Shuttleworth Foundation backs ISO ruling
The Shuttleworth Foundation has announced its support for the decision by the The International Organisation for Standardisation (ISO) to reject the Microsoft-driven bid to fasttrack the OOXML document format as a second official standard.
The foundation’s intellectual property fellow, Andrew Rens, explained the key reasons as being that the OOXML format is proprietary and that it would impact negatively on open access to have a second standard when the community-developed Open Document Format (ODF) already exists as a recognised standard.
Rens explained: "The use of two different document standards by governments, for example, would create a barrier to citizens being able to effectively access government information. It would also hinder the general sharing of information because it would create technical difficulties for people using different formats."
Rens added that the Microsoft-developed OOXML format was not fully open.
Rens explained that prior to the ISO ballot closing on 2 September 2007, a technical sub-committee of the South African Bureau of Standards (SABS) rejected the standard by 13 votes to 4 and resolved to recommend that South Africa should vote against the adoption of OOXML as an international standard.
The proposed standard was rejected for various technical reasons, including concerns about possible intellectual property rights claims against those implementing OOXML.
"OOXML is based on proprietary software," stated Rens.
"Internationally a number of doubts have been raised as to whether the intellectual property undertakings by Microsoft to not litigate against users of the proposed standard are sufficient. In South Africa there is an additional problem because Microsoft has a number of patent claims in respect of XML formatting that it does not hold in other countries, such as the US. For South Africans to be able to use the format without fear of being sued by Microsoft, those claims would have to be dealt with appropriately," Rens stated.
Rens explained that having two opposing open document standards would re-introduce the problem the one standard would not be adequately compatible with the other.
The foundation cautioned, however, that the ruling made by ISO was tentative and OOXML could still be considered by ISO as part of a longer process.
"According to the Shuttleworth Foundation, this possibility represents a threat to access to information," said Rens. "Multiple formats, especially proprietary formats, present an unnecessary barrier to access to knowledge. The Shuttleworth Foundation remains committed to defending the rights of South Africans in terms of easy access to information and wholly opposes Microsoft’s attempt to introduce a second XML document format standard."