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ISO approval: A good process gone bad

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You may have read our background article about ODF and OOXML and why Red Hat believes OOXML should not be approved as an ISO standard. This time, we focus on how the standardization process has been compromised at ISO.

ISO’s JTC-1 directives were designed to provide a fair, consensus-based way to design standards that are portable, interoperable, and adaptable to all languages and cultures. The OOXML proposal has suffered from two basic problems: (1) voting irregularities, and (2) the use of a fast-track process for a complex, new, large specification that has not received adequate industry review. The resulting specification was driven almost exclusively by one vendor, has not achieved industry consensus, and has had thousands of issues logged against it, largely due to issues involving implementability, portability, and interoperability. Although resolutions have been proposed for many of the issues that have been raised, there is virtually no time to review these resolutions to determine whether they fix the problems. And the voting irregularities have raised serious issues with the fairness of the process.

Stuffing the ballot box

For a standards body to have credibility, the procedures it follows need to be credible. ISO’s JTC-1 directives say that the “objective in the development of International Standards should be the achievement of consensus between those concerned rather than a decision based on counting votes.”1 Clearly, there has been no achievement of consensus regarding the adoption of OOXML as a standard, and therefore ISO has turned to a voting process.

We believe that the flaws in the ISO voting process for OOXML are so serious that they must be addressed in order to maintain ISO’s credibility as a standards body.

More Here

Whither ISO

“This year WG1 have had another major development that has made it almost impossible to continue with our work within ISO. The influx of P members whose only interest is the fast-tracking of ECMA 376 as ISO 29500 has led to the failure of a number of key ballots. Though P members are required to vote, 50% of our current members, and some 66% of our new members, blatantly ignore this rule despite weekly email reminders and reminders on our website. As ISO require at least 50% of P members to vote before they start to count the votes we have had to reballot standards that should have been passed and completed their publication stages at Kyoto. This delay will mean that these standards will appear on the list of WG1 standards that have not been produced within the time limits set by ISO, despite our best efforts.

The disparity of rules for PAS, Fast-Track and ISO committee generated standards is fast making ISO a laughing stock in IT circles. The days of open standards development are fast disappearing. Instead we are getting “standardization by corporation”, something I have been fighting against for the 20 years I have served on ISO committees. I am glad to be retiring before the situation becomes impossible. I wish my colleagues every success for their future efforts, which I sincerely hope will not prove to be as wasted as I fear they could be.”

–Martin Bryan, ISO Escapee
Formerly Convenor, ISO/IEC JTC1/SC34 WG1

For those looking for better bodies, consider IEEE and OASIS.

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