Friday, July 18, 2008

ISO/IEC and OOXML: The judge, the jury and the hangman

Those who have been following the OOXML issue would have noted that India was among the four countries that had appealed against the ISO/IEC approval of OOXML. The next step in this drama (charade?) is that the heads of ISO and IEC have replied to the four countries. The replies
essentially dismiss the claims made by the four countries with studied nonchalance. I am not surprised. After all, if I was asked to pass judgment on my own goofups, I am not likely to hang myself. Enough has been said on how Microsoft has compromised ISO on this blog and others and I will not add to this.

The ISO Secretary General, Mr Alan Bryden was in India in December 2007 and I had asked him what he thought of the controversy surrounding the OOXML process. His answer was that ISO is a democratic organization and it will emerge stronger from this controversy. Very glib answer but an absolute and shameful lie. Just two months after Mr. Bryden's false statement ISO held a Ballot Resoution Meeting held under such apalling circumstances that we (the LITD15 committee of Bureau of Indian Standards) were forced to send a set of suggestions to ISO on how the BRM should be conducted. As we Indians are wont to do, the letter was exceedingly polite, but in retrospect, this politeness is wasted on the mafia that runs ISO.

The larger question for for policy makers in emerging markets is : Who exactly is ISO/IEC answerable to? If they interpret the rules and game the system to accommodate a big, powerful corporate interest, then maybe it is time that emerging economies created a standards body of their own with transparent governance structures and a firm commitment to royalty-free open standards. The only way that emerging countries can protect themselves against naked greed and avarice of a corporate entity in quest of super-profits and the institutions they have captured is to collaborate with each other to ensure justice. We must also send out a strong message to these greedy corporations that we have zero tolerance for such attempts at digital colonization.

We Indians have had enough of the East India Companies looting our country, and leaving a trail of bloodshed, poverty and famine behind. We have had enough of India being a soft state. If these companies want to sell in India, they better follow Indian rules and obey Indian laws and stop acting against the interests of the people of India. If you think those are harsh words, I'd recommend reading Prof.DB Phatak's blog and his detailed commentary on Microsoft's activities around OOXML. As they say, there is no smoke without fire and if a respected professor like Prof.Phatak is so furious, imagine what caused it.

Creating an alternate standards organization will be an exceedingly tough task, but standards are not an area where compromises can be tolerated. Standards govern our lives in a million different ways and the common man and woman deserve to have their standards created in an open, transparent manner that benefits everyone.

Let me know what you think of the idea of creating an open standards organization for the benefit of the emerging economies.