An "open standards" meeting in Malaysia


Man, what does a guy have to do to find a technical debate in Malaysia? I’ve spent 72 hours trying to do exactly that, and am now at the airport headed for home, having never found anyone who actually wanted to discuss any technical details of DIS29500 in general, or Malaysia’s submitted comments in particular.


I already blogged about the PIKOM meeting earlier in the week, and then this morning I tried to fit in a stop at the TC4 technical committee meeting where Yoon Kit would be presenting the results of the BRM. My friend Yuk Wai from IASA was attending the meeting, and since I’m an IASA member he asked me to come along and provide some perspective on the details of what happened at the BRM. I’ve also heard from Ditesh and YK in the last couple of days that they’d like a chance to debate the technical details from the BRM while I’m here, so it seemed like a great chance to do all of the above.


But … they threw me out before the meeting started. So I’m at the airport a little earlier than expected, and will record what happened while it’s very fresh in my mind.


There were about 15 people or so present at 9:00AM, when the meeting was scheduled to start. YK and Ditesh were missing, and for some reason the chair decided to wait for them to arrive. I guess we’re just uptight in the US, because I can’t imagine waiting 30 minutes for a couple of missing members to show up when you already have most members present, but that’s what we did.


When YK and Ditesh showed up, we exchanged pleasantries and I thought the meeting would finally start. But they took the chair out in the hall, and another 20-30 minutes passed before the meeting started. I don’t know what was going on in the hall, but the next time the door opened after they returned to the meeting, Hassan Saidin of IBM was out in the hall a few feet from the door. Draw your own conclusions there.


Anyway, when the chair returned he had an interesting bit of business to take care of. He wanted to go around the room and identify the “primary” and “alternate” attendee for each organization present, and ask any others present to leave the room. I’ve heard several times in the past about my colleagues who have attended TC4 meetings, and about the guest experts who sometimes attend from the member organizations, but suddenly today (after a conference out in the hall) the chair felt there was a need to enforce a rule that only allowed previously designated “primary/alternate” members to attend.


This was confusing to the members, and many questions were asked by them. Interestingly, the questions were often answered by Tan King Ing of MAMPU instead of the chair himself. (Gee, Ian, maybe you’re not paranoid after all. :-)) One member asked whether this rule had been enforced in the past, and the MAMPU lady answered for the chair and said “that’s not a fair question.”


The gist of the long torturous conversation was that there is some rule which had never come up before in TC4, which required that anyone not a designated “primary/alternate” must leave the room when the chair asks them to do so. Kamarul Zaman of RosettaNet pointed out that he had attended previous meetings as an observer when he worked for Intel. No luck — he had to leave the room “while we conduct business not appropriate for an observer.” The representative from PIKOM said that he felt it wasn’t fair to call somebody an “observer” if they had to leave at certain times; the lady from MAMPU tried to explain that this was a very reasonable thing to do.


Yuk Wai asked why I couldn’t stay, since IASA had sent notification to SIRIM that both he and I would be attending. The chair and secretary eventually decided (in a rambling conversation where they seemed to be making up the rules as they went) that the problem was that the notification didn’t say “alternate” before my name. Yuk Wai asked if a fax from IASA that included the word “alternate” would resolve the problem. They said it would, and I left the room while Yuk Wai made a call to try to get a fax sent over with the magical word added.


Stepping out into the hall, I ran into Hassan from IBM, who apparently had decided to bring his laptop to SIRIM’s building 3 to get some work done on the 3rd floor right outside the TC4 meeting room this morning. Perhaps this is some sort of hoteling concept IBM uses in Malaysia, I’m not sure.


Anyway, the upshot was that I was left standing out in the hall with a couple of other guys who were forced to leave the room, hanging out with the local IBM rep while top-secret work was going on in the meeting room. “Open” indeed!


I decided to head for the airport, rather than wait to see what procedural tricks they’d dream up next. I went back into the room to get my stuff, and the MAMPU lady was talking, but stopped while I grabbed my laptop and said goodbye. I raced off to the airport, and here I am.


As I said, draw your own conclusions. Mine is that cooler heads have not prevailed in Malaysia. As I type these words, YK is giving a presentation on “what really happened in the BRM” to TC4, with nobody else there to corroborate (or contradict) his version. I won’t divulge the top-secret handout he had prepared for everyone in the meeting unless he says it’s OK, but it’s full of interesting interpretations of obscure issues raised by one or two countries, and characterizations of things that “many countries” or “many NBs” said at the BRM. It seems that the word “many,” like the word “open,” has a special meaning in TC4’s deliberations, since these are things that were raised by maybe 10% of the countries present.


I would not have believed this morning if I hadn’t seen it with my own eyes. It made me miss debating Rob Weir in V1, to be honest. YK, if you’re really so concerned about openness and procedural consistency (as you’ve said so many times regarding the BRM), you might want to focus that zeal a little closer to home.


Comments (45)

  1. yoonkit says:

    Dude,

    Unfortunately, because of this act of desperation, the only parties looking bad from the meeting was your company.

    Please stop burning your bridges:

    http://www.openmalaysiablog.com/2008/03/the-elephant-in.html

    yk.

  2. carlos says:

    Doug, why you need to "defend" so much this beast ( DIS 29500 )? if it is OK ( in terms of technical quality and technical merits ) to be fast-tracked as an ISO standard … then let each NBs around the world to do their work IN PEACE.

    Why do you need to go to each NB around the world  ( bringing with you Jan van den Beld and other Microsoft staff)  to speak in favor of the specification? Do you think that NBs members are not qualified to has his own technical opinion and judge it themselves?

    Stop the lobby tour, do you think that this is V1 where you can call 10 Microsoft partners and stuff a committee to get a unconditional yes vote?  

    http://www.noooxml.org/forum/t-46044/committee-stuffing-also-in-the-united-states:11-microsoft-business-partners

    ????

  3. Ian Easson says:

    YK,

    I do not know what you are referring to by your phrase "act of desperation".

    Was it:

    – Doug turning up at a meeting he was invited to?

    – Doug leaving the room when he was told to?

    – Doug leaving the meeting after it became clear that he was not going to be allowed to attend?

    Please clarify.

  4. Tsu Dho Nimh says:

    Doug –

    Do you realize how utterly arrogant your actions were? Coming in, to a meeting to which IASA was specifically not invited, with a hastily laserprinted business card presenting you as a VP of IASA … you expected tea and cookies?

    Were you trying to straighten out the thinking of the little brown brothers in Malaysia, showing them the error of their ways for not acccepting ECMA whatever as the new path to salvation?

    Maybe the LBBs have other plans, plans that don’t include being a satellite o fRedmond.

  5. StandardsRule says:

    Doug,

    It probably should not come as such a surprise to you that you were unwelcome at the meeting. You have no credible link to Malaysia that would give you standing there. You offer only a partisan opinion that reflects the desire of your employer to push this standard. Your employer is a convicted monopolist using underhanded methods to attempt to influence an international standards body. The format you propose is riddled with problems and should not be on the fast track. Plus, no one likes a bully.

    Is it really that hard to understand? Your presence in the meeting was undesirable. Rather than wax vitriolic about it, perhaps you (and you employer) should take some time to think about how these attitudes towards you have come about, and how you can make your presence at such meetings in the future more useful/welcome. That might even lead to some technical progress and a standard that addresses the technical needs of the international community almost  as well as ODF. (Hint – try googling "ooxml" and reading links 2,3 & 4).

    Jon

  6. Chai says:

    Just because you’re not M’sian, doesnt mean that you do not have M’sias interest at heart. I am sure that if you thought that OOXML needed a bit more work to be an international standard, I am sure you would do the proper thing and delay it’s introduction to be an IS. Maybe later?

    I think the fact that many people think that OOXML is deficient at this point in time and that you work for Microsoft may cloud this topic. It’s not clear whether you represent your employer or not.

    Moi? No opinion on the standard but I do get the impression that the process is being abused by Microsoft. No much goodwill being promoted there.

  7. Aaron says:

    As a Microsoft employee, your objectivity is essentially zero and has no place in that forum. We know who pays your salary.

  8. Joe says:

    After the way Microsoft has behaved in so many other countries trying to get OOXML approved, I can’t say I blame Malaysia for kicking you out. In fact, I would expect it to happen more often. Everybody but Microsoft realizes how desperate and foolish your actions have been. People  aren’t as dumb as you think they are.  

  9. David says:

    It is unfortunate that Microsoft employees feel the need to bitch about how they are being treated when the reality is that their employer Microsoft has totally twisted and distorted the whole ISO standardization process to its own end.

    I mean even NOW Microsoft is attempting to use political or economic means to force JTC1 members to change their votes instead of genuinely addressing the faults in the proposal.

    Can you honestly say you are proud to work for Microsoft; and are proud of how your employer is handling the whole debacle over office productivity file formats?

    David

  10. Romy Mandinggin says:

    Hey Doug, stop acting like a cry baby !!  

  11. dmahugh says:

    YK, I don’t feel I’ve burned any bridges; you forgave me, I forgive you.  And I didn’t run into anyone else in Malaysia who wasn’t downright friendly, except for the Americans IBM brought in for the PIKOM meeting.

    Carlos, you’re making stuff up again.  I’ve only been to one standards body around the world in recent months, other than the US V1 committee (of which I’m an active member).  I attended the Malaysia TC4 meeting (or tried to) because Yoon Kit suggested that I should attend with IASA.

    Tso Dho Nimh, your attempt to make this a race issue is disgusting.  I won’t respond to comments like that, and I won’t let any others through either.  Head on over to YK’s blog if you want to talk like that.

    StandardsRule, we did in fact have a relatively useful and productive meeting with PIKOM on Wednesday, the meeting I traveled to Malaysia to attend in the first place.

  12. yoonkit says:

    Oh Doug,

    > YK, I don’t feel I’ve burned any bridges; you forgave me, I forgive you.

    Ill accept your apology when you apologize. I’m forgiving like that. The bridges Im talking about are not with me, but with the Malaysian Governments. Your companys actions in Malaysia has alienated itself in many many ways. Please check with Dr Dzahar to see if he is more popular today than a year ago.

    >  friendly, except for the Americans IBM brought in for the PIKOM meeting.

    Two things:

    1) As Dinesh has highlighted to you, IBM didnt have to bring in anyone except for Hasan (IBM employee). Google and Oracle was not paid by IBM to appear either. Check with Jeremy and Shane.

    2) It was not a Microsoft vs IBM debate at PIKOM. It was Microsoft vs Industry (IBM, Oracle, Google, Omnilogic and QubeConnect).

    > I attended the Malaysia TC4 meeting (or tried to) because Yoon Kit suggested

    > that I should attend with IASA.

    False.

    I _NEVER_ suggested to Oliver that you attend TC4 as an IASA Malaysia VP. Ask Oliver. I specifically told him that there may be a small chance that Microsoft may be heard through IASA by Aaron Tan, who is a valid and active IASA (Malaysia) Member.

    So please do NOT continue to insinuate that this hare-brained idea of sending you to TC4 was my plan! Im not THAT stupid nor desperate.

    > Tso Dho Nimh, your attempt to make this a race issue is disgusting.  

    >  Head on over to YK’s blog if you want to talk like that.

    Can you indicate to me where in my blog where Ive been racist? I have been patriotic, but certainly not racist. Hasan, Ditesh and I all of which come from different ‘races’, but we are ultimately Malaysian, and have never considered race as a factor. ‘Muhibah’ as we would say. Look it up. Tak Mahu?

    > the meeting I traveled to Malaysia to attend in the first place.

    Oh! I got the impression from Oliver that you had other business in the region. Im so honoured that Malaysia is so high in Microsoft’s priority to convert.

    Too bad it didn’t work out… In fact its worse now than before, eh?

    yk.

  13. Prof. Zaki TC4 Chair Malaysia says:

    Dear Doug,

    I am surprised and appalled to read your blog and its many inaccuracies.

    For the record, I could not start the meeting on time at 9:00 because the Secretariat from SIRIM did not come in and not because we were waiting for YK or Detesh. I flew in from Johor Baharu that morning at 7:00 am and was in the room before 8:30 am.

    The reason why the Secretary from SIRIM was delayed because members of TC4 have complained that we have allowed a vendor in the meeting and of course demanded equal rights to attend too. SIRIM has to sort the matter to ensure our meeting will be valid.

    As your friend Yuk Wai from IASA would have briefed you, Malaysia’s TC4 was suspended and reorganized by ISC G  last year because of the unfortunate bickering from certain members who were vendor biased and due to many other related incidents. Many of us were very upset and so did not want the matter to happen again. This is also the first time TC matters were raised in the Malaysian Cabinet and is a concern of the Minister of Science, Technology and Innovation as well as the Chief Secretary.

    Yes, at that time we allowed member organizations to bring other staff because it was a technical meeting and we welcomed technical contributions. We even had at one meeting too many representatives from Microsoft when the normal rep himself was on sick leave. Unfortunately they did not do their homework and lobbied TC4 on business basis which was more suitable for ISC G. When members queried the Microsoft rep on technical matters he could not answer because he was not a technical person and the other reps could not answer either.

    So that we do not have similar problems and complications in the future, ISC G revamped our committee into two layers and decided I, as an academic and without any vendor interest, still chair TC4. I still hold to the principle of neutrality, openness and fairness. I challenge you to find me otherwise. I am a senior professor and administrator from a very reputable public university in Malaysia and I hold our reputation seriously and dearly.

    Last Friday meeting was for full members only and should be void from any vendor bias. IASA has been absent from previous meetings and that was the first meeting for them since last year so Yuk Wai might not know the TC4 committee governance has changed and we did not invite co-opted members. So it was to my surprise too to see you in the room.

    However, SIRIM gave me as chair, the prerogative to decide to allow observers for the meeting after consulting the members present. That was the reason to ask you and the other new faces to leave the room temporarily.

    For your information, after some deliberation the members voted and it was a tie. I gave the tie breaker to allow observers in. Unfortunately you have already left. We had a good meeting with the other observers inside. Everyone including Yuk Wai from IASA was given a chance to speak. We left with a good note.

    Back to your issue. If you remember correctly, when you took your bag & computer and wanted to leave in haste to catch your flight,  you said, " it was best you leave". Never did I bar you from attending our meeting. It was a matter of patience and I was confident our members would agree to have observers and we were very OPEN in our deliberation. In fact, I smiled at you and sincerely asked whether you will be coming to our next meeting since you had to leave. But you said. "we will see."

    If you are truly representing IASA Malaysia and has been appointed as an alternate member, then I expect to see you at our next meeting which is scheduled every month to discuss many matters which were suspended because of the incident last year. If your attendance last Friday was a one timer, then it would put IASA in a negative view in the eyes of TC4 and ISC G members. So please move to Malaysia from the US and have a permanent address here.

    For your information, our TC4 meetings have always been very cordial and I have always allow members to speak their mind, of course with a certain decorum. So that is why we took some time to get you and the others to leave us to deliberate the issue of observers because I allow  members to question the action.

    Ms. Tan from MAMPU and other members have the right to speak and I am confident and capable of answering and chairing the meeting. You can ask Yuk Wai, I normally allow other members to speak too. This is Malaysian diplomacy in action and this is how we conduct our meeting. Too bad you are not used to this openness and style.

    I sincerely hope this matter be put to rest and all members uphold their dignity and decorum in future meetings.

    Thank You and see you at our next meeting.

    Prof. Dr. Ahmad Zaki Abu Bakar

    Chairman

    Malaysian National Standards Committee on E-Commerce, SIRIM (TC4)

    zaki@utm.my

  14. dmahugh says:

    Hello Professor Zaki, thanks for taking the time to comment here.  I’m sure people will find it interesting to see your comments, which will help people reach informed conclusions about the standards process in Malaysia.  I see that you also provided Yoon Kit a copy of your comment so that he could write a blog post around it (http://www.openmalaysiablog.com/2008/03/how-to-royally.html) before I could respond here.

    You mention that the delayed start to Friday’s meeting was because members of TC4 complained that a vendor was present.  I’d be very interested to know which members complained, if that’s information you’re willing to share.  From my perspective in the room, it seemed that your conversation was with Ditesh and Yoon Kit and an IBM representative: is that the group that had complained?  The reason I  ask is that Yoon Kit was the person who had suggested Microsoft might be allowed to attend, so I’d be very surprised if he then complained when we did what he suggested.

    You shared the story of the time last year when Microsoft sent two representatives to a TC4 meeting who were IP experts and therefore not prepared to answer technical questions, and how ISC-G revamped the process to avoid such situations in the future.  I had hoped that my presence would provide such a technical resource for TC4 on Friday, so it seems we’re both interested in solving the  same problem.

    You mention that "Yuk Wai might not know the TC4 committee governance has changed and we did not invite co-opted members."  It seems that other members of TC4 were not aware of this change either.  For example, Yoon Kit had suggested the day before the meeting that Microsoft could attend with IASA.  Indeed, that was the only reason I was present on Friday: because a TC4 member had said that Microsoft could attend through our relationship with IASA.  (I see that he has since said on his blog that there was a "1 in a million chance" of us being allowed in the room, but unfortunately he didn’t say that when he invited our participation, or I wouldn’t have bothered to attend.)

    I couldn’t agree more with your sentiment that "I sincerely hope this matter be put to rest and all members uphold their dignity and decorum in future meetings."  I wish the same for TC4, and if there’s anything I have done which isn’t consistent with that I hope you’ll let me know.

    By the way, Yoon Kit continues to publicly disagree with my characterization of the "Review of BRM Issues" report that you passed out to all of the attendees of Friday’s meeting before Yoon Kit arrived.  It seems to me that these disagreements about the nature of the report could be clarified by simply sharing the report — may I have your permission to post a copy here?

    Thanks again for your comments, and I look forward to your response.

  15. francis says:

    What a massively stacked deck! One can only hope that those consumed with concern for Malaysia’s self-interest will eventually realise what a narrow corner all this anti-OOXML scheming is painting the government into.

  16. midgeuk says:

    Hi Doug – please can you inidicate whether you intend to represent IASA Malaysia at the next TC4 meeting or if not, why not?

  17. Hi Professor Zaki…

    I sit on the US V1 committee, and I am taken back by the following comment:

    "This is Malaysian diplomacy in action and this is how we conduct our meeting. Too bad you are not used to this openness and style."

    Our (V1) Chair, Patrick Durusau, has always conducted our meetings with the utmost of diplomacy and openness.

    I would expect that we (Malaysia and US) can work together to hear the voice of another country when they feel they have something important to say, rather than make false accusations about the level of diplomacy we use to conduct our meetings.

    When you said, "In fact, I smiled at you and sincerely asked whether you will be coming to our next meeting since you had to leave." Did you first ask Doug to wait outside to give the committee a few minutes to deliberate and that you would recommend he not leave until the committee had a chance to make a decision on the matter? If someone said that to me, I would get the impression that they did not intend to see me again until the "next meeting" (not wait outside). You also said, "It was a matter of patience and I was confident our members would agree to have observers and we were very OPEN in our deliberation." Did you share this confidence with Doug before he left, so he would know to wait?

    A majority of the US committee believes this is a good standard that should be an International standard. There are areas for improvement with the standard; but what standard has been approved that did not need improvement? There are a large number of US based companies that use these formats to store content, and if this standard becomes an international standard, it will open the channel for these US and Malaysia based companies to achieve a high level of interoperability with this content.

    It sounds like you are a fair person, and I have every confidence that you did what seemed right to you at the time, as our Chair has done many times also. I hope that we can move past these events and focus on the topic at hand; a vote for whether DIS29500 is a good standard that will help the companies in each of our respective countries to be able to share information in a more interoperable way.

    Best Regards,

    -Stephen Peront

    V1 Member

    Co-Founder & CTO

    Xinnovation, Inc.

    speront@xinn.com

  18. Richard Chapman says:

    @ Stephen Peront

    You didn’t provide a disclaimer but at least you listed Xinnovation, Inc. as your company.  Is there any service your company provides that doesn’t directly involve a Microsoft product?  Your point of view as a commenter on the OOXML is nearly worthless.  Your dependence on Microsoft makes it so.  This conflict is about a standard.  No, not Microsoft’s standard.  The ODF was created by disparate corporate, institutional and governmental interests.  It was born out of the need for an unattached and unfettered communication with documents no matter who or what created them.  Your standard, yes, I’m calling it yours because you have insinuated yourself so thoroughly with Microsoft as to take ownership of it, is intended to shatter that fledgling environment.  This not a conflict between corporations.  This conflict is between the World, creating a true standard where none existed before, and one company, Microsoft.

    I have not seen one unbiased opinion, not one unbiased technical evaluation that has shown the OOXML to be anything but a complete disaster.  If Microsoft is successful in paying for this standard’s approval, then document creation and archiving will remain a tower of babel with one King.

  19. Ballmer T Baboon says:

    Day by day Microsoft are running out of people to bully and threaten. Every action like this mounts up and only results in doors being shut to Microsoft. They’ve not yet grasped the concept of karma.

    10 years from now Microsoft will be bankrupt, buried under an avalanche of lawsuits with an exodus of weary consumers desperate for a decent product which Microsoft have yet to produce.

  20. ValentineS says:

    Mr. Mahugh,

    "I see that you also provided Yoon Kit a copy of your comment so that he could write a blog post around it (http://www.openmalaysiablog.com/2008/03/how-to-royally.html) before I could respond here."

    Please note in the link you provided:

    "Prof Zaki actually emailed this response to our internal TC4 maillist. He said that he has responded it to Doug’s blog post and its awaiting moderation clearance."

    –  I would not wait for a response either, I would rather elect to let persons I care about, or which the topic affects, know what has been officially stated, effectively on their behalf or relating to them.  It is only professional courtesy and your presumption of conspiracy is unwelcome and insulting of Prof. Zaki  ("so that he could write a blog post around it … before I could respond here.")

    Mr. Peront,

    Show some respect for those in other countries and don’t play the ugly American by throwing semantic nit-picking at your peers from other countries.  They have a different method of handling issues.  We should respect their methods even as they respect ours, even when they differ.  Obviously Prof. Zaki was referring (once again) to the fact that Malaysia National Standards Committee feels differently than the US on how to incorporate vendor’s into technical meetings, differing to open conversations with their national experts and preserving their debate process, rather than how the US has it where vendors are allowed into the meetings, with the sometimes undesired effects of political or business pressures affecting the proceedings.

    One should not infer it to be a slander against US technical policy anytime a different method is proposed.

    Please, can we stop bickering and act like technically proficient professionals?

    Lets not see what makes business sense regarding DIS 29500, lets look at technical issues (positive or negative, I care not).  Lets all examine the merits and leave bickering behind us.

    ,Valentine

  21. dmahugh says:

    Richard, you’re free to use ODF if you’d like, so why fight Open XML being a standard too?  It might be useful if you would provide as much information about your business interests as Stephen has about his.

    As for technical evaluation of this standard, we’ve been doing that in V1 for over a year, with many persons on all sides of the issues including well-known participants from IBM (Rob Weir), Oracle (Peter Lord), and others.  Over time the V1 membership has become more supportive of Open XML, not less, and the members whose positions have changed in that direction are not Microsoft partners.

    Baboon, let’s follow up in ten years and see whether your prediction came true.  Talk to you then.

  22. Geoff says:

    Hi Stephen – Xinnovation wouldn’t happen to be a Microsoft Business Partner with a business model built on MS Office would it? This suggests that you are hardly likely to be viewing the proposed standard objectively.      

  23. grumpy says:

    "Richard, you’re free to use ODF if you’d like, so why fight Open XML being a standard too?"

    Oh my, I sincerely hope you have better arguments than *that*.

    Why fight Open XML being a "standard too"?

    Why should it be a standard? Are more standards automatically better?

    Would the world be better if we had 15 standards for wall AC outlets? Pick the right one for your laptop, your phone recharger or your shaver.

    Or is it perhaps a good thing that we have *one* standard, deciding on *one* voltage, and you then buy an adaptor of you need anything else?

    We’ve already got multiple standards for measuring distances. Meters and miles. Is that a good thing? NASA has wasted a few billion dollars because they screwed up the conversion between them.

    How is that a good thing? How would it be a bad thing to have *one* standard?

    In general, isn’t it always best, when possible, to have *one* standard instead of multiple?

    Isn’t that what the word "standard" means? It’s the standard choice, it’s what we all agree to use so that we can communicate?

    Of course, sometimes multiple standards may be justified, for various reasons (they have different focuses, even if there is some overlap, or just because of inertia, "we’re used to miles, it’d be too much effort to change it", for example. Those are perfectly valid justifications, and with those in mind, multiple standards may be acceptable)

    But the default position should always be "stick to one standard as long as possible. The adoption of multiple standards is what needs justification".

    So what is the justification for OOXML?

    "Over time the V1 membership has become more supportive of Open XML, not less, and the members whose positions have changed in that direction are not Microsoft partners."

    You know, that could just as easily mean that Microsoft partners are fighting a trench war, and refuse to budge or admit to even the slightest compromise. While non-partners are open to actual discussion about the merits of the spec. Without more information, that’s impossible for us non-members to tell.

    Isn’t it, all things equal, a *good* thing when people are willing to change their opinion in light of new information?

    If only those who are against standardization are willing to compromise, that could mean they’re the ones willing to look at the spec’s actual merits, rather than fighting an ideological war.

    Please, if you want to use *this* as an argument in OOXML’s defense, perhaps you should explain the issues that have swayed people in V1. *That* would be constructive, rather than empty statements about which way V1 is moving, with no explanation of how you measure this change, or what caused it.

    I’m surprised at the lack of *technical* merits mentioned here. There’s plenty about "all the cool people approve of it", and "we let you have your standard, so why don’t you let us have ours as well".

    Yes, fine, kindergarten tactics. This is supposed to be an ISO standard though, the International Standards Organization, not the playground when we were 4 years old.

    Technical merits are what matter, nothing else. And those are suspiciously lacking in your comments here.

  24. orlando says:

    Doug, where can i get this beautiful IASA cards? I want one !

    :-))

     –orlando ( from Argentina )

  25. Jacky says:

    "Richard, you’re free to use ODF if you’d like, so why fight Open XML being a standard too?  It might be useful if you would provide as much information about your business interests as Stephen has about his."

    Business interests… Well, I have no idea who Richard is or what his business interests are. I am just a poor consumer with my own interests at heart, not that of any company.

    My own interests are clear: For there to be a single, high quality document standard that can be fully implemented by any software developer with maximum ease. How does that serve my own interests? So that there will be as many kinds of competing office software as possible, none of which has any technical advantage over the other, because *all* of them can fully implement the single standard with *equal* fidelity.

    This is not a far-fetched utopia or a pipe-dream. All it will take is for governments to require ODF support in their contracts. It can happen, and Microsoft can easily implement ODF. But if it does, of course, it will mean huge losses to Microsoft. That is why they pay you so well, Dough, and why they rushed you off to Malaysia. A simple matter of financial interests.

    Your mantra that all opposition to OOXML is a matter of business interests is total lie.

    No, I don’t secretly work for IBM. I am simply an academic who uses office software, and resents having been forced to shell out big bucks in the past for Microsoft Office because no viable alternative was available. I want Microsoft Office to be one choice out of many, with no one worrying that the alternatives will represent DOC or OOXML in an inferior way.

    So that’s who I am. It is sad that Microsoft pays you to lie about people like me and insinuate that we are IBM stooges. Not sad for you, of course, but sad for the rest of us.

  26. gopi says:

    @dmahugh:

    "Richard, you’re free to use ODF if you’d like, so why fight Open XML being a standard too?"

    I can’t speak for Richard, but my fundamental problem with OOXML as I see it right now is that it is not a standard, but rather is a description of the way that Microsoft chose to do certain things.

    My understanding of a true standard is that it is something carefully planned with correctness and long term goals in mind. It is designed to be clear and easy to understand, and be independent of any particular implementation.

    For example, a direct memory dump of internal data structures would make a poor standard. It might be something very useful to have documented, but it wouldn’t be a proper *standard*.

    Reading through OOXML, I see so many things that simply don’t belong in a standard. Developing a custom hashing function, avoiding standard ISO country names, among others. Those are the sorts of things that people implementing software do, not the sorts of things people designing document formats should be doing. Much of the cruftiness looks like it’s the result of concurrent implementation and design.

    I also think that the Office backwards compatibility is something that needs to be kept totally separate from the baseline spec. I understand that it is impractical to document every single "feature" from every version of MS Office over the years. Some of them would likely require actual code snippets to fully understand.

    That’s why any document that uses them should not be considered properly compliant with DIS29500 as a standard. A document should only be considered to meet the DIS29500 spec if the spec fully and accurately describes all parts of the document.

    There are, of course, good solid reasons that people need to read older MS Office documents on newer systems. But, if you can’t describe those document format features in a way anybody can implement, they simply aren’t truly part of the standard. I can pick up a copy of DIS29500, and a supposedly compliant document, and the only way I can render that document is by reverse engineering some part of MS Word from many years ago.

    I think that the ISO should not require reverse engineering of MS Office to fully implement one of their standards.

    If I’m missing something, please do explain where I’ve gone wrong.

    Thanks.

  27. dmahugh says:

    Gopi,

    Thanks for your comments.  You may be surprised to find I agree with much of what you’ve said.  The concept of a "true standard" as "something carefully planned with correctness and long term goals in mind" makes a lot of sense to me, and I agree that certain aspects of DIS29500 could fairly be characterized as "a description of the way that Microsoft chose to do certain things."

    One thing to keep in mind, though, is that DIS29500 had a pretty specific scope: it was designed to represent a large number of existing documents that have all sorts of messy details in them.  So it had to allow for those details, even the ones that are artifacts of design decisions and market factors from long ago that are no longer relevant to most documents.  I think that explains many of the things you’ve mentioned.

    A few specific responses to issues you’ve raised:

    Developing a custom hashing function — I agree that’s not appropriate in a standard, and I’m pleased to see that the approved disposition on this issue allows for forward migration of documents that used the old algorithm but requires use of newer more secure/standardized algorithms going forward, such as SHA-256 and Whirlpool.  Some people have suggested that existing passwords hashed with the old algorithm should simply be removed, but I think that’s going to far because it would cause a lot of inconvenience for users without a clear payback.  Those passwords are already encrypted in a weak way, so that’s not a new problem created by converting them.

    Separating compatibility considerations from the baseline spec — this is handled by the transitional features annex, a structure agreed upon at the BRM.

    Reverse engineering — I don’t think there’s anywhere this is needed, actually.  There were all those settings like AutoSpaceLikeWord95 that people complained about in the comments submitted last September, and those are now thoroughly defined in the spec.  So if somebody wants to implement them, they can now.  I’m not sure I’d bother if I were writing an implementation, since those are only used in a very small number of old documents, but the approved disposition on that issue provides implementers will all of the information they need.

  28. @dmahugh

    "DIS29500 had a pretty specific scope: it was designed to represent a large number of existing documents that have all sorts of messy details in them."

    Would you say, then, that OOXML is ONLY meant for representing old documents, and that ALL newly created documents should be created using ODF? If that is you claim, I can actually see a point in accepting OOXML as an ISO standard, with two very important caveats: All old behavior support must be fully documented, and the fact it is not meant for newly created documents must be recorded as its purpose.

    OOXML, at the moment, lives up to neither of these. The old documents support are exactly the areas that remain undocumented, and MS, in neither actions nor statement of intent, claim that ODF should be used for new documents. As such, OOXML is useless in its current form, except for confusing the document format market space.

    Even if both of the above were the case, wouldn’t you say that a better path to tread was to add old format support as an extension to the ODF standard, rather than push a parallel whole-file format from scratch? This way the new standard could focus only on the areas that do not overlap.

    Shachar

  29. Winter says:

    @dmahugh:

    "One thing to keep in mind, though, is that DIS29500 had a pretty specific scope: it was designed to represent a large number of existing documents that have all sorts of messy details in them."

    No, it wasn’t. If it was:

    – there would be a mapping between BIFF and OOXML, as asked by the Brazilian representative at the BRM, which was refused.

    – there would be semantically useful and unique tag names. But current tag names look like C/C++ variable names straight out of the source.

    – even if the tag names were idiosyncratic for a reason, MS would have supplied a translation standard for tag-names, like the Chinese did with UOF.

    – the relevant formatting tags would have been described in terms of formatting effects, instead of just their name "XlikeversionY = Do X like version Y did". OOXML does not have a lot in terms of tag semantics anyway.

    – Dates, color names, etc. would have been TRANSLATED to their respective ISO or W3C form and not codified into and ISO standard.

    – MS would not have invented NEW XML schema for things like graphics and mathematical formulas, that already have a viable standard.

    – MS or Ecma would have added those few ODF tags needed to allow seamless two-way conversions between OOXML and ODF. They were ASKED for it, but declined.

    I could go on for days. Yoon Kit’s blog alone has described even more problems.

    Winter

  30. Mitch 74 says:

    Hello Doug,

    I feel what has happened here was a lot of misunderstanding and, sorry to say that, a lack of patience on your part. Moreover, from all these accounts, the IBM Guy you seem to fixate on did just what other members of the TC were expecting you to do: wait for the TC to decide whether or not to include external consultants or not.

    Considering Microsoft caused the question to be asked, they must have deemed reasonable to make everybody wait – and seeing you leave miffed and impatient, frankly, had I been there, I would have felt thoroughly insulted.

    Moreover, don’t you feel it’s a waste of your time, traveling half around the world and missing the meeting for mere impatience? It seems the IBM guy didn’t make the same mistake – neither did the Google, Oracle etc. people. I think it would have been more reasonable of you to wait for the resolution whatever it was and then discuss, even if only the conclusions of the TC, instead of leaving abruptly.

    Now, I guess it’s just that you’re not used to national bodies taking their time answering a MS representative, but I have news for you, they usually do that.

    Back to the standards: from what you say, you agree that DIS 29500 is actually bloated: optional features, covering both MS products and some others, should be included only as extensions for vendor-dependent properties. The same, why use VML and DrawingML, instead of describing hooks for any vector based drawing language?

    My point is, once you remove all the cruft, sample implementations from MS software only, and erroneous stuff (printing pages formats, dates formats etc.), why use DIS 29500 at all? In fact, I think that if you were to do that, you’ll find yourself  with a format not different from ISO/IEC 26300 – which allows addition of vendor-defined attributes, or reuse of existing norms.

    I think, had Microsoft decided not to pursue OOXML but instead make additions to ODF, the waste of resources would have been much lower.

    Considering that ODF is undergoing its second revision, and that each revision brings nice stuff like accessibility, formula specifications (taking dumb errors like incorrect negative ceiling and floor functions, or leap years into account and correcting them, something Excel can’t do), more advanced vector drawing, error corrections, more scripting possibilities, and independent implementations allowing for deeper reviews, frankly, what remains in favor of OOXML, considering "backward compatibility" has been disabled in all supported versions of Microsoft Office, and OOXML doesn’t include a scripting language (see MS Office 2008 for Mac)?

  31. pjp says:

    Dear Doug,

    I’m not anti-MSFT person. I believe in using the best tool to solve the problem at hand.  And I have a low tolerance for b*s*.

    The bottom line is that there is no need for OOXML. If the goal is to document legacy document format that is used solely by MSFT, then ECMA standard is sufficient. There is no need to turn it into ISO standard.

    If the goal is to create competitor for ODF, then it should meet the normal criteria for ISO standards and be mature and error free. That is the reaason why the process is slow: it is not supposed to produce something here gone tomorrow, but standards that are designed to last.

    I do not know any ISO standards in IT that has been approved with a long list of problems to be taken care of later. How can anyone implement a standard that is broken from the outset?

    To push OOXML into the fast track process in the current shape was a pure folly and no amount of repeating how much improved the standard is after BRM will make it good enough. That is an objective fact.

    How politics plays around the world, is another matter all together.

    You appear to be arguing against yourself, but being inconsistent is not that rear when it comes to MS propaganda. Please, contrast the following and try to reconcile them:

    "One thing to keep in mind, though, is that DIS29500 had a pretty specific scope: it was designed to represent a large number of existing documents that have all sorts of messy details in them."

    And then:

    "I’m not sure I’d bother if I were writing an implementation, since those are only used in a very small number of old documents, but the approved disposition on that issue provides implementers will all of the information they need."

    Is it a large number of a small number of documents that we are talking about? What is the purpose of this standard?

    When does public get access to the post-BRM text?

    I’m afraid that only fair conclusion one can reach is that MSFT started panicking with moves to mandate open document formats i.e. ODF by several governments.

  32. Benbow says:

    @ Stephen Peront

    "There are a large number of US based companies that use these formats to store content, …"

    Which formats?  If you mean files from old versions of Word, then how can they become interoperable without being converted?  If you mean files from Word 2007, do you not know that Word 2007, an existing word processor, is not and logically cannot be fully compliant with DIS29500, a *proposed* standard that is not yet finished?

    "and if this standard becomes an international standard, it will open the channel for these US and Malaysia based companies to achieve a high level of interoperability with this content."

    (1) Do you mean to imply that if DIS29500 does not get approved, Malaysian based companies will be unable to exchange documents with US companies?  

    And in any case,

    (2) there is already an international standard – ISO/IEC26300

    I find your post political and not technical in nature.

    Benbow

  33. dmahugh says:

    Mitch 74, you’re confusing two meetings.  I flew to Malaysia to attend a meeting PIKOM had arranged, to discuss Malaysia’s comments.  I prepared for what they wanted to discuss, and IBM/Oracle/Google representatives showed up unprepared for discussing Malaysia’s comments and instead wanted to discuss other issues.  The organizers of that meeting each thanked me for following their ground rules and helping them understand the issues better.

    Separately, I tried to attend the TC4 meeting on Friday after this concept came up on Thursday as I’ve described.  That’s the meeting where I was asked to leave.  Yes, it sounds like if I had waited for 30 minutes or so I could have gone back in the room.  Unfortunately, I was on a very tight schedule (since that meeting hadn’t been planned when I booked my flights), and would have only had another hour I could spend there, so I decided to head to the airport.  Having already seen 90 minutes of their meeting time slip away with no actual work being done, I thought it best that I leave so that they could get to work.  That was my judgment call, and of course you might have handled it differently.

    Pjp, you’re comparing what I said about the scope of the entire format with what I said about a few settings that are very rarely used.  Yes, you’re correct that it’s not possible to reconcile those two statements about two different topics.

    Benbow, Stephen’s company does a huge amount of work with organizations that use the Ecma 376 format, and those organizations will use the IS 29500 format too.  Stephen’s small company, Xinnovation, has created dozens of new jobs doing this work, and is a great example of the opportunities created by opening up Office’s formats.

  34. Max Stirner says:

    I was rather impressed with the Malaysian technical procedures. It appears that the Malaysian committee has devised regulations on its own accord to limit corrupting influences from parties with a vested interest. This seems to have been due to critical reflection on part of the relevant governmental authorities.

    This level of reflection has not been attained in the US. Richard@xinnin above is writing as both a technical committee member and an MS partner. And he got to vote in that NB. The body is thus corrupted by vested interests. Perhaps academics are a more sensible source of "neutral" technical advice than vendors of mediocre technology?

    This business card scam ought to be a source of deep embarrassment to MSFT. On the contrary, the fact that this standard scam, which is apparently totally acceptable in the U.S., did not wash, seems to be a source of suprise rather than regret!

    I rather enjoyed this whole ooxml process. In the past, Western corporations could just go around corrupting national governments, swapping business cards, hiring experts, stacking boards etc. These days, we get the benefit of transparency. And the sources of corruption are exposed to ridicule.

    Best wishes,

    Max Stirner

  35. Alexandru says:

    So, Dough, are you, or are you not, an official of the IASA Malaysia (and, more specifically, are you the "VP – Interoperability and Integration Standards, IASA Malaysia")?

    Thanks.

  36. Ashamed of the US V1 committee says:

    @max sterner:

    "Richard@xinnin above is writing as both a technical committee member and an MS partner. And he got to vote in that NB."

    I assume you meant Mr. Peront from xinn.com, who said, "A majority of the US committee believes this is a good standard that should be an International standard."

    Absolutely disgusting; he seems to think the US way of doing things *in a standards committee* is better. I am a US citizen, and I find his attitude simply appalling. I am ashamed to know people like you are making decisions for people like me.

    Disgusting on every level.

  37. dmahugh says:

    Oh come on.  What’s disgusting about Stephen observing that a majority of V1 approved of DIS29500?  And he was defending the US against Prof. Zali’s insinuation that Malaysia’s process is "more open."

    And think about exactly what was being discussed: I pointed out that the chair of TC4 allowed a member to answer questions of process for him, and he said that’s because Malaysia’s process is more open than I’m used to.

    I think it’s hilarious to see Stephen speak up here, clearly identifying his name, his employer, and his role on V1, and then be attacked by a pack of anonymous commenters.  Rich stuff.

  38. Benbow says:

    Thank you for confirming that Stephen Peront’s company "has created dozens of new jobs doing this work".  I wish him well in his work and I can completely understand why, with a vested interest, he would wish to promote the format that is bringing in his bread and butter.  As I said, "political".

    Most people give more credence to a disinterested* party’s opinion.

    Benbow

    * (Lest anyone should be confused, I do mean disinterested and not uninterested.)

  39. A nobody says:

    "then be attacked by a pack of anonymous commenters"

    Unlike yourself, I am a nobody. I don’t represent a multi-billlion dollar corporation, neither as a lobbiest nor as a member of a standards committee. As such my identity is irrelevant and carries absolutely no weight, and never will.

    The fact that you can’t fathom why an average person who uses (and pathologically depends on) Microsoft software every day distrusts your (and Mr. Peront’s) motives underscores the level of your hubris and denial.

    There is a reason everything you say is met with distrust and derision by the average anonymous peon like myself. Stop blaming the messenger, and work on building trust. Until then, you have zero credibility, and raising the tired "distrust anonymous posters!" strawman simply makes you look foolish and short sighted.

  40. Hi Everyone…

    Wow, apparently many of you are interested in my comments, thanks :)

    Here are a couple responses:

    Hi Richard Chapman, our clients use many document formats including PDF, ODF, etc… We work with them in all of these formats. It just so happens that almost every customer we work with has more content stored in Office formats than any other format. They are asking us to continue working in all the document formats they currently use (not just OOXML, but including it for sure), and to find ways to help them be more interoperable in a globalizing economy. Making OOXML an international standard only does good things for them, and we are interested in helping our clients achieve good things :)…

    Hi Valentine, What "different method is (being) proposed" by professor Z. with this comment? "Too bad you are not used to this openness and style"

    Hi Geoff, Our interests lie with our clients, most of which are made up of large Financial and Medical organizations. Almost all of these organizations either have companies abroad or are working with companies outside the US. This standard (just like other standards) will help them regulate the sharing of this content with offices and companies not in the US.

    Hi BenBow… Regarding (1), "achieve a high level" means just that, it is an inclusive statement, not exclusive; not sure I understand how you derive your comment there :) Regarding (2) Yes, actually there are many international standards (especially for image formats) and DIS29500 is a great addition to the crowd :) Regarding my post “not (being) technical in nature”, this is a good observation, since I was replying to Prof. Z’s “not technical” post :)

    Hi Ashamed… I am sorry to have disappointed you, you should join the committee and help us out :)

    (If I missed any other comments, my apologies)

    Hope you all have a wonderful day!

    Cheers,

    -Stephen Peront

    V1 Member

    Co-Founder & CTO

    Xinnovation, Inc.

    speront@xinn.com

  41. Benbow says:

    @ Stephen Peront

    You didn’t comment on my "Which formats?" question.

    As to the part that confused you, I’ll repeat it, but leaving out some of the quote and see whether you can parse it more easily:

    "and if this standard becomes an international standard, it will open the channel for these US and Malaysia based companies …"

    (1) Do you mean to imply that if DIS29500 does *not* get approved, Malaysian based companies will be unable to exchange documents with US companies?  

    To invert the question, if DIS29500 *is* ratified as a standard what will Malaysians be able to do vis a vis US companies that they cannot already do?

    I’m taking it as read that Malaysian and US companies already exchange documents, many of them in Microsoft formats, and that since Microsoft released the details of the Office 2007 formats they are already able to do more things with them.  What more will they be able to do if DIS29500 is passed immediately without being corrected?

    Useful as the Office formats are, a new international standard should be carefully planned, without rushing;  and it should not simply be based upon the diverse formats used by a number of applications from a single dominant company*.

    Benbow

    * I know I’ve introduced an additional element into the conversation here – I refer to the various *different* ways in which the same entities are encoded into OOXML by different parts of Office 2007.

  42. Theo Schmidt says:

    This seems to be *the* place to meet while we are waiting for the final vote! Thank you Doug and Microsoft for providing this forum! I would simply like to make one comment to those asking why OOXML shouldn’t be a standard yet. In my experience, it is quite simply unusable for most Linux users (like myself) at the present time. Occasionally people send me OOXML files. I have been unable to view a single one of the five or so! Even though I’m biased, I did try for some hours using every plugin, converter or online-tool I could find (including the viewer from Microsoft), without success. I can of course open the files with a text editor and at least extract some text – so an improvement on the old binary formats – but not by any means get any of the formatting or tables to show! Although I’m sure OOXML works well with MS Office 2007 and quite a few other Windows or Mac programs, to try to get ISO approval for something which isn’t really useable yet by the public is simply premature. I am thankful that the people in Malaysia seem to agree on this, because my own government in Switzerland is convinced by Microsoft’s arguments.

  43. dmahugh says:

    I’ve been busy the last few days and haven’t comment here, but now that I have a little time on the weekend here are a few replies.  I know we’re not shifting one another’s perspectives much here, but it’s good to share our opinions.

    Benbow, I don’t see Stephen’s creation of new hi-tech jobs as reflecting a vested interest in anything.  I think that’s a goal of most technology policy decisions (including those relating to approval of proposed standards), and so I think such decisions should include the job-creator perspective.

    A nobody, I think anonymous comments are fine (and that’s why I’ve always allowed them), but I think comments that question another (non-anonymous) person’s motivations or character should be held to a higher standard.  When a persons says anonymously, with no way for readers to verify it, "I’m an impartial disinterested observer, but Mr. Peront is obviously biased," I think most reasonable people will think "if he’s truly impartial he would share his real name and employer just like Mr. Peront has done, so that we can reach our own conclusions about what his biases might be."

    Theo, if you’d care to share a specific example of a document or document fragment that can’t be opened with our viewer, I’d be glad to dig into the details for you and figure out what’s going on.  I haven’t seen an example of this problem.

  44. Theo Schmidt says:

    @ Doug: sorry, I should have been more precise. Word Viewer 2003 (in Crossover Office) works fine with old formats but won’t show OOXML files, whereas the newest program from Microsoft called FileFormatsConverters.exe won’t install with the newest version of Crossover Office (propietary, costs), let alone Wine (free, free). If Microsoft wants to let Linux users use these programs, they should be tested to run with Wine.