Participation in standards…

Just a quick note today. I am on the road meeting with MS people and later this week doing a bunch of external outreach work in South Africa as well. During the last few months there has been a good deal of rumblings about participation in committees, about countries moving from o- to p- status, etc. The more I ruminate on this, the more I think people are missing the point.

Standards are supposed to be inclusive rather than exclusive in nature. The increase in participation during the past 12-18 months is positive overall. Even more so that some countries with emerging economies chose to elevate their status in either SC 34 or JTC 1.

I’ve been spending some time talking to folks in some of these countries and have found examples of places where the political decision to move to p-membership was to amplify a yes vote and elsewhere to amplify a no vote. While certainly within the constructs of the rules, my personal take is that is not a great reason for the elevation of status.

But, in every other case I’ve looked into, the governments are genuinely looking to increase the footprint of ICT work in their countries. They are looking for opportunities to be more involved in the international ICT discussion. I think that is extremely encouraging.

As many people continue to ruminate on the state of standards following the adoption of Open XML, this topic should take a prominent position. The fact that so many people had opinions on the standard, and were willing to participate to even the most minor level (letters sent in, vs. attending meetings etc.) all the way up through attending committee meetings and traveling to the BRM etc. had a real impact on the process.

Many of the most developed nations’ national standards bodies have dedicated at least some resource to capacity building for emerging countries. Furthermore, finding a way to address the idea that international standards take such heavy financial and people resources has merit as well. For example, I found out that in Australia the coal industry uses a blind trust mechanism from industry to enable participants to work on ISO standards – even if they are from smaller firms or academia where travel budgets can be very hard to come by.

Food for thought for sure.

Comments (11)

  1. Mitch 74 says:

    I fail to see how making countries occupy a slot on the voting committees that they won’t use past this particular vote, but will prevent any other working group from actually passing its decisions, is an improvement.

    As Microsoft has demonstrated, it’s very easy to make a country participate; it doesn’t cost much, nothing insidious prevents a country from becoming a voting member. However, and this wonderful fiasco named OOXML has been a demonstration, once those countries without a standards office become members, every and all other standards get held up because these very same countries MS pushed to become members just for OOXML, don’t vote anymore.

    How is breaking the ISO process a good thing, apart from demonstrating that voting members should demonstrate enough motivation to deserve a voting right?

    Thanks to this action from Microsoft, the open election process used by ISO will need to be restricted, closed and regimented to prevent abuses, at the expense of – guess what – openness.

    Thanks a lot!

    Next, so many people were motivated by, oh, let’s see, commercial deals (France), bribery (Norway), meetings hogging (Spain), that yes, OOXML sure demonstrated its superiority.

    If OOXML becomes a clean standard, good; but only on the condition that Microsoft Office actually implements its file format in a meaningful way, by supporting all the modifications required by the ISO voting ballot (for starters) and all later modifications.

    Right now, the only working implementations of the currently drafted format are from Sun, Novell, and Corel – not Microsoft.

  2. Rob Weir says:

    Jason, I think you are confusing "participation in JTC1" with "status in JTC1".  They are not the same.  When an NB joins JTC1 as  P-member, votes "Yes" on OOXML and then is never heard of again, responds to no other ballots, attends no other meetings, then they have not exactly increased their participation in JTC1, have they?

  3. Wu MingShi says:

    I will wait and see whether the "increased" participation by new NBs in ISO committees is good or not.

    There is at least one report that the "increased" participation actually means a reasonably written ISO proposed standard was not passed because the enlarged NB pool did not carry out their duty, i.e., they did not even submit a vote. This is not good.

    Of course, we will have bloggers dissecting whether the NBs join ISO simply to stuff the committee to let Microsoft Technologies (OOXML at present, XPS later?). I will let the numbers speak for themselves when they appear.

  4. Wraith 74 says:

    @Rob Weir,

    When a country sends its comments to ISO, but these comments were actually written by an IBM employee from another country, then they have not exactly participated, have they?

  5. jasonmatusow says:

    Mitch 74 – before you go casting stone…

    I did say in my post that I am not in favor of the situation where a country has elected to move to P-member status simply for one vote. There were examples on both yes and no votes where the country elected to do so simply to amplify their vote on a single issue. That is a negative outcome. But, I can tell you based on conversations I have had throughout my travels that a number of countries elected to move to P-member status because their government is actively looking to promote ICT strategies. That is the most positive scenario – but one that brings into stark light how much of a rich-man’s game standards really is. It is a huge commitment to be a P-member.  I think it is a good thing for that participation to be encouraged…but the strategies to do so are going to take some work.

    Rob – my comments to Mitch 74 are similar to your comment. I agree with you that the scenario in your comment is not a good one. But, I’m sure you agree that encouraging participation is a good thing. Many NBs from the developed world have efforts in place to help with capacity building for developing countries.  

    Wu MingShi – do you have the specific standard (I’m assuming it was a letter ballot) that failed due to lack of P-member participation. I’d really like to look at it and understand what happened. I think we should be looking for ways to bring on the participation.

    Overall guys – I think it is too easy to snipe at it, and much harder to help these countries be good P-members. I’m going to opt for the "work" on this one.


  6. andrew says:

    Jason, while you raise good points, you’re avoiding, knowingly or not, the critical point behind it all.

    Participation is a good thing, as you mentioned, and no one can really argue that point. However, participation is only meaningful if the entities in question are actually fully independently, and not just acting as puppets for either side.  That is not participation.

    The question people want answered is: were there any puppets, or did all the entities in question actually independently examine and judge the (at the time) proposed standard on it’s own merits before voting?

    I’ll admit that for a lot of the entities that participated, I cannot say one way or the other if they were independent.  However, the insinuation exists that some entities were puppets, and thus that is what must be addressed.

  7. Brett says:


    Sorry but it really does look bad however you like to angle it, what you say sounds something like "Now that we stacked the system with non-technical-discussing, yes-voting members beyond recovery, help us make this not look so bad by "working on their further participation".  So much for how they were looking to join to further involvement in JTC-1, if that were the case then surely they’d have shown interest and for that matter, concern over the state of this proposed standard.  I still believe that lobbying has no place in standard setting, I’m sorry but any proposed standard should stand on it’s own technical merits and issues ought to be addressed fully before ratification.  The amount of lobbying that went on was absolutely uncalled for and wrong in this context, I don’t know how you can justify that.

    Doug Mahugh attempted to attend a Malaysian Standards Body meeting on that nation’s  OOXML decision to discuss the Technical Points of the standard with the delegates there is also abhorrent.  This is a Malaysian NB with Malaysian National Representatives voting on Malaysian National matters where he signed up as the Vice President and alternate representative to the TC-4 of Malaysia (Malaysian NB to JTC-1) for one of the Industry Bodies (IASA Malaysia I believe) and is another issue that mirrors the condition we now see has happened in the ISO organisation.  See the article from the Chair of the NB here: .  I believe that Doug has already missed two more follow on meetings with the Malaysian NB despite being registered as the alternative representative for IASA Malaysia on Malaysian Standards Direction.  Let’s call it what it was, Doug was there to effect an end result for a commercial interest and had no interest in the affairs of Malaysia outside that scope despite the position he tried to attend as requiring just that.  

    Don’t worry, I also understand that there were also members who joined up or became P Members to the JTC-1 to vote "No" and regardless how they came to be (In the same way that IBM, RedHat, Google, Sun, etc. shouldn’t have had to drag partners and consortiums to NB’s to try to balance respective views), it should never have come to this in the first place.

    I did ask some questions in an earlier thread that never got a response, I’ll ask again because I am still curious, find them repeated verbatim:

    "Anyway, some questions if I may,

    1 – Is there or will there ever be anything like full-featured control documents in the works to ensure proper compliance and testing?

    2 – Does MS have a timeline for the introduction of said compliance to ISO-OOXML in MS Office?

    3 – Will MS be marketing any form of ISO compliance in it’s products before it actually produces fully compliant files?

    4 – Any reason why (after the big hurry to fasttrack DIS-29500 to an ISO certified standard) there is no real rush to get a working committee together to field and address technical concerns over IS29500?

    5 – Why is Microsoft so unwilling to see broader adoption of OOXML in GPL’d software?

    6 – When will the NB’s that recently voted to approve OOXML in the BRM actually see the full standard that they voted in?

    I ask this last question because Microsoft Employees seem to be referring to the completed text in a number of comment posts and as far as I can tell, nobody has the final text yet, I’d love to see it."

  8. Mitch 74 says:

    @Jason: thanks for your answer, eventhough I don’t agree with a lot of it. Let’s look at the "opposition’s" stance: you have a company (Sun) and an open-source group (KDE) drafting a specification and implementing it (StarOffice, KOffice). You then get other actors (Corel, IBM) chipping in to improve said standard, and submitting it to ISO; the result, ISO/IEC 26300, also known as OpenDocument, with existing and improving independent implementations. It is voted at ISO, corrected, then approved. Since then, the format saw continuous work and its implementations followed rapidly.

    On the other hand, you have Microsoft dumping a binary format into simili-XML, submitting it to ISO, rejected because there were literally thousands of problems with it, then said Microsoft stacking puppet countries to get approval anyway, ISO still tries to improve the… dump into something at least readable and XML-compliant, and Microsoft doesn’t implement the corrected version (Excel password hashes?), nor does it disclose a timeline of when its own products will become compliant with the standard it created and pushed.

    In fact, the only ones working on said standard are the proponents of ODF: Sun, Novell and KDE.

    Frankly, WHERE can you find something positive here?

  9. Mitch 74 says:

    @Jason: thanks for your answer. I can make a difference between you as a person, and your employer. I know there are people inside Microsoft that only want to make good software, and it shows in some particularly clever pieces of software.

    Unfortunately, Microsoft didn’t play software maker here: as one, it should have put a word in creating the file format customers were asking for (ODF), and implemented it as customers asked.

    Points like "ODF is covered by IP that doesn’t belong to Microsoft, so we won’t implement it" doesn’t cut it: MS Office (used to) know about Wordperfect and Lotus, and "ODF can’t cover all functionalities used in MS Office" brings the questions: which ones? And next, if they exist, why can’t they be implemented in a further revision (like spreadsheet formulas in 1.2)?

    OK, so Microsoft just didn’t want to bother with an existing wheel with some missing sprockets, but instead set up to reinvent the wheel with OOXML.

    You may answer, MS sponsored a project to create an ODF filter for MS Office. However, said filter:

    – is limited to word processing documents, disregarding spreadsheets and presentations

    – doesn’t integrate as a normal file format option

    – is doggone slow.

    This, I guess, would mean that ODF is so awkward that MS Office has a hard time making sense of it.

    If only Sun and Novell hadn’t created (and maintained) a faster, well featured, well integrated, platform-agnostic, free of charge, plugin…

    My comment seems to be all over the place, sorry; it’s just that, however you may take it, building a new format from scratch where one was open for collaboration, getting flak for the lackluster end result, and then spending enormous resources to pressure said results into becoming a standard, corrupting and disabling the ISO on the way, with no positive results for anybody but Microsoft (not its consumers), well, it’s bad – and it spreads on the members of this bad thing, including you, whatever you may say about it.

    An ‘act of good will’ or something that would serve Microsoft’s customers while shutting up its detractors, would be to implement ODF as a file format in MS Office like other formats are supported out of the box, but also improve OOXML so that it becomes the standard it’s supposed to be.

    I’m not opposed to OOXML as a standard; I’m opposed to useless cruft, and MS Office not implementing OOXML as published isn’t very useful (because countries requiring document storage in OOXML can’t accept MS Office as it stands anyway), MS Office not implementing ODF is even less useful, and OOXML being unworkable is also useless.

    If on top of that you add the ISO fiasco I mentioned in my previous post, sorry, but MS Office looks disgusting, its authors like bad programmers, and those trying to sell it like charlatans.

    No hard feelings I hope, but disregard for customers, international institutions and the intelligence of MS’s average news follower don’t fit well with me. I switched to OOo for price and technical reasons (more stable, more interesting options, available on more platforms), I can now add political (correctly implements a standard my country recognizes as such) and morality (didn’t spit on its customers) to the mix.

    You also didn’t answer my last question, when will MS Office implement ISO/DIS 29500:2008 ? Compliance testing done by independent third parties show that MS Office’s file format doesn’t comply with either Strict or Compatible versions of the format.

    Mitch 74

  10. Jason, no string attached, says that SA should not use OSS, you know, the "Get the FUD".. oops.. "Get the Facts", "proves", caugh, caugh, that its too expensive. Rather, SA should hang its neck into Microsoft’s vendor lock-in rope.

    Hahahahhahahahahaha.  Matusow. you are a parody of yourself. You have been spinning so fast that your head has actually come off..