LONDON A decision to dismiss appeals against the controversial fast-track approval of a Microsoft (MSFT.O) document format has provoked six members of global standards-setting body ISO to question ISO's relevance.
Brazil, India, South Africa and Venezuela -- countries with fast-growing IT markets -- had appealed against ISO's stamp of approval for Microsoft Office Open XML (OOXML), an endorsement likely to help the software giant win more public-sector contracts.
A significant minority of national standards bodies had voted against approving the Microsoft format, which is an alternative to the open-source Open Document Format that has been a published ISO standard since 2006.
But ISO, together with the International Electrotechnical Commission, decided earlier this month that those appeals were not worth pursuing -- meaning OOXML will soon become an ISO standard, provided no new appeals are lodged.
This weekend, the state IT organizations of Brazil, South Africa, Venezuela, Ecuador, Cuba and Paraguay published a declaration saying they were no longer confident that ISO would be a vendor-neutral organization.
"Whereas in the past it has been assumed that an ISO/IEC standard should automatically be considered for use within government, clearly this position no longer stands," they wrote on the South African representative's site (www.raffee.co.za).
"The bending of the rules to facilitate the fast-track processing... remains a significant concern to us," they said, referring to a process many parties had complained was too fast and not transparent enough for such a complex format.
Microsoft lost a first vote on OOXML -- which is opposed by advocates of open-source software that can be freely shared and modified -- but won a second vote after a week-long ballot resolution meeting to discuss the 6,000-page specifications.
Many public bodies prefer to keep documents in formats whose specifications are owned by ISO, to avoid the risk that they will be unable to access their own archives -- or have to pay to do so -- in the future.
ISO is a non-governmental organization made up of the national standards of 157 countries. It sprang up in the 1940s in response to demand for standard specifications for materials needed to rebuild the infrastructure of war-shattered countries.
(Reporting by Georgina Prodhan; editing by Sharon Lindores)