In what may be a perceived threat to the objectivity of the Office Open XML standards process, Standards Australia will include a Microsoft developer and consultant as part of its delegation for this month's Ballot Resolution Meeting (BRM) in Geneva.
Computerworld has learned Standards Australia will send one internal employee accompanied by Topologi director Rick Jelliffe as the delegation for the BRM, despite an initial pledge to send two internal employees.
Last year Jelliffe was implicated in editing OOXML Wikipedia entries at the request of Microsoft. A public explanation is available on Jelliffe's blog.
New Zealand Open Source Society president and director of open source consulting firm Catalyst IT Don Christie has been keeping a close eye on the whole standards process and believes Standards Australia, not Jelliffe, is to blame for the backflip.
"A lot of people were shocked by that backflip," Christie said. "My problem is not that Standards Australia is talking to Rick, it is that they are not taking account of other people's views."
Christie believes Standards Australia is not recognizing this process is "pretty sensitive" as Microsoft is "the world's biggest monopoly" and there are alternative views.
"What is in dispute is not Rick's 'right' to be involved in the standards process," Christie said. "He is technically competent and very familiar with the ISO processes; however, he has taken a position that OOXML must become a standard and we should all just accept that."
According to Christie, there are "very real and pragmatic concerns" that many developers and standards experts have about OOXML. Not philosophical issues, but born out of a recognition of where standards add value - like HTML and CSS - and where "things can go wrong", like IE5.5 and what impact that has on everyone.
"Rick does not represent these views well and he is certainly not seen by a wide community as independent - even though he can argue that he is," Christie said. "This fact, along with European Commission concerns about the OOXML process, should make Standards Australia extremely cautious about how it approaches the ISO process. If I had been in their shoes I would have done what Standards NZ did. Take along a Rick equivalent (in our case a Microsoft employee), but also take along a voice that represented other sections of the software community - that, broadly speaking, is everyone except Microsoft."
Christie has labelled Standards Australia's decision as completely ignorant of the software development community and is "either unbelievably arrogant or plain stupid".