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The making of an open standard

Input and flexibility are critical for the process to be effective

Published: August 21, 2007 | Updated: August 21, 2007

When Office Open XML went through the standardization process at Ecma International, substantial changes were made to the specification over the course of the intense one-year collaborative development cycle. This made sense – the members of the Ecma technical committee that developed the original specification invested valuable time and expertise into the process to ensure that the final specification is a robust, complete roadmap for working with the format. The significant investments from this group of government and private sector organizations (including Apple, Novell, Intel, Toshiba, NextPage, BP, Statoil, Essilor, Barclays Capital, the British Library and the U.S. Library of Congress) is representative of the high quality that has gone into hundreds of standards Ecma International has overseen throughout its nearly 50 year history.

September 2nd is the end of the ballot period and the deadline for ISO/IEC National Bodies to cast their initial vote on whether Ecma Office Open XML should be ratified by ISO/IEC. The ballot closure is an important milestone, but is by no means the end. September 3rd begins the final stage of the process, which will run through what is known as the Ballot Resolution Meeting (BRM). This is a gathering of National Bodies and the submitting organization (in this case, Ecma International) to discuss comments raised during the balloting stage. The BRM is likely to be scheduled after January 2008. The ISO/IEC National Bodies will cast their final vote on ratification a month or so later. They can cast whatever vote they like (including changing a “yes” to a “no”), ensuring that their voice is heard throughout the entire process.

The goal of standardization process, whether with Ecma International or ISO/IEC or another standards body, is to refine a specification to achieve a positive consensus around its formal adoption. As such, changes are commonplace, and reflective of the fact that no specification is perfect. With input received from technical experts around the world, the process is designed to improve and adapt the final resulting standard.

Ecma International has made clear [http://www.ecma-international.org/memento/TC45-M.htm] that all National Body comments will be addressed in its response circulated in advance of the BRM, regardless of whether they are part of a “yes”, “no” or “abstain” vote. This is consistent with Ecma International’s interest in seeing Office Open XML improved through the ISO/IEC process. Microsoft strongly supports a robust BRM process for Office Open XML – regardless of the results of the September ballot. We value the thoughtful questions and constructive criticisms raised during the balloting phase and, as a member of the Ecma International technical committee for Office Open XML, will encourage Ecma International to propose editorial and technical changes to the specification to address National Body comments.

We are one of several voices in the Ecma process, but at least these types of changes make sense to us.

As we have said in the past, information technology users and the IT industry that serves them should have choice among document format standards. We believe in both the Ecma International and ISO/IEC standardization process and look forward to the further refinement and adoption of Open XML in ISO/IEC.

Tom Robertson
General Manager
Interoperability and Standards

Jean Paoli
General Manager
Interoperability and XML Architecture