SNZ Magazine Article

Over a month ago I was asked to submit an article for Standards NZ official magazine. That is an offline publication but it was released this week. Here is the article I submitted, it appears alongside a piece by Brett Roberts of Microsoft:

Don Christie of the NZOSS Discusses why he is Against the OOXML Standard

The Standards NZ press release announcing its recent decision to vote against Microsoft's proposed OOXML standard states what has been obvious to technical experts across the world:

"In September 2007 Standards New Zealand voted against adoption of the specification because of stakeholder concerns about technical omissions, errors, and inconsistencies within the draft Standard, as well as harmonisation, interoperability, and intellectual property concerns."

That these same concerns remained at the end of the fast-track process was equally obvious. The fact that reputable National Bodies like SNZ and Canada voted against OOXML was a pointer to the fact that something was very wrong with this proposal.

Equally alarming were the reports of irregularities in other countries' National Bodies. In Sweden there were reports of people voting twice. In many countries there have been complaints about people joining as members at the last minute and voting in technical committees. In the Netherlands irregularities forced the NB to abstain
throughout. Norway's decision has resulted in a demonstration in the street! The European Union is investigating the entire process in its member states.

We have seen many countries signing up as P members at the last minute - countries which do not have a long history of software standardisation. It is telling that the head of Cote d'Ivoire's delegation, for instance, was from Senegal. And it's noticeable that some of the countries signing up at the last minute have been demoted from P status again after they failed to turn up at the ballot resolution meeting.

It is clear that everyone associated with this process has been subject to intense lobbying.

It's against this backdrop that Standards New Zealand has run its consultation. SNZ has been very careful to be fair throughout the process, bending over backwards, it seemed, to ensure that there could be no taint to its decision. And that decision was the only one that could be made: the world does not need two standards for
document formats.

This last point is crucial. A single standard for each domain greatly benefits consumers by allowing people to interoperate and by encouraging competition. The Internet could not have happened without
the enforcement of a single network standard - TCP/IP. Previous attempts attempts at large public networks using proprietary standards have disappeared and the Internet has become the world biggest engine
for technical innovation.

This whole appalling process happened because Microsoft has refused to implement support for the existing world standard for document formats - despite being asked to so by by clients like the UK Government.
Microsoft is worried about competition to its products from free alternatives, especially in the lucrative government market. The world will pay the price for its response in continuing to pay for unnecessary
software, in the lack of interoperability of standard office documents, and in missing out on whatever innovation that could have arisen from a common open document standard.

MSOffice is a USD$10 billion revenue generator for the company. When ODF was made an ISO standard, Microsoft felt it had to react quickly as certain governments have procurement policies which prefer ISO standards.

Simply put, ISO has been used for the commercial gain of one company, as have many national bodies and thousands of hard-working technical people who have contributed to this process around the world. And the final result?

Over a month [now 2 months] after ISO approval no-one has actually seen the document ISO has approved. Despite this we are now being asked to continue to trust an obviously failed process and continue to participate, presumably "for the good of all", in improving a standard whose light is well hidden by an impenetrable bushel. Our big concern now is that ISO has made itself irrelevant in the world of ICT standardisation and any future ICT standard produced by this body will be equally worthless.

Fortunately Standards NZ did run a process that was beyond reproach. That is what all the participants stated on a number of occasions and New Zealand demonstrated, once again, why it has such a favourable ranking on the international measures of corruption.