Respect for open standards? You decide

I was a bit surprised to see the news recently that Open Forum Europe is working with some large US-based technology vendors to put on an event in the same building as the upcoming BRM for DIS 29500, on the same dates as the BRM. An anti-BRM, if you will. This event has absolutely nothing to do with the standards process, and appears to have been hastily thrown together to coincide with the BRM. They've even sent emails to national bodies involved in the BRM, encouraging the BRM delegates to attend their event.

Wow. If this isn't an attempt to exert undue influence on the standards process, it's hard to imagine what is.

Who are these people?

A logical question to ask is "who's putting on this event, and why?" At a glance, it looks like the major participants are Open Forum Europe, IBM and Google. (See here for details.)

I'm not familiar with Open Forum Europe, so I did some looking around. It seems that they've been very active in lobbying for ODF legislative mandates, and have been consistently anti-choice when it comes to document formats.

I also came across a blog post by BRM convenor Alex Brown, in which he noted his concerns about the distraction of the anti-BRM. In the comment thread there, Alan Bell (who writes regularly for anti-Open XML lobbying organizations) said that the members of Open Forum Europe "do indeed have a position on the subject of DIS29500, they don't want it as an international standard."

Later in the same thread, OFE's chief executive Graham Taylor defended the event, saying "We have planned the Briefing so there is no conflict with BRM schedules," but apparently something has changed. The schedule for the OFE event has grown, and it now shows several days of activities including breakfast events, lunch events, evening events, and all-day seminars. To minimize distraction for the BRM delegates, they've even scheduled a free evening cruise on Lake Geneva!

Mr. Taylor goes on to offer this explanation of the goals of the anti-BRM (which he copied word-for-word from OFE's web site):

" ... we have been strong proponents of a single Open Document Exchange Format. We have been supportive of the continuing development of ODF, and we have grave concerns on both OOXML itself, the market need claimed (and the resulting market confusion and costs), and the fast track process undertaken by Ecma/ISO in respect of it. The BRM only covers one aspect of those concerns and we will continue to work to ensure that the full picture is adequately debated and understood at all levels."

So if I'm following him correctly, he's concerned that the BRM has too narrow of a focus (i.e., merely discussing the technical comments and proposed dispositions, as required by the open standards process), and OFE is going to helpfully "work to ensure that the full picture is adequately debated."

Another participant in the anti-BRM is IBM's Bob Sutor, who will have a busy schedule as a panelist and workshop leader in several of the events making up the anti-BRM. IBM's agenda regarding the DIS 29500 standards process is pretty clear, and Sutor himself has said that he believes ISO "needs reform" on his blog recently. In that same post, he offers this stern warning to those attending the BRM:

Delegations need to decide now how they will pay for the costs of traveling to the meeting. Rest assured that this will be tightly scrutinized. That is, I expect the international community will demand a full accounting of who paid for what and exactly what the relationship is to the delegate.

Well, Bob, you can "rest assured" that many people are interested in knowing more about the anti-BRM, too. Who's paying the bills? For example, which of the sponsors of this event are paying for the cruise on Lake Geneva? And what is the position of those sponsors regarding the international standards process that's taking place across the hall? Neutral and disinterested? Or clearly and consistently biased regarding the work of the BRM?

Who's the target audience?

Another logical question to ask is "who do they expect to attend this event?" Let's face it, a quickly thrown together event in Geneva in the winter, during a week when the city is already busy with trade shows and other events, isn't going to attract many attendees from far away. (If you've talked to any of the BRM delegates who are trying to find hotel rooms, you know what I'm talking about.)

The target audience for this event, though, seems to be people who will already be in Geneva: the BRM delegates. They've marketed the event to BRM delegates (via email to national bodies), and they even have a special page of information for BRM delegates, which offers these thoughts:

"National Bodies will need to base their final voting on OOXML not just on the technical outcomes of the BRM, but also on a much wider set of non-technical issues ... BRM delegates are therefore welcome, and indeed encouraged, to take full advantage of the OFE programme ... Throughout Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, OFE is arranging for key experts to be available out of BRM hours (over breakfast, lunch, breaks, evening) for private one-to-one informal meetings."

If I understand that correctly, they're saying, in essence, "if you BRM delegates are confused about how to best represent the needs of your country, we have experts standing by who can tell you what to think."


Is the anti-BRM really an appropriate activity that shows respect for open standards? I'd hate to think that we're entering an age when it will be seen as perfectly normal for vendors opposed to a particular standard to schedule events at the same location where international standards bodies are working, and offer to counsel the participants between working sessions. As I said earlier, if that's not a deliberate attempt to exert undue influence, I can't imagine what is.

Meanwhile, the BRM next door will provide an interesting counterpoint: a true debate, with countries being represented instead of corporations, all points of view included, and discussions focused on technical details instead of rumors and innuendo. There are 87 countries that have taken the DIS 29500 standards process very seriously, and the representatives of dozens of those countries have made plans to attend the BRM in Geneva to represent their needs and work with one another to discuss and decide on technical details of the DIS 29500 specification. In my opinion, OFE's anti-BRM is a demonstration of disrespect for each and every one of those people, as well as ISO/IEC and the whole concept of consensus-based international standards.

Comments (43)
  1. oliver says:

    After all the FUD that has been spread around suggesting that his process has been hijacked I was amazed when I first discovered this event was being organized in the way that it is, simply amazed.

  2. Doug Mahugh says:

    FYI, I’ve heard from some people that the link to the programme for the OFE event stopped working since I posted this, so I’ve uploaded a copy here for everyone’s convenience.  The link seems live again on their site at the moment but was dead a few minutes ago, so I’m not sure what happened.

  3. Rob Weir says:

    Wow, that looks like quite a conference.  Unfortunately I’ll miss most of it with BRM duties and everything.  But it is hard to see anything wrong with it.  Free choice is only valuable to the extent it is informed choice, and informed choice requires freedom of speech, and the freedom to associate.  

    But I do applaud OFE’s cleverness.  A few weeks ago Microsoft flew journalists from around the world out to Washington for a briefing on OOXML.  And now the OFE, well, they manage to benefit from Microsoft flying NB delegates from around the world to a BRM where there just happens to be a conference on standards giving a different view.  In all fairness I think OFE should be thanking Microsoft for the travel subsidy they are giving the conference participants!

  4. Wouter says:

    What is really funny is that the website tries to load the MSXML ActiveX component.

    That has just got to be a bad joke….

  5. jonathan says:

    yes the server seems to have gone down with all the hits it was getting – respect!

  6. Doug Mahugh says:

    Hey Rob, why do you say Microsoft is "flying delegates from around the world to a BRM?"  Do you have evidence that Microsoft is flying any person other than a Microsoft employee to the BRM?  Or is that more FUD?

  7. Wouter says:

    What is even less funny is the subtitle ‘open competative choice for IT users’, but isn’t their program *not* not have any choice and use ODF as the one true ring?

  8. slimnicky says:

    Rob – I fear that you are being disingenuous at best, and ignorant at worse (or vis versa).  Given the OFE’s composition and the agenda for this event, it appears that IBM is driving the OFE.  And in examining your and your company’s opposition to OOXML, and the timing, location and agenda of the OFE… well most will easily draw the same conclusion.  Moreover equating a unilateral press conference that Microsoft may have had in Seattle with IBM trying to undermine and co-opt a world wide standards event seems inappropriate.  Finally, your unfounded allegations that Microsoft is flying NB delegates are eggregious.  If you are really Rob Weir from IBM, you may be crossing lines that should not be crossed.  Slim

  9. Ed Brill says:

    Wow, Slim, you make some pretty serious accusations for someone hiding behind an alias.

  10. @Ed,

    I was wondering, as an IBM employee, do you think this OFE event is appropriate?

  11. Ed Brill says:

    I was thinking it would be interesting to hear what Sun, Google, and all these other non-IBM vendors have to say, since it makes it very clear this isn’t some kind of "IBM thing".

  12. Interesting indeed Ed, but you are evading my question (is giving evasive answers an element of the management training you took part in?).

    So again I ask, as an IBM employee, do you think this OFE event is appropriate?

  13. Doug Mahugh says:

    Hi Ed,

    I’m not aware that Sun is involved with the OFE event, but I agree it would be interesting to hear whether Google believes this is an appropriate event, or just something they got involved in for "end justifies the means" reason.

    I take it from yours and Rob’s non-answers that IBM’s position on the ethics of this event is "no comment"?

  14. @Ed, perhaps you can also confirm who pays for the boat-trip. I’d love to take one too, but Microsoft hasn’t yet been forthcoming with boat-trips for persuading ISO votes to their favor.

  15. Ed Brill says:

    Oops, I typed Sun when I meant Opera in this case.  I am used to having to explain in the last few days that this isn’t an "IBM" thing.   This seems like a multi-vendor-sponsored event, like so many others in our industry.

    @Wouter re boat trip — there are plenty of conferences and events, even free ones, all over the world that vendors such as IBM, Microsoft, whomever sponsor that include a recreational element.  I even got to see the B-52s at an MS Exchange conference once.

  16. @Ed, great to hear. and thank you for the answer on my second (less relevant) question. Would you answer my first question (which I have posted three times now):

    As an IBM employee, do you think this OFE event is appropriate?

  17. Alan Bell says:

    Nice to see that someone at Microsoft can spell ethics.

    I am not a regular writer for anti-OOXML lobbying organisations (unless perhaps you are counting this article as one for an anti-OOXML organisation)

    It is interesting that you use the phrase "anti-choice when it comes to document formats". I think that the many and varied organisations averse to this unnecessary standard would describe Microsoft as "anti-choice when it comes to application software". Having a standard that many applications can interoperate with means improved consumer choice and no lock-in to proprietary applications, this is the true pro-choice position.

  18. Choice ? says:

    "Choice" is a silly argument when it comes to international standards.

    But if your anti-standard is discussed why not have an event next door that thinks beyond. I am surprised that Microsoft hasn’t prepared anything. No boat trip, nothing. Anyway, it gives you an excellent opportunity to get to know opponents of your "standard" for whom standardization ethics means something.

  19. Doug Mahugh says:

    @Alan, we probably disagree on how to characterize the work of  I’d call that anti-Open XML lobbying.

    @Choice, your view that this event is appropriate and "thinks beyond" the ISO process is relevant to the question of respect for open standards, in my opinion.

  20. Awww… poor convicted monopolist with $50 billion in the bank.  You guys just can’t catch a break, can you?  My heart goes out.

  21. slimnicky says:

    I’m guessing we can all agree on some things: (1) standards can be used to accomplish interoperability and address customer needs; (2) standards can also be used by companies to seek competitive advantages.

    The file format example is a super example, among other things, of the latter.  Entities like IBM, Sun, FSF and the ODF Alliance are pushing ODF to the exclusion of other standards to further their interests which are commercial for the most part.  Choice is actually a relevant discussion because most ODF supporters vehemently oppose OOXML and therefore choice.

    The questions to ask ourselves is why? and what are the implications of this? Why should one entity (or a small set of entities) get to decide what standard we can implement?  I personally don’t like to be told what to do by my govt., my boss, my wife, MS, IBM, or the FSF.  I am competent enough to make my own decisions and don’t appreciate anyone taking choice away from me.  Choice is relevant in standards because we have choice in standards in many technology areas such as wireless – my cell phone supports bluetooth, gsm, 3g, irda, and wifi -all complementing and compeing standards.  Choice enables me to avoid vendor lock-in and have vendors competing to earn my business.  Choice allows me to pick the format that best meets my needs….

  22. Alan Bell says:

    ah yes,, that could indeed be characterised anti-OOXML lobbying, but it is me doing it, I am not writing for a ‘lobbying organisation’. Anyhow, what gives with the sudden change of terminology from "OOXML" to "Open XML"? Did I miss the memo on that one? If you want to drop one of the Os I think the suggestion was that the inaccurate "O" was "Open"

  23. Doug Mahugh says:

    My mistake, Alan — I forgot that DIS29500 is your creation.

    As for Open XML, that’s the name of the format.  I’m not sure who first coined the OOXML moniker, but it doesn’t appear in the actual spec and I’ve never used it myself.

  24. Luc Bollen says:


    You should better know your spec :

    – the name of the format is "Office Open XML", not "Open XML"  : this is written already 4 times on the official ECMA 376 web page

    – OOXML is the obvious abbreviation, and IS used in the actual ECMA 376 spec:

    Part 3, pp. 455 (2x), section 8.4.3

    Part 4, pp. 1531 – section, 1572 (2x) – section, 3236 – section

    – However, I see nowhere in the ECMA spec the use of "Open XML" in place of "Office Open XML"

    About who is paying for the OFE event : it is obviously IBM that pays for everything.  Just ask Jean Paoli or Nicos Tsilas, they will confirm to you that IBM is the only company opposed to OOXML.

    Finally, I don’t think this is your best post to support OOXML : you seem to be so scared by this OFE event that it looks like OOXML has no chance to be approved by the NBs if they hear what the OFE speakers have to tell…  

  25. Doug Mahugh says:

    Well, Luc, if I were "scared" of this event I probably wouldn’t be talking about it.  But I’m offended by the hypocrisy of this event, for sure.  Many of the same people who have been beating their chests about open standards are putting on an event that’s an obvious and explicit attempt to influence a standards process.  I’m just saying it’s wrong to do this, and I think you’d be saying the exact same thing if Microsoft were involved in something like this.

    On the OOXML name, you’re correct that it occurs a few times in the spec.  I  had never seen those before.  But I have a hard time seeing how a name used a handful of times in a 6000 page document, the first occurence being near the end of Part 3, is therefore the official name.

    As for "Open XML" versus "Office Open XML," I’ve observed since I first heard the phrase (on Brian’s blog a couple years ago) that "Open XML" is the common casual name, so that’s what I use.  I know that you and others like OOXML, and I know that Sutor and others like to say "uh-oh" XML, and I agree that that’s every bit as clever and funny as M$ and other similar names.  Whatever floats your boat.

  26. " Many of the same people who have been beating their chests about open standards are putting on an event that’s an obvious and explicit attempt to influence a standards process."

    So the guy that pays blackmail is just as bad as the guy that offers a bribe?

    At least we’re clear on Microsoft’s moral flexibility.

  27. Doug Mahugh says:

    Bribery?  Blackmail?  Who?  Details, please!

    Or is that just more FUD that can’t be backed up with specific facts?

  28. Chris Puttick says:

    Wow, the use of words to describe others when it can be best seen in one’s self…

    Doug, if MS are for open standards, why not ODF? Developed with the help of multiple office suite vendors as well as users, corporate and individual. XML (understandable XML). Fully capable of representing everything in an office document. Yet not even a built-in "save as" and "File/Open" option.

    If MS are such champions of open standards, why has is it taking so long to get MS product compliance with the openly developed, openly published W3C specifications?

    With such fervour in your support of open standards, why does MS Office 2k7 not support Ecma Office Open XML?

    As for the this process, bribery, inappropriate behaviour, MS and evidence? Well the circumstantial is pretty strong: look at the voting records and activity of the serious "P" members of the ISO committee and compare them with those who became "P" members merely to squeak "yes" when told to; look at the membership of national bodies that, where possible, grew like crazy with MS staffers and MS partners (where counter-growth occurred it was almost entirely independents with no direct financial interest); these are all facts and provide strong circumstantial evidence of inappropriate activity of some kind, including financial incentives.

    As for facts? Well, do you really want to talk about that little matter of the Swedish NB and "that letter"?

  29. Alan,

    Just wanted to let you know, that the has been my # 1 tool when dealing with the responses from IEC/ISO project editor (as a representative of the Danish NSB). Thank you for providing a tool that allows cross-matching the responses and comments from around the world. It has bee ntruly valuable.

    Oh – and have you guys noted the sudden interest in the name of the specification? In the Danish (and Norwegian) blogsphere where I am most active it seems like that’s all they want to talk about. It’s not the technical detalils, the politics (well, a bit) … it’s the name …

    funnny :o)

  30. Alan Bell says:

    Ah, I see the problem now. It is an "obvious and explicit" move rather than the underhand and subversive one you were expecting.

  31. Doug, it’s a METAPHOR.  They’re very common in the study of morality, where they are used to reduce the noise surrounding a situation and enable one to achieve a more direct reaction of the conscience.

    Here’s an oft-cited paper on the subject:

  32. Doug Mahugh says:

    Guys, with all due respect, you seem to be collectively making my point here.  Some guy in Sweden sent an inappropriate email and retracted it a few hours later, and that’s the best you can come up with?  Sure, Chris, feel free to talk about it — what more can be said?  To say that little incident justifies claims of bribery and corruption speaks for itself, in my opinion.

    As does the dichotomy between trying to sell that as exerting undue influence on a standards process while claiming that the OFE event is not such a thing.

    Thanks for the info about metaphors, Nathan.  I’ll check it out!

  33. It seems to me that there is a world of difference between paying travel expenses for journalists to attend a press conference at a company HQ and inviting one to one meetings with what is more akin to politicians passing a piece of legislation.

    It also makes be laugh when people mention the term convicted monopolist when Microsoft and IBM are in the same thread.  Which one do you mean? I think IBM have much more form here than Microsoft, starting with their first indictment in 1932.

    It looks like from IBMs guidelines, they’ll have to do a merry dance at that conference.

    "4.3.1 Avoiding false and misleading statements about

    competitors It is IBM’s policy to sell products and services on their merits. False or misleading statements and innuendoes about competitors, their

    products or their services are improper. Such conduct only invites disrespect from clients and complaints from competitors.

    Be sure that all comparisons to competitors and their products and services are substantiated, and that they are complete, accurate and not misleading whenever they are made. Certain countries prohibit

    comparative advertising. Advice on this subject is available from your local IBM counsel."

    "4.8.5 Relationships with government employees

    Acceptable practices in the commercial business environment, such as providing education, transportation, meals, entertainment or other

    things of value, may be entirely unacceptable, and may even violate certain federal, state, local or foreign laws and regulations, when we are dealing with government employees or those who act on the

    government’s behalf. Therefore, you must be aware of, and adhere to, the relevant laws and regulations governing relations between government employees and clients, Business Partners, and suppliers in

    every country where you conduct business. You should contact IBM Governmental Programs or IBM counsel for guidance.

    You must not give money or a gift to an official or an employee of a governmental entity if doing so could be reasonably construed as having any connection with IBM’s business relationship. U.S. and foreign laws often prohibit such actions: for example, the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA), a U.S. law, makes it a crime to pay money or to give anything of value to a foreign official to assist the company or another to obtain or retain business with the government, whether the improper payment or gift is made directly by a company or indirectly through someone acting for the company. Any proposed

    payment or gift to a foreign official, political party or candidate must have prior review by local IBM counsel, even if such payment is common in that country. Keep in mind that foreign officials, under the

    FCPA, can include executives and employees of government-owned corporations, universities, and other entities. Always ask if you have some doubt regarding government ownership."

    NB members could certainly be construed to be acting on their governments’ behalf.

    I can certainly see why the IBM folks cannot make an unequivocal statement on this, given their excellent and comprehensive business conduct guidelines.

    I just wish Rob Weir and other IBM folks would go back to what he said at the KDE Akademy 2006 in Dublin,

    "I don’t want to give the impression that one standard is evil while the other is destined for sainthood. Neither format was created by idiots. Both sides know what they are doing, and for the most part they are accomplishing what they set out to do."


  34. anonymous says:

    Since we’re talking about standards and have some IBM colleagues in the discussion I wonder if they can tell us when we’ll see more interoperability and open standards from IBM in their main frame business 😉

  35. ITProfessional says:

    Guys remember in the real world there are systems, processes, procedures and legacy that must be managed and cannot be thrown away.  The orchestrated and mandated moves to new standards that do not take in to account  the legacy and current investments in systems, processes and procedures is ridiculous.  You guys have gotten too far away from the real world and the enterprise to understand the ramification of wholesale orchestrated mandates for change that cannot simply live with the past and present way of the world.  You guys need to do real jobs you have lost sight of your roots.

  36. I agree anonymous, now that’s two interesting questions, perhaps Ed can address them both:

    – As an IBM employee, do you think this OFE event is appropriate?

    – As Open Standards are highly important to IBM business, when will we start seeing more interoperability on the mainframe platform?

  37. jonathan says:

    well Mr Horton, it is clear where your alliances lie, hardly  an objective opinion – standing ovations and sharepoint? 🙂

    "J.J. Antequino from Microsoft co-led a standing-room only presentation with our own Gareth Horton to discuss SharePoint and how Monarch and Monarch Data Pump add substantial value to SharePoint customers."

  38. Doug Mahugh says:

    Yes, Jonathan, Datawatch is tightly integrated with a variety of popular products and technologies.  You should see their Open XML implementation — it rocks!

    Care to share your full name and employer, as he has done, so that everyone can understand your motivations too?

  39. oliver says:

    Several questions are still unanswered in here… where did those IBM guys go?

  40. @Jonathan – If you trawl through the many posts I have made here and there, you will see that we are also an IBM Advanced Partner.  Our alliances lie in helping to make our products successful.  Whether that is with IBM Content Manager on Demand and DB2 or Microsoft Excel, SharePoint and SQL Server.

    We also considered ODF support earlier than Open XML support, in fact, even before we knew about Open XML and surveyed our user base on the issue.  

    It was not implemented at that time due to lack of user demand.  If the demand increases, then there is little doubt we will implement support for ODF.  We are, after all, a public company with shareholders who hold us accountable and demand that we make rational business decisions, to the best of our abilities.

    I have no issue with ODF at all, it is purely a business issue.  If we were a much larger company, with more product saturation and low opportunity cost development resources available, then it is highly likely that we would have already implemented it.

    I don’t know why there is such fervent opposition to Open XML, since that seemed to be what developers, customers and regulatory bodies have been asking Microsoft to do for years.  

    It has certainly made our job much easier.  If you want to further bolster your "Microsoft Shill" argument, maybe you could take a look at our case study on the Microsoft web site on the development experiences, versus implementing the legacy formats.

    If you think that Microsoft could have used ODF to express everything that currently exists in all Office documents, then you have an awful lot of research and understanding ahead of you before making a reasoned argument.

    Feel free to let me know how Open XML is worse than Microsoft writing all this off and going back to proprietary binary formats.


  41. zoobab says:

    "Respect for open standards? You decide"

    Microsoft does not has a good reputation for following standards, see the recent complain of Opera.

    And OOXML has still a lot of dependencies to proprietary and patented formats such as Quicktime, which should not be mentioned in the standard.

    Not to mention EMF, WMF, and al.

    But Microsoft will manage to keep them in the standard with their infinite lists of supported file formats, in order to set the agenda in terms of compatibility for competitors.

    The ECMA comments are really going in this direction, and this will preclude interoperability for those poor competitors who will want to be compatible with the dominant Office suite.


    OOXML is worse then binary formats, because it tries to get an ISO stamp on specifications there were created by a vendor only, not by a community.

  42. Dating says:

    I was a bit surprised to see the news recently that Open Forum Europe is working with some large US-based technology vendors to put on an event in the same building as the upcoming BRM for DIS 29500, on the same dates as the BRM . An anti-BRM, if you

  43. Weddings says:

    I was a bit surprised to see the news recently that Open Forum Europe is working with some large US-based technology vendors to put on an event in the same building as the upcoming BRM for DIS 29500, on the same dates as the BRM . An anti-BRM, if you

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