Wednesday, April 2, 2008

ISO controversy over Microsoft OOXML standard

From Aaron Shaw's Weblog, we learn that Microsoft has, it would appear, won the lengthy battle to have its Open Office XML format designated as "standard" by the ISO, which has in effect reversed a vote it took in September 2007 against such a course of action. New York Times has a (very basic) story here; Shaw's blog deals with it in considerably more critical detail here and here.

The New York Times piece does not, in its passing mention of Microsoft's "intense lobbying campaign" and the "pressure" applied by the company on ISO members, do justice in any way to the scale of the controversy surrounding this decision. The Chair of the Norwegian standardisation body, Standard Norge, wrote to the ISO asking for the "yes" vote of the Norwegian delegation to be suspended, as the decision did "not reflect the view of the vast majority of the Norwegian committee, 80% of which was against changing Norway’s vote from No with comments to Yes". (More detail and links on the Norwegian element of the controversy can be found here). Further, Jomar Silva, a Brazilian delegate (one of the countries that still voted against) has posted his own account of what went on, and how the vote was manipulated in favour of Microsoft.

These obviously raise serious GAL issues in terms of the decision-making processes and procedures at the International Organisation for Standardisation, particularly with reference to the rules and mechanisms that it has, as a private body charged with what is in effect a public (standard setting) regulatory function, established in order to protect itself from the risk of regulatory capture by powerful private interests. The global administrative law of the ISO is something that requires careful research (and, indeed, is receiving just that from some scholars already); after this controversy, one suspects that whatever protections against capture are in place, they might not be sufficient.

**UPDATE** It's official.

1 comment:

Ismael said...

This post raises many important problems! Further details about the ISO process may be read here (
Anyway, one effect of the decision adopted by ISO will be an increasing use of Microsoft standard within public sector. Many public administrations, in fact, will probably choose this standard - now that it has been approved by ISO - in order to file their documents. Such an other case of private standard adopted by public bodies!