Writings on technology and society from Wellington, New Zealand

Friday, January 25, 2008

Going to Geneva

I have been asked to be one of a three person team representing New Zealand’s view on the draft international standard commonly called OOXML, at a meeting of the international standards body ISO at the end of February. OOXML is essentially the format used by Microsoft latest version of its Office suite, although not by earlier versions of Office.

Standardising the file formats used by office programs may sound a little arcane, but it’s actually rather important because a properly implemented standard would allow competition in the office software field, since people would be able to buy or download any standards-compliant program they wished and still keep access to all their documents.

There is already an international standard for office document formats. It’s the one used by a host of mostly free programs including Open Office. This standard, called ODF, was passed unanimously by ISO a couple of years ago. Now ISO is being asked to consider blessing another standard. There was a vote on this back in September, to which New Zealand voted No, as did the rest of the world by a narrow margin. I’ve blogged about this before.

The Geneva meeting is to work through the OOXML draft standard and see how it could be improved technically. After the meeting countries will have a chance to change their votes.

The New Zealand delegation will consist of three people: a StandardsNZ staffer, a Microsoft employee, and me. I’m honoured to be able to contribute to New Zealand’s efforts on this – it’s important for New Zealand and for the world.

posted by colin at 8:28 pm  


  1. Congratulations, Colin. While I can’t imagine that reading a specification is actually fun, it’s great that you’ve been asked to do this.

    Comment by Miraz Jordan — 26 January 2008 @ 6:18 pm

  2. […] Colin Jackson blogs on the OOXML debate, as he is off to Geneva as one of three people representing NZ at a meeting of the International Standards Organisation. The standards issue has become a bit of a proxy for the wider Microsoft vs open source debate. […]

    Pingback by Kiwiblog » Blog Archive » OOXML — 29 January 2008 @ 9:46 pm

  3. Just a slight concern. The delegation sent by NZ, a country that opposed OOXML, is 1/3 employed by Microsoft. The delegations sent by countries who supported OOXML may have a higher proportion of MS employees. How many MS employees will be there in total? Could it become virtually an internal MS discussion with a few representatives from standards organisations here and there?

    Based on the NZ delegation as an example, I see a serious risk that even the discussion here may become unduly influenced by Microsoft, as many of the previous votes seemed to be.

    Best wishes with the meeting. Speak boldly! And make sure you know who is paying the expenses of each person who speaks…

    Comment by Samuel — 29 January 2008 @ 10:27 pm

  4. Some of the countries have indicated how and why they will vote at the BRM. Why is NZ not upfront about this? Did Ecma not satisfy critical concerns? Or did that even matter.

    Comment by francis — 29 January 2008 @ 10:46 pm

  5. Samuel – thanks for your encouragement! I don’t know exactly how many MS employees there will be in the room, but there will be a fair few. As I understand it, only Heads of Delegation get to speak or vote at the meeting, and the others are advisors to the Heads. So, for New Zealand, there is a Head who is is a Standards NZ staffer, a man from Microsoft, and me. I imagine the Head will have deal with conflicting advice on many occasions.

    Francis – voting at the BRM will be confined to matters of how the final draft standard should look. The whole purpose of the meeting is to agree a specification, nothing more. After the meeting, countries have 30 days to decide whether they wish to change their votes. Standards NZ has set down a process to happen through March to figure out whether it should change its vote. As far as I know New Zealand has been completely upfront about its process.



    Comment by colin — 31 January 2008 @ 12:01 pm

  6. Pleased to learn you are involved – good for you and good for NZ.
    One question; is the NZ delegation there to represent New Zealanders, or Microsoft?
    I thought it would be to represent NZ, so it is strange that an employee of Microsoft (a foreign corporate) makes up a third of the team.

    Comment by Peter Hewett — 2 February 2008 @ 6:33 pm

  7. Peter

    I can’t comment on how Standards New Zealand selects the members of the NZ delegation. I suggest you take this up with them.


    Comment by colin — 2 February 2008 @ 6:38 pm

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