SABS tackles ISO and Microsoft on digital standards
THE South African Bureau of Standards (SABS) has initiated an international appeal that pitches it against software giant Microsoft and the International Organisation for Standardisation (ISO).
The SABS is objecting to the approval of Microsoft's Office Open XML technology as an acceptable global standard for digital documents.
Its protest is being backed by the Shuttleworth Foundation, an organisation founded by internet billionaire Mark Shuttleworth, who avidly supports free-to-use, nonproprietary software.
Few other people may care about the technical complexities and three-letter acronyms at the heart of the battle, but they should, says Andrew Rens, an intellectual property expert with the Shuttleworth Foundation.
Digital standards become crucial when your computer cannot open an important document, and the SABS is working to ensure that documents are usable because different software programs can co-operate.
The new standard comes on top of an existing open document format, and the foundation believes the additional complexity is unnecessary and threatens access to information.
An ISO committee fast-tracked the approval of Microsoft's digital document format in April, but the SABS says that vital procedures were bypassed. Microsoft's work was submitted to the ISO as a relatively immature standard, Rens says.
That prompted many international bodies to express concern and lodge contradictions to it. A total of 1027 responses were lodged, but instead of being handled individually, a block vote took place and ultimately all the issues were ignored, Rens says.
That ignored the ISO process designed to allow software developers to make any necessary changes before a standard is approved.
The proper steps were ignored because the standard was fast-tracked, but Microsoft's standard is not suitable for fast-tracking because it is immature, Rens says.
"The standard had not been fully developed and there were many concerns raised internationally," he says.
The South African standards body is the first to protest and call for the new standard to be rejected, and it expects other international standards bodies to join its campaign.
Although the standard could be resubmitted, the Shuttleworth Foundation said that would result in two document formats instead of one and may create a lack of interoperability.
Geoff Visser, an executive with the SABS, says there is an increasing tendency for organisations to circumvent the consensus-building that is vital for international standards to succeed.
The ability of large companies to influence standards bodies into ignoring legitimate issues raised by other countries ia also a concern, he says.
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