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Norwegians take to the street to protest ISO standard

Here are photos of an actual IT protest demonstration in Norway. How often do you see that? (Answer: This is the second IT protest demonstration in Norway’s history.)

Steve Pepper, Chairman of the Norwegian ISO committee since 1995, gave a speech that explains why standard document formats are important and why the adoption of Microsoft’s specification — OOXML — as an ISO standard was a bad mistake. There’s also bloggage here, which links to a podcast I have not yet listened to.

Steve has stepped down as chair of the Standard Norway committee in protest of the overall committee’s process. Steve told me about what happened when we had dinner in Oslo last week. It sounds pretty gruesome.

Says Steve, 80% of the committee was apparently against changing Norway’s vote from No to Yes, but that wasn’t close enough to consensus, so everyone had to leave the room except for three administrators and four technical experts, the latter conveniently chosen to get the balance down to 50-50. When there still wasn’t consensus (surprise, surprise), the experts were dismissed and the Vice President of Standard Norway just decided the way he wanted.

Steve believes the 8,000 page spec (!) should not have been “fast-tracked,” and that ISO voted in favor of the Microsoft spec in part because it didn’t want to leave it in the hands of Ecma (a semi-competing standards body). Yet, OOXML is pretty much nothing but Word’s document model with a whole bunch of angle brackets added…overly complex and too tied to Word’s peculiar capabilities. Meanwhile, we have a truly open and well-worked out document standard in ODF. (Get yer copy of Open Office here — it’s free and it works real good.)

This matters a lot, for two basic reasons. First, the world runs on documents so we want to be able to interchange them without even having to think about which application made them. Having two standards vitiates much of the point of having a standard. Second, OOXML is so tied to Word that having it be an official ISO standard gives one vendor (guess which) a market advantage that truly open standards should take away: You should be able to pick the word processor you want based on its features and feel, without having to worry if using it will lock your documents out of the worldwide market of ideas and information.

Steve tells me that the battle to reverse the Norwegian decision is continuing, and he urges that irregularities in other countries be similarly investigated. [Tags: ]

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