Interoperability between multi-vendor OOXML applications
Current discussions on open standards highlight that multiple implementations are an important sign that standards are really open (see presentations by Rishab Gosh and by Thiru Balasubramaniam). Regarding ISO's OOXML, the contention is that no company has yet implemented the full standard, not even its primary sponsor Microsoft; and that the six thousand page specification is too complex and too inconsistent to implement. Are these contentions true? If not, governments will want more than verbal claims to the contrary. Moreover, they can easily be countered with third party conformance and interoperability tests, including a plug-test event with multiple OOXML-compliant IT vendors.
Interoperability between ODF applications
All major vendors, Microsoft included, have agreed to support ODF ISO/IEC 26300, or are already doing so. That is, the availability of multiple implementations is not a problem here. Moreover, interestingly, two weeks ago OASIS initiated a technical committee to organize conformance and interoperability tests. Given its scope, this committee will provide transparency to governments about the degree of conformance of applications to ODF and the interoperability of ODF-documents. Less clear is whether the committee also intends to address interoperability between standards versions, or more general: what policy it has on standards change. To my knowledge, such policies have not yet been defined by any standards consortium or standards body. They would befit the area of civil ICT standards.
The OASIS committee explicitly does not address "identifying or commenting on particular implementations" or any certification activities. Government procurement officers will ultimately need testing at this level and want to involve an independent third party testing centre for this purpose. Moreover, OASIS, too, might at a later stage want to involve an independent third party in order to avoid credibility problems.
Having two overlapping standards brings about its own problems, as testifies a review of current ad hoc solutions - converters, translators, plug-ins - to re-create compatibility between ODF-products and Microsoft's partial implementation of the OOXML standard. Those who develop a low quality and overlapping standard, qualifications which also OOXML supporters use, are not the ones who pay for the consequences. Regrettably, citizens will be paying the price for lack of interoperability.
Although there is no formal accountability to fall back upon in standardization, those who initiated the duplicating effort may feel a - corporate social - responsibility for what happened. Their help is needed to shift interoperability costs from governments and citizens (post hoc) back to IT vendors (ex ante), the source of the interoperability problem. As a start, will they fully cooperate and support OASIS' initiative of conformance and interoperability testing? Are they prepared to shoulder the costs of independent, third party conformance and interoperability tests, tests that are needed to assure governments that no unexpected problems will arise ex post?
Delft University of Technology
 K. Jakobs (2008). The IEEE 802.11 WLAN installation at RWTH Aachen University: A case of voluntary vendor lock-in. In Egyedi & Blind (Eds.), The dynamics of standards (pp. 99-116). Elgar.
 See e.g. the recent hearing in European parliament
 Standards Edge conference on Public procurement Brussels, 6-7 November 2008. See Jan Stedehouder's blog
 More specifically: ISO/IEC JTC1, a joint technical committee that focuses on IT.
 Standards Edge conference. See also the draft Agreement on Procurement and Support for Interoperability and Open Standards, to be discussed at the IGF meeting in Hyderabad, India, December 3-6, 2008
 The scope of OASIS ODF Interoperability and Conformance (OIC) TC includes "Initially and periodically thereafter, to review the current state of conformance and interoperability among a number of ODF implementations; To produce reports on overall trends in conformance and interoperability that note areas of accomplishment as well as areas needing improvement (…")
 Ibid. The dynamics of standards. 2008. Elgar
 M.H. Sherif et al. (2007). 'Standards of quality and quality of standards for Telecommunications and Information Technologies'. In Hörlesberger, et al.(Eds.). Challenges in the Management of New Technologies. World Scientific Publishing Company, pp. 427-447.