More Discussion of the Open XML BRM


The weekend has brought about a frenzy of blog activity surrounding the BRM last week. The comments section of my last blog post makes for very interesting reading as you see a number of points of view expressed. I really don’t want to repeat the points I made in that post, so I would suggest reading it to make more sense of this one.

I’ll enumerate to make this easier to go through. Also, for those of you inclined to insult me in the comments, please remember that you are required to use this tool for that purpose. Seriously though, this is a heavy discussion and I appreciate the points made on both sides of the discussion. Please understand that my going after any one point is not a reflection of my respect for the individuals involved. Also, I will continue to wait on analysis of the actual numbers until they are public from ISO. To many of the senior standards people I have spoken with, respect of the confidentiality established for the meeting is important. I will endeavor to stick to that.

Ok – to the meat of the discussion:

1. There is a simple fact coming out of the meeting. More than 98% of the proposed/modified resolutions were adopted by the BRM. Full stop. 

  • The majority of delegations in the room had voted no on the Sept. 2, 2007 ballot. Thus, it is an even stronger statement of the success of the comments and disposition process (remember, it is a 5-month process, see previous blog posting, not just the week-long meeting).

2. Andy Updegrove titled his blog posting that is getting widely discussed using the phrase that “Most Open XML Dispositions Fail To Meet Majority Approval At BRM” – the very title of his blog is a misrepresentation of what the BRM is about. Andy knows that the BRM is NOT about approving the specification. Any consensus decisions (or votes during the meeting) are about making text changes to the specification, not about approving the specification. The national bodies present are not re-casting their vote in March. This is an important distinction – the NSBs have a chance to reconsider their September vote. The “success” or “failure” of the BRM is about whether changes were made that improve the specification.

  • If NSBs do not like the final specification, they have an opportunity to express their viewpoint in March by their final DIS voting position. Do not confuse this action with BRM decisions to make technical text changes to the specification. The Opponents are spreading confusion this way.

3. The choice of a delegation to abstain from a vote within the BRM is not anything other than a choice to abstain on that vote within the BRM. Whether or not it was a protest or simply a decision to refrain from participating on that issue is something that each delegation chooses on each issue raised for consideration. In Andy’s blog, and in many of the comments people are placing their own opinion as an overlay to the decision. I have no doubt that some abstentions were done as a form of protest in disagreement over a point, but making assumptions about all of them is a serious reach. Of course, in the game of “spin” that is under way (yes, by all parties…I know, shocking isn’t it?) far be it for people to make claims in order to paint a certain picture.

4. There were delegations that vote in favor of all 1027 resolutions outright. Again, when the numbers are published we can dig into the results more closely. Their choice to do so is a reflection of that country’s belief that DIS 29500 should be an ISO/IEC JTC 1 standard.

5. Statements in Andy’s blog about the inclusion of the O-members in the voting should be understood in context. BEFORE the meeting commenced, ISO/IEC informed the heads of delegations that they did not want to disenfranchise the O-member countries from the consensus-driven process of the BRM. To make this more clear, if the O-member countries did not have the right to vote during the BRM, P-member delegations could have suggested that the O-member delegations not be allowed to speak during the meeting. That would have been an unacceptable result. I do understand that the JTC 1 directives, in section 3.1 and 3.2, state that “normal JTC 1 voting” would be P-member only. But I believe the decision of the convener (Alex will speak for himself I’m sure) was looking to determine “consensus” in the room.

  • There is irony in the insinuation from Andy (using his name as proxy for a few folks I have heard making this argument) that the decision from the ISO/IEC leadership and convener for greater inclusion was a problem. These are the same folks proclaiming a need for greater transparency and openness.

 

I contend the BRM was successful. Not due to some whim or fancy. But based upon what I hope is a rational view of the facts. After 5 months of ongoing communications about the dispositions with NSBs around the world, the constructive, positive adoption of changes to the specification was the outcome of the BRM. I won’t speculate on the outcome of the politicking that will happen over the next month.

Marketplace adoption of Open XML will continue, and product competition between Microsoft, IBM, Google, Adobe, Sun, Corel, and others will continue as well. When the just announced API is released that allows developers to more easily manipulate document formats within Office, I predict that there will almost immediately be use of it by those producing ODF and other formats. And all of that will continue to underscore the importance of openness in document formats particularly as the formats evolve to keep up with the far more important factor of innovation in the application space.

 

*****

I do have one correction I’d like to make based on an erroneous response I made to “Carlos” in my last blog post comments section. Thanks Jim for catching this.

Only ITU is a treaty-based international standards body. Thus, the United States State Department controls the US representation there. ISO and IEC are NOT the same animal. Thus, the American National Standards Institute has the seat for ISO and the US National Committee for IEC represents the US in IEC. My overall point still stands, and this touches on all of the comments about the fact that people are registering concern about the Fast Track process and other process concerns. If there are improvements to be made in the process, then those suggestions are deliberated and adopted (or not) in due course. It is not up to any one company or organization to make those changes.

Comments (25)

  1. Rob Brown says:

    Jason Matusow says: "The BRM was an unqualified success".

    Tim Bray says: "The process was complete, utter, unadulterated bull****."

    Yoon-Kit Yong says: "It was a failure of the Fast Track process, and Ecma for choosing it".

    Charles-H. Shultz says: "…as it stands today, the BRM has failed -failed to work, failed to impress, failed to create consensus and failed to succeed."

    Frank Farance says: "I don’t know how you can deal with 6,000 pages with 3,500 comments in a week. It’s like trying to run a two-minute mile."

    Rob Weir says: "this is an utter failure to follow the cardinal principles of JTC1 process".

    Hmmm. All of these people, except for Jason, were at the meeting. Who should we believe?

    … I’ll answer my own question: "it’s completely irrelevant. The only important decision will come at the end of March, and people like me will have no input into it". But to me (a concerned end-user), OOXML will always have a disgusting stench of deception and corruption.

    Rob Brown says: "Jason Matusow, Thou art a bootless milk-livered barnacle!"

  2. Andre says:

    "1. There is a simple fact coming out of the meeting. More than 98% of the proposed/modified resolutions were adopted by the BRM. Full stop."

    What is missing? For instance a fix to the date bug…

  3. izzitme101 says:

    Even though this may not have been a vote, it still can’t possibly be called a success in my book, because the majority of the issues were block voted on, with no discussion form what i can understand, reading various blogs and articles.

    The BRM is there to resolves specific and individual issues, with over 1000 of these in the ooxml spec, it wasn’t possible.

    Of course, in the eyes of microsoft, this is exactly what qualifies as a success i guess, since they seem incapable of doing it properly.

    Never should have been fast tracked.

  4. Luc Bollen says:

    Jason, in your second point, you wrote

    "2. Andy Updegrove titled his blog posting […] "Most Open XML Dispositions Fail To Meet Majority Approval At BRM” – the very title of his blog is a misrepresentation of what the BRM is about. Andy knows that the BRM is NOT about approving the specification. Any consensus decisions (or votes during the meeting) are about making text changes to the specification, not about approving the specification."

    Read again the title : Andy correctly talks about DISPOSITIONS, not about SPECIFICATION.  To my knowledge, dispositions are  proposals "about making text changes to the specification".  So your point is moot.

  5. Wu MingShi says:

    "To make this more clear, if the O-member countries did not have the right to vote during the BRM, P-member delegations could have suggested that the O-member delegations not be allowed to speak during the meeting. That would have been an unacceptable result"

    I disagree. Procedures are procedures. They had to be adhere to whether one like it or not.

    With ISO I am sure they had studied the issue of voting rights at BRM really carefully and came to the decision that only P members have a vote. If any NB or any individual or any corporation  thinks that it is wrong, they should take it up with ISO, but at the mean time, ISO existing rules must be adhere to. No exception

    Taking an even broader view. In law, there are always cases that will demonstrate the unfairness/inadequacy of existing laws. These cases will bring about a change in law, but will not help the fellow who was disadvantaged in that specific case.

  6. Jason,

    If you are going to mention me so often and treat me "as a proxy" for  ODF proponents, don’t you think that you should post the comment I left last night to your previous blog entry?  That seems only fair to me, and i see that you have posted several comments from others today already.

    Andy

  7. Luc Bollen says:

    My understanding of the normal JTC1 rules is that O members are allowed to take part in the discussion, but are not allowed to vote of the final decision (i.e. if no consensus can be reached).

    This is not a discrimination against the O members: each NB can freely choose their status, and can change is very easily (as was shown before the September vote).  If they choose to be O members, they know that they cannot vote.

    Also, my understanding is that votes should only take place if no consensus can be reached.  It seems very unusual that a vote takes place without even discussing the proposed dispositions.

    But now, I’m not a JTC1 expert (nor is Jason), so this should be confirmed by an official declaration from JTC1 experts.  I understand from other blogs that some country(ies) will appeal.  I think this is the right approach to get a final, official view about these issues.

  8. jasonmatusow says:

    Hi Andy – please remember that I live on the West Coast. I approved your comment for posting at around 1am your time last night, and then finished with my blog at around midnight PST. At 8am (after my kids had breakfast) I checked the comments section and approved additional comments including yours. I absolutely welcome all voices on my blog. I’m also being much more careful about screening the spam filter to make sure it doesn’t pull comments unecessarily. Ah – to have a blog world with no spam. I would not moderate at all.

    thx

    Jason

  9. jasonmatusow says:

    Rob Brown – you are quoting some of the most ardent detractors of the Open XML specification. Believe me, I’m hopeful that the folks I’m speaking with start getting into the blogosphere with their opinions. The problem is, many don’t like being shouted down and insulted – so they are not inclined to jump into the online discussion. FULL PROPS to you for the insult. 🙂 Thank you.

    As for your impression of the spec – I can’t help you there. You will have to decide that for yourself. The other way to look at is that this specification has elevated the entire discussion of standards and the role they play in the industry beyond any other in the history of standardization. The engineering resources from more than 20 organizations that have been applied to making it a marketplace-applicable spec, and the reach we are now seeing of indpendent implementations all suggest that it is already a very successful specification. So, I draw a different conclusion.

    thx

    Jason

  10. jasonmatusow says:

    Luc – you and I are in complete agreement about one thing. The decision about the O-members was an ISO/IEC decision. My stating that I think it was a good decision has no effect other than one more man’s opinion in the mix out there. ISO/IEC made the decision, and they are the ones to discuss it with the NSBs. If an NSB has a concern, they will take that concern up through normal channels.

    Doesn’t it feel good to agree on at least something with me? 🙂

    Jason

  11. Jim says:

    Jason and Luc – Many who are not familiar with ISO/IEC standardization do not understand a precise point about the approval process. The voting to approve this DIS29500 Fast-Track specification was open to ALL voting members of ISO and IEC – not just JTC 1 members. One has but to look at postings last September of the voting results to recognize this, and disqualifing BRM attendees because of their JTC 1 Member status would be wrong.

    As to the propriety  of conducting votes (whether in the meeting or by written ballot), I trust the Convener will have something to say on this soon. All of the proposed dispositions were posted for NB review in advance of the meeting.

  12. @Rob: perhaps you also want to have a look at official voices

    .

    Like the Danish Standards institute

    Like the Norwegian Standards Institute

    Like ECMA

    You can find these translated to english on my post: http://blogs.technet.com/gerhardg/archive/2008/03/03/open-xml-auf-dem-weg-zum-iso-standard-das-brm-ballot-resolution-meeting-pressemitteilungen-der-standardisierungsgremien.aspx

    And of course if qouting Rob Weir, Yoon-Kit Yong and the others, why don´t you also quote Brian Jones, Rick Jeliffe, Jesper Lund Stochholm and all the others with positive quotes who were all present at the BRM

    .

    Even Tim Bray did not only say it was bullsh***, why do you omitt his "What was good" section?

    But perhaps you are one of the persons, about which Rick Jeliffe says: "[…] there are people for whom no amount of improvement in the text will make OOXML an acceptable subject for an ISO standard […]".

    Are you?

  13. Ecma International released its comments on the BRM. The Ballot Resolution Meeting was a very productive

  14. Ecma International released its comments on the BRM. The Ballot Resolution Meeting was a very productive

  15. Rob Brown says:

    @Gerhard:

    No, I’m not one of the people Rick Jeliffe refers to. I don’t particularly even care, technically, which file format becomes predominant.

    What I want is to understand what is happening, because it is going to affect my future. And I’m inclined to believe the people I quoted more than Jason and Brian, because the quoted postings provided a whole lot more substance than our MS friends. Read Andy Updegrove’s blog on the event, which has its own validity because he is updating it as information becomes available. Andy has now added a blog entry from Antonis Christofides, of the Greek delegation. Is he also an ardent detractor of OOXML? Help me out here!

    I’m an electrical engineer, and my main focus in all this is programmatic interaction with spreadsheets. I’m also a consumer that wants to make sure the buying decisions I make are based on merit and not lock-in.

    So I have two main concerns with OOXML:

    1) I don’t trust Microsoft.

    1a: there is a huge volume of circumstantial evidence that Microsoft has gamed this standards process to the point of ridiculousness. Whether you believe the evidence is a personal matter, as it will probably never be proven in the real world. I hope that the EU Commission’s investigation into the OOXML standard process will provide illumination.

    This is the point of my quotes above: it is obvious that a lot of people have put a lot of really good work into OOXML, but that it is just not suitable for the fast-track process.

    Note that I’m not suggesting there were procedural problems with the BRM itself. Because the desired fully-discussed consensus result could not possibly be achieved, the attendees at the BRM agreed to a no-discussion vote result for most of the proposed dispositions. Jesper Lund Stocholm’s quote is very telling: "So we basically had two choices: * Do nothing; * Do something. The BRM chose to do something."

    1b) The recent Microsoft song-and-dance about openness was nothing new and changes nothing. It was Microsoft’s version of "The Boy Who Cried Wolf", now titled "The Ballmer Who Cried Interoperability". Time, and real-world action, will show whether anything has changed.

    1c) Jason and Brian are amazingly offhand about Microsoft’s recent anti-trust woes. Maybe for those in the rarefied air of the world’s most cashed-up business, a US$1.5 billion fine can be brushed off, but for those of us on the ground, it points to something very rotten indeed in the state of Redmond.

    2) "Competing Standards" is a concept that has no value to me (and I don’t really think that many people would value it). It’s an oft-quoted example, but I work with communication protocols so it’s relevant to me: would the Internet have ever happened if there was "customer choice" in wire protocols? Would there be "TCP/IP only" sites and "MegaCorp MegaProtocol only" sites? Or more likely, would every vendor of networking equipment have to carry the overhead of supporting both prototocols?

    *None* of what I’m saying is related to the technical quality of OOXML as a spec. I personally think it’s pretty crappy, but ODF (if we’re being really honest) isn’t spotless either.

    If OOXML was a standard offered by a party with true interoperability and even-playing-field competition in mind, then it would be fine. Or even if the management plan specified truly independent future oversight. IMVHO, neither of these conditions is satisfied and so as a result I want to see OOXML fail.

  16. Luc Bollen says:

    @Jim : you are right, the O-members (Observers) can vote for JTC1 ballots.  But different rules have to be taken into account :

    From the JTC1 directives (http://www.jtc1sc34.org/repository/0856rev.pdf):

    (9.6) "For a FDIS/DIS/FDAM/DAM/FDISP to be approved, the count taken by ITTF shall meet the following criteria:

    • At least two-thirds of the P-members voting shall have approved;

    • Not more than one-quarter of the total number of votes cast are negative."

    – So, to be accepted, a Draft International Standard (DIS) must receive at least 2/3 of the votes by P-members (Participants).  For this criteria, votes by the O-members are *not* taken into account.

    – But even if accepted by the P-members, a DIS is rejected if at least 25% of the total votes are negative.  Here, both P and O votes are taken into account.

    In a sense, one could say that "O-members are not voting for having the DIS accepted, but are voting for having the DIS rejected" (but probably this formulation will be considered incorrect by JTC1 experts).

    So, my sentence above "If they choose to be O members, they know that they cannot vote" is indeed not correct.  It would have been better to write : "if they choose to be O members, they know that their vote will not be taken into consideration for having the DIS passed".

    The JTC1 Directives says this for voting at the BRM:

    (13.8) "At the ballot resolution group meeting, decisions should be reached preferably by consensus. If a vote is unavoidable the vote of the NBs will be taken according to normal JTC 1 procedures."

    (9.1.4) "In a meeting, except as otherwise specified in these directives, questions are decided by a majority of the votes cast at the meeting by P-members expressing either approval or disapproval."

    The question is to know if something is "otherwise specified in these directives" for a BRM…  I haven’t found anything, but you have to read and understand the 188 pages of the JTC1 directives to be sure.  This is indeed a quite complex matter, and only seasoned JTC1 experts can confirm what the jurisprudence is.

  17. @ Rob:

    regarding Andy: He was not part of the BRM, and Alex Brown has TWICE!! remarked on Andy beeing inacurate and even misleading.

    Perhaps because Andy is the legal council of OASIS, member Boards of Directors of  Free Standards Group (FSG) and member Boards of Directors of  Linux Foundation, where he is furthermore the Director of Standards Strategy. S he cleary has his own agenda to drive here.

    Andy beeing inaccurate: http://www.consortiuminfo.org/standardsblog/comment.php?mode=view&cid=18785

    Andy beeing misleading: http://www.consortiuminfo.org/standardsblog/comment.php?mode=view&cid=18819

    So I rather trust people who have been there like the Danish Delegation or the Norwegian Delegation, and just have their nations interest in their minds.

  18. Luc Bollen says:

    After further investigation in the JTC1 directives, I found 3 places stating that O-members have no rights to vote :

    (2.3.1.2) […] Observing membership (O-member) having no power of vote, but options to attend meetings, make contributions and receive documents […]

    (3.2) […] O-members have no power of vote, but have options to attend meetings, make contributions and receive documents. O members of JTC 1 subcommittees may nominate experts to participate in any working group of the subcommittee in which they have O membership.

    (7.7.4) […] O-members and other TCs and organisations in liaison may nominate representatives who have the right to attend meetings and to participate in the discussion, but do not have the right to vote.

    There is a special case, called "combined voting procedure", where all ISO and IEC countries are voting (whether P-members, O-members, or none).  This is the procedure used in September to vote on DIS-29500 :

    (9.5) Combined Voting Procedure

    The voting procedure which uses simultaneous voting (one vote per country) by the P members fo JTC 1 and by all ISO member bodies and IEC national committees on a letter ballot is called the combined voting procedure. This procedure shall be used on FDISs, DISs, FDAMs, DAMs and FDISPs.

    So, I really don’t know why ITTF decided to let O-members voting at the BRM.  Is there are JTC1 experts reading this, thanks to let me know if I overlooked something.

  19. @ Luc: Would you agree that the official name in ISO for Open XML is ISO/IEC DIS 29500?

    (see: http://www.iso.org/iso/iso_catalogue/catalogue_tc/catalogue_detail.htm?csnumber=45515)

    If you do, then please look again into the last sentence of (9.5) Combined Voting Procedure.

    It clearly says: "This procedure shall be used on FDISs, DISs, FDAMs, DAMs and FDISPs."

    PS: Please have a look also at Alex Browns comment (http://www.consortiuminfo.org/standardsblog/comment.php?mode=view&cid=18819), where he clearly states: "OBVIOUSLY (given the red hot controversy here) voting procedure was discussed in minute detail, and decided, in consultation with ITTF before the BRM started."

  20. Luc Bollen says:

    @Gerhard: Indeed, OOXML is a DIS.

    And in (9.5), just before the sentence you quote, it is written "The voting procedure which uses simultaneous voting […]  ***on a letter ballot*** is called the combined voting procedure."

    1. The text explicitly refer to the letter ballot.  But in Geneva, it was a BRM meeting, not a letter ballot.

    2. In the combined voting procedure, all the NBs vote but only the P votes are taken into account for the "2/3 criteria" deciding if the DIS is accepted.

    3. Nevertheless, from a email exchange I just had with a JTC1 expert, who had the same question as mine, it appears that ITTF decided that all NBs will vote at the BRM because the letter ballot was a "combined voting procedure".  I don’t know if this rule was used in previous occurrences nor if it is published somewhere.  I continue to investigate.

    Now, does this really matters ?  With a little more dispositions accepted or a little less dispositions accepted, the DIS text will remain at a low level of quality.  Everybody (pro- and anti-OOXML) agrees that the discussions about 100 to 200 dispositions improved the text, but that much more time and discussions would have been needed to satisfactorily resolve all the comments.  And I don’t see how it will be possible to have a good quality control of the new text being prepared by the editor, to be issued on 29 March latest (which is also the deadline for the NBs to change their vote).

    It is obvious that the Fast Track was not the right approach to get a quality result.  Determining which NB was allowed to spend a night for voting on 900 dispositions will not change that.

    And the main question remain : do we really need a second ISO standard (be it of a very high quality) for text, spreadsheet and presentation documents ?

  21. hAl says:

    [quote]Andy has now added a blog entry from Antonis Christofides, of the Greek delegation. Is he also an ardent detractor of OOXML? Help me out here![/quote]

    Antonis is with the FFII I believe.

    They run the no ooxml site

    So I would call him slightly biased yes.

    Mayby Andy did not mention that on his blog though

  22. marc says:

    "4. There were delegations that vote in favor of all 1027 resolutions outright."

    yes, for example the representative of Ivory Coast (Côte d’Ivoire) , Wemba Opota [1], who is responsible for Microsoft West Africa.

    He asked to be upgraded to P-member a few votes before September/2007 ballot closing just to cast an inconditional yes vote, and now approves inconditionally 1027 comments.

    For god sake!  this is what i call

    "standardization by corporations"

    [1] http://www.noooxml.org/forum/t-43510/ivory-coast-represented-by-microsoft-senegal-at-the-brm

  23. marc says:

    "I do understand that the JTC 1 directives, in section 3.1 and 3.2, state that “normal JTC 1 voting” would be P-member only. But I believe the decision of the convener (Alex will speak for himself I’m sure) was looking to determine “consensus” in the room."

    for god sake, why do you have rules if you can’t break them arbitrarely ??

  24. The Process Challenge – A Predictable Path In light of the approval of Open XML as an international standard,