Ecma Open XML and the Portuguese National Body


As noted in Bob Sutor’s blog, on other anti-Open XML blogs, and on various comments to previous posts of my own, a question has come up as to what is going on at the National standards body in Portugal. The main point of contention at the moment is about the number of participants in the technical committee and who those participants are. I made some inquiries and here is what I have found out:

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The Portuguese national standards body convened Technical Committee 173 for “Document Description Language” on June 26 for its first meeting (8 members). The Microsoft representative was voted to be the chair of the TC.

Based on the TC’s own decision to expand to 20 members, a public invitation to join the TC started June 26. Acceptance by the National Body (not the TC) was on a first-come-first-served basis. On July 13th, the National Body closed the admittance of new members to the TC. They made this determination based upon three factors.

1) Broad national representation – the TC has 2 software associations, 4 public institutions, 1 public agency, 1 city hall, 1 academic individual expert, and 11 private IT companies representing small, medium, and large businesses.

2) The hosting site, Insituto de Informática, had logistical limitations that were factored into the decision.

3) The National Body determined that 20 was a reasonable number for the dimensions of the TC, and that once membership had been filled, any changes to membership is possible through the swapping of entities as long as the maximum number remains 20.

During the meeting on July 16th, a vote was held to determine if the TC should expand membership beyond 20. The resulting vote determined to have the TC remain at 20 members.

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So, as with all standards work, all issues may be raised and/or re-raised for consideration by the TC. My understanding is that there are ongoing discussions about the size of the group. IBM and others are not currently part of the TC and that concern has been raised within the TC. The NB as well as the TC are both focused on making sure they are operating precisely in respect to the rules of the process. From what I am hearing, the process is completely above board and being handled professionally with oversight from the NB. IBM and others are desirous of expanding the membership, and that issue will continue to be pressed by them I am sure. The TC has another meeting this week, so there will be more discussion on this as things progress.

There is no question that all over the world the competing interests in the Open XML standardization process are going to use all tactics available to them within the rules. Microsoft and its partners (particularly those who have bet their businesses on Open XML), continue to advocate that it is best to enable our customers to choose the technology that best meets the needs of their business.

Make no mistake; all parties are looking at the full picture to find strategies that will result in the outcome they desire. Provided – of course – that they do so within the context of the rules that apply to the process, this is exactly what one should expect to happen. It is going to be a very interesting next few months.

Comments (21)

  1. orlando says:

    i’m from Argentina and i would like to make just one comment regarding all this DIS 29500 ISO fast-tracking process:

    *shameful*

    Thank you and good luck.

  2. Chris Clark says:

    Jason,

    Who were the software associations?  BSA etc?  Were the 11 partners all Microsoft partners or only some of them?  Do you not agree it a little odd that any TC headed by a vendor’s individual automatically is going to be seen as biased?  And as for the institution having insufficient room, I’m quite sure there are acres of meeting room facilities a short walk away from the Insituto de Informática.

    Come off it – that is an indefensible committee.

  3. jasonmatusow says:

    Hi Chris –

    I was justifiably criticized recently on a blog posting where I pointed out that the chair of the V1 committee at INCITS might have a conflict of interest due to his work on ODF. It was pointed out, and rightly so, that the individuals who hold the chair of these committees do so with professionalism and under specific rules that are designed to promote fairness. I believe this to be true and I would suggest you reconsider your position on that point before casting aspersions about the chair of the TC in the Portuguese national body.

    Second, the organizations represented in the 20 represent a cross-section of Portuguese interests. The National Body has oversight of this and, from what I understand, is supportive of the process followed by the TC.

    As for the issue of how much room there is – my own feelings are that it is an easily addressed issue. The fact is, that was stated by the TC and I was not putting a personal spin on the information I shared. My analysis comes after the "So,…"

    Hope that helps. The point I made still stands. I think we are going to hear about all kinds of process elements over the next few weeks. I find it helpful to have the information about what is really going to prior to forming an opinion.

    Thx for the comment.

    Jason

  4. Andrew Sayers says:

    Thanks for this information.  As you say, this is a game with rules, so it’s useful that somebody is taking the time to spell out the rules without jumping straight to their take on things.

    I agree that all sides will be acting in their own self-interest, but could you elaborate a little on what you see Microsoft’s interest as?  For example, your clear preference for a short timetable suggests that you would rather get the ISO’s blessing than thoroughly address the interests of people like Rob Weir, but how does a blessing without a consensus benefit Microsoft?

    – Andrew

  5. jasonmatusow says:

    Hi Andrew – last thing before I go to bed tonight…

    Microsoft’s interest is in seeing Open XML continue to be adopted as a powerful, flexible, backwards compatible document format. Our customers, partners, competitors, and others asked us to open up our document format for Office. Aside from that, we have been on a path to XML-based formats since the late ’90s and this is a good step. But, I think this is not what you are really asking.

    If I understand your current question, and others from earlier posts – you are asking about our position on the process that is leading up to this particular standard.

    Ecma has approved Open XML. That was a year long process to develop the standard within a highly respected international standards body. It is in fact due to the rigor of the Ecma process that ISO/IEC JTC-1 recognizes it as eligble for Fast Track. Even within the Fast Track, there has been months of technical review time.

    You mention Rob Weir – IBM is a member in good standing of Ecma. They could have elected to join TC-45 and provided their comments over the year that the other 20+ members were working on the spec. They chose not to (which is their perogative), but having 18 months to review the spec is not a short timetable. There was concensus in the TC-45 working group and there are many highly respected organizations participating in that group (such as the British National Library, Apple, Toshiba…).

    I have said it before – I really think this should be blown out to the macro issues. People want to see more openness in document formats. Our motivation stems from the belief that those requesting this are right.

    Have a good evening (or day if you are in another timezone from me on the West Coast of the US).

    Jason

  6. Andrew Sayers says:

    Thanks – I think that answers what I’m trying to ask as well as possible given my capability to ask it at the moment.

    I appreciate your having taken so much time to explain your position, so I think it’s only fair that I explain a little about why I asked.

    Essentially, the OOXML issue represents the meeting point of just about everything I don’t yet understand about the computer industry – from Microsoft’s corporate and technical approach to the deeper purposes of standards bodies.  By asking searching questions on blogs, I feel like I’m getting a much stronger insight into all these things.

    Since I now realise my previous message tripped a few of the classic anti-OOXML buzzwords (such as ‘short timetable’), I should point out that I have no interest at all in digging up dirt on Microsoft – aside from the fact that the Microsoft-bashing market is thoroughly saturated, doing so would make it harder for me to get at the real truth.

    I generally try to keep my opinions to myself about these things until I have enough evidence to back them up, but one thing I’m increasingly convinced of is that Microsoft represents a tradition of software design that forked from the one that I’ve grown up watching somewhere in the early 80’s, and which is now being gradually re-merged.  The result is much like you’d expect from trying to merge two gigantic codebases after all that time – some things go straight back together without anyone noticing; some things are philosophically different and need work on all sides to decide the best approach; and a vast ocean of things involve people using the same words to express subtly different concepts, then getting confused when members of the other side refuse to acknowledge truths that follow necessarily from the One True Meaning of the disputed term.

    I agree that our time is better spent discussing macro issues, although I think "macro issue" is itself a disputed term – you use it to refer to the big important things that everyone wants to see Microsoft doing, whereas I’m using it to mean the tiny important things that help people to understand what Microsoft is doing.

    – Andrew

  7. Doug Mahugh says:

    There has been a lot of discussion of the Portugal technical committee (TC173) in the last week, and

  8. Ed Brill says:

    Jason,

    There has been a lot of discussion in the comments on my own weblog post about this between Rui Seabra, of the Portuguese ANSOL, and MS’s Stephen McGibbon.  Rui took the minutes that were posted on Groklaw and elsewhere.

    http://www.edbrill.com/ebrill/edbrill.nsf/dx/default-and-supported-formats-in-notes-8-editors .

    He sure doesn’t make it sound like the door was open from June 26 to July 13, nor that there were any "logistical limitations" since there is a larger Auditorium available at the site.  Still further, even though there was supposedly a space limit, more than the 20 people of the committee were in the room.

    I notice that Mr. McGibbon, who started out trying to refute Mr. Seabra’s points, hasn’t been back to clarify on any of these.  So if he was your source, you might try looking at other records of the meeting, including those from someone whose notes and integrity have been vouched for.

  9. RuiSeabra says:

    Wow, are these talking points directly fed to your hands?

    «1) Broad national representation – the TC has 2 software associations, 4 public institutions, 1 public agency, 1 city hall, 1 academic individual expert, and 11 private IT companies representing small, medium, and large businesses.»

    Like hell it’s broad. With the exception of 3, the private IT companies were all Microsoft Business Partners. One of the associations was ANSOL, for Free Software, the other was ASSOFT, a portuguese BSA alike. Where are the libraries? Where are the universities? Where are other entities? This isn’t just a software issue…

    «2) The hosting site, Insituto de Informática, had logistical limitations that were factored into the decision.»

    Yeah they did. They did have the logistical limitation of choosing to not use an auditorium they have. That’s a huge limitation.

    «3) The National Body determined that 20 was a reasonable number for the dimensions of the TC, and that once membership had been filled, any changes to membership is possible through the swapping of entities as long as the maximum number remains 20.»

    Right, with only one big international company, which by mere chance (of course) is the main interested party *and* president of the TC.

    Right, when most IT companies are Microsoft Business Partners.

    Right when most couldn’t do anything but repeat talking points, totally unable to even rationalize any argument presented in front of them. Sometimes I felt like I was dealing with remote controlled zombies.

  10. jasonmatusow says:

    I can’t comment on whether or not Mr. Seabra was aware of the TC or not. Clearly a broad representation of Portuguese interests were aware of it. As for the issue of the logistics, I have already commented my feelings on that.

    As for Stephen, I speak with him often and will pass on your request to see him blog more (I always like to see people blog more). I have known him for a few years and he is a man of integrity – period. You may not like what his opinions are – but there is a huge gulf between that and questioning his integrity.

    I spoke with a number of people about the TC and the situation. I think the representation of what is happening that I put in my blog is accurate and I was as careful as I could be to represent the facts neutrally and to clearly separate my opinion from those facts.

    Hope that helps.

    Jason

  11. RuiSeabra says:

    «I can’t comment on whether or not Mr. Seabra was aware of the TC or not. Clearly a broad representation of Portuguese interests were aware of it. As for the issue of the logistics, I have already commented my feelings on that.»

    Funny how you can’t comment of me being aware of TC or not, but for one ho hasn’t been there, you’re pretty certain of a fake broad representativity. Why haven’t you yet approven my post?

  12. Ed … I gave direct and stright forward answers to questions on your blog. Rui confirmed them too.

    The ONS representative took 30 mins at today’s meeting to carefully reexplain the process and to refute your allegations of any impropriety.

    I believe he also said IBM had written to say they accepted the process and to submit written comments.

  13. Ed Brill says:

    All that Rui confirmed is that my understanding about "seats" was inaccurate, that it was decided before the meeting rather than at the OK Corral.  So, that’s been clarified.  But as to my comments on Jason’s original posting here, there’s no "clarification", only contradiction.

    In my more recent post, Rui even claims his comment on this thread, left seven hours ago, hasn’t posted.

  14. jasonmatusow says:

    Ed – please help me clarify something. Did Rui leave a comment on my blog? I have been staying up on the comments all day and making sure to post immediately between meetings. I would not delete a comment from him (just look at some of the personally insulting stuff I make sure gets posted on other thread).  I did not see one today but just went back and double-checked. I am about to catch a flight, but later tonight I will check again to make sure any comments get posted.

    Jason

  15. RuiSeabra says:

    I did make a comment.

  16. RuiSeabra says:

    «The ONS representative took 30 mins at today’s meeting to carefully reexplain the process and to refute your allegations of any impropriety.»

    The ONS representative took 30 minutes excusing the ONS from any responsabilities, detailing how it behaved and how it unilaterally decided (confirming that the TC vote was a bad taste joke).

  17. Ed Brill says:

    Jason,

    Rui left a comment on my blog saying that he had left a comment here (see #9 and #12 in comments

    http://www.edbrill.com/ebrill/edbrill.nsf/dx/bob-sutor-why-ooxml-will-not-be-an-isoiec-standard-in-2007?opendocument&comments )  I suggested to him that he repost.

  18. jasonmatusow says:

    FYI on this thread. Mr. Seabra’s comments were filtered out of my comments control panel. I went back and dug them out of the hundreds of SPAM postings that hit my site weekly.

    Thank you Ed for letting me know – all of his comments are up now and I will continue to check the spam lists from now on.

    Jason

  19. Gabe Terry says:

    Hi Jason,

    I take it that this is an admission that OOXML is not a truly open and implementable standard, and that the only way that Microsoft can get it approved is by rigging the votes of member nations?  Microsoft’s rationalization and condoning of this kind of manipulation is troubling.  

    Why doesn’t Microsoft just fix the technical and legal shortcomings in the 6000 page OOXML proposal and turn it into a good standard, instead of resorting to these kind of tactics?  Regardless, it is clear that Microsoft has little respect for the technical quality requirements which are the cornerstone of specification usability.

    Approval under these circumstances would make a mockery of the ISO mission statement, "Why Standards Matter," found at:

    http://www.iso.org/iso/en/aboutiso/introduction/index.html

    Thank you.

  20. a. I find 2 1/2 weeks an incredibly short time period for any company to get organised to get on this committee without prior warning (despite the first come first served basis). This is hardly likely to result in fair representation. This type of process allows committee members to invite "mates" to be the first in.

    b. I find the sudden upsurge in committee members around the world for this process tragic-comic.

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