compromise. Without that compromise they would like to submit the original versions. The committee subsequently failed to get consensus on sending all comments. Therefore it will now not share any of its findings with ISO.
The result of both decisions (no vote, no comments) is that the Netherlands places itself out of the rest of the decision process and will no longer play any role in the further process of ISO/JTC1 DIS 29500. Internet Society Netherlands shares the view of many standards veterans around the world that Microsoft Open XML DIS 29500 was not mature for the ISO process yet. Work within the Netherlands committee was very focussed on contributing to technically improving Office Open XML to make it just that. Internet Society Netherlands as the longest sitting member on the Netherlands standardisation committee NEN NC 381034 "Behandeling en uitwisseling van tekst", regrets this outcome as it had invested a large amount of time and effort into the DIS 29500 process. The Netherlands produced some unique and techically relevant comments and technical solutions that would help the future of OOXML as a potential international standard but now they will not be used as such.
ISOC.nl recommends that the ISO procedures - and more specific the Fast Track procedure - be adapted significantly to better deal with controversial standards like DIS 29500/Office Open XML in order for ISO to maintain relevant. This includes demanding two interoperable and independent full implementations prior to accepting a submission for a Fast Track procedure.
The Hague, August 17th 2007
In a number of countries like the USA, Italy, Switzerland and Portugal much heated controversy arose around committeedressing and outside manipulation of votes within the process. There was also controversy around a money prize announced by a private foundation for the person or organisation to find the best arguments for national bodies to influence the standards process. The Netherlands committee distanced itself univocally from such activities and took proper precautions to block any such behaviour during this procedure.