[clug] OOXML forum (sorry, long)

Mike Carden mike.carden at gmail.com
Fri Dec 14 10:05:42 GMT 2007

> but it it
> worth her knowing that yet another national-level govt. department is
> serious about this. Alas, Australia is falling further and further
> behind in the many opportunities that FOSS opens up for us.

I have hijacked the subject line to change horses here, but NZ is
still on the agenda.

I'm just back from Sydney where I spent the day at UNSW for the
Cyberlaw Centre's OOXML forum.

The day was broken into a technical session in the morning and a legal
session in the afternoon. The Kiwis were very well represented by
Matthew Cruickshank and Colin Jackson. We also had people from the UK,
Hong Kong and USA (via Singapore). One rep from IBM, four from
Microsoft and one from Google. Jeff and Pia Waugh, Alastair from
Standards Australia, at least one IT journalist and li'l ol' me. I
counted 23 people in the room, though some left and some came in but I
think we hovered around that number all day.

The symposium has left me with an increased respect for all involved
in this difficult area of standards, formats, technology and

I feel sorry for the Standards Australia people, and by extension ISO
and other national bodies for the level of attention and emotional
debate that this particular standard has attracted. Such intensely
polarised and widespread input is rare in the Standards world.

We started with an intro by Rick Jelliffe
[http://www.oreillynet.com/pub/au/1712] who, for unrelated reasons, I
happen to have a personal issue with. Leaving aside my biases, I have
to say that Rick delivered an interesting view of ISO and the
standards process drawn from his 18 years of experience in the area.
He made several interesting points about standards in general and this
one in particular that aren't often appreciated by those outside the
Standards world. Not least of which is the idea that it's not meant to
be an adversarial process, it's about finding stuff to agree on.

It happens that Rick did mostly come across in discussion as pretty
much pro-Microsoft. He also kept asserting that making something a
standard doesn't mean anyone has to adopt it, but I think that's
rather disingenuous. My reality is that ISO standards matter to
governments (if to no one else) and governments use lots and lots of
software. So it matters.

Rick was followed by the two very interesting New Zealanders, Matthew
Cruickshank and Colin Jackson. Matthew is the brains behind docvert
http://holloway.co.nz/docvert/ and iso-vote http://iso-vote.com/  I
have had an interest in his stuff for some time because his docvert
and our Xena http://xena.sourceforge.net are both working in the same

These two repeatedly demonstrated the extent to which NZ's FOSS people
are on the ball. They have been on this from the start, know all the
arguments, know the detail of DIS29500 (the OOXML proposed standard)
and know its weak spots. They engaged Rick and Microsoft in lively
debate, later complemented by Lars from Google. Much fun was had.

Greg, Andrew, Oliver and Steve from MS were excellent ambassadors for
their company though. They each engaged positively, and were it not
for the pre-existing history of MS and the wider background of their
dealings, they would have carried the day with their concern,
engagement and professionalism.

The afternoon's session on the legal aspects was perhaps even more
interesting for me because I'm not a lawyer. The opening presentation
by Ronald Yu called into question much of the core of the MS OSP and
CNS (Google 'em if you need 'em). The counter-presentation from Steve
who co-wrote both the OSP and the new MS licences drew heavily on the
idea that MS is only doing what Sun, IBM and Adobe already do. Fun
ensued. Civilised and constructive fun though.

I still have questions and with the intense debate (and the fact that
my employer had gagged me) I had no chance to ask some publicly. In
spite of that, the lads from MS gave every sign of trying very hard to
do the Right Thing[tm].

Like my employer and like the Australian Government Information
Office, I'm a No voter (on making OOXML an ISO standard). I believe
that much is wrong with DIS29500. After today though, I can see that
once the more emotional extremes are laid aside, the various parties
may actually make something that we can all benefit from.

MC - Egads, that should have been a blog post!

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