The Microsoft-ISO debacle

ISO just approved the Office Open XML format. In case you do not know, it is a controversial decision.

I have a unique perspective on the issue because I used to be a member of a Canadian ISO committee. I resigned out of disgust. I am a bit suprised people still take ISO seriously. Here is my experience with them:

  • Most of ISO specifications are deeply flawed and have never, nor will they ever be, implemented. (Show me an ISO-compliant SQL database.) There are a few reasons why that is. 1) Checking the sanity of 50 500-page technical documents is hard. Much harder than you might expect. 2) There is no requirement to implement these specifications before they become a standard.
  • ISO specifications are not public. You must pay to read them. Where does the money go? I fear to know the answer. This makes it hard for volunteers to help organize the information.
  • ISO offers no support to committee members. The documents are not hyperlinked and organized, except by random volunteers who tend to come and go. What you get are very large dumps of PDF documents with names like 74438432-4343-JZ-423 (I kid you not!), with many references to other documents you do not know how to find quickly.

There are sane standard bodies like IETF. The work they do is very valuable. ISO, on the other hand, is a body you should avoid.

Published by

Daniel Lemire

A computer science professor at the University of Quebec (TELUQ).

One thought on “The Microsoft-ISO debacle”

  1. Interesting to know. How about ISO in other domain? It seems ISO quality certificate (about manufacturing quality control) is a popular one.

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