Arnaud’s Open blog

Opinions on open source and standards

Microsoft wants National Bodies to wear blinders

It is unknown at this point how exactly the convenor of the upcoming OOXML Ballot Resolution Meeting (BRM) will run the meeting and how he will make the call as to whether there is agreement or not on each issue being discussed.

My understanding is that he can simply make a judgment call based on the apparent consensus or lack of it, or he can call for a vote. Either way this means that countries present at the BRM need to be prepared to express their position on all the proposed dispositions of comments.

Of course, with thousands of proposed dispositions of comments and only a few weeks before the BRM, this is an impossible task. Microsoft knows that just as well as anybody else but they are not going to let this kind of hard reality stop them from pursuing the sacred grail – the ISO Standard label -.

So Microsoft is instructing countries to only worry about their own comments, not all comments. If followed, this has several advantages for Microsoft: it makes the task of reviewing the response countries received less daunting and it increases the chance that a country will be satisfied by the response, and consequently decide to vote in favor of OOXML.

The only glitch in Microsoft’s take on this is that it really doesn’t make any sense for a country not to worry about all the issues that were raised.

I’ve participated in many standards meetings. Never have I seen issues being segregated by their origin. Once issues are raised they all end up in the same pool for everybody to consider, regardless of their origin. And then when a resolution is proposed everybody gets to express his or her opinion on it, not just the people who raised the issue. This is simply because everybody’s interest is in the standard as a whole, not just particular sections of it.

The fact that it’s an impossible task for countries to merely read about all the issues that were raised and their associated proposed dispositions only proves, once more, that the fast track process is totally inappropriate for OOXML. But it’s not like we didn’t already know that and even if common sense would dictate to stop this non sense right now I don’t expect it to. The OOXML train already got seriously dinged in September but it will keep running its crazy course until it crashes.

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January 23, 2008 - Posted by | standards | , , ,

29 Comments »

  1. Well, Alex Brown has posted lots of information on how the meeting will be run. I’m sure you have read it. Seems like there is a plan and it’s not “unknown” how it will be run. Alex Brown’s blog can be found here:

    http://adjb.net/index.php

    Do you have any documentation at all about Microsoft instructing the NB’s?

    Comment by Fredrik E. Nilsen | January 24, 2008 | Reply

  2. Indeed, Alex Brown has posted lots of information on how the meeting will be run but I have read everything he has posted and not seen anything regarding how decisions will be made. If I missed it please let me know where to find it.

    For what it’s worth, today’s post from Alex clearly shows that he and the ISO/IEC offficials are still trying to figure out how to tackle the impossible task he’s facing. So I don’t think it’s an overstatement from my part to say that a lot is still unknown.

    See: http://www.adjb.net/index.php?entry=entry080124-124941

    As for Microsoft’s instructions, I do have documentation. You can find one such instance in Jaon Matusow’s blog:

    “3,522 comments were addressed in the dispositions. It does not mean that each NB must review all 3,522. They need to review their own comments, and the dispositions for those comments. For all countries, this is a much shorter list. Even within those lists, the NBs then need to think about which of their comments are most critical to them.”

    http://blogs.msdn.com/jasonmatusow/archive/2008/01/21/open-xml-support-by-ibm.aspx

    And in case, Jason’s post confuses you on whether IBM supports OOXML you’ll want to read Rob Weir’s explanation:
    http://www.robweir.com/blog/2008/01/standard-trolls.html

    Comment by Arnaud Le Hors | January 24, 2008 | Reply

  3. Haha… Well, you call that “instructing countries to only worry about their own comments”? Thats just riddicilous. You guys are too funny to be taken seriously. 🙂

    Comment by Fredrik E. Nilsen | January 24, 2008 | Reply

  4. I do indeed. And this is consistent with what is being reported by people in NBs around the world.

    How do you call it?

    You’re free to have your own opinion but simple derision doesn’t constitute a very strong argument. 🙂

    Comment by Arnaud Le Hors | January 24, 2008 | Reply

  5. […] is more about the BRM in the following blog posting which says that “Microsoft wants National Bodies to wear blinders”. I’ve participated in many standards meetings. Never have I seen issues being segregated by […]

    Pingback by Boycott Novell » Early Signs That Geneva’s BRM on OOXML Cannot be Trusted | January 24, 2008 | Reply

  6. If you see Jasons blog as an instruction to the national bodies then I can read your blog as an IBM instruction to view each and every comments of the 3522 comments (more than half of which are actually virtual carbon copies from IBM inserted issues) and consider them regardles of their origin.
    And simular to the blogs of Rob Weir and Bob Sutor.

    This is esspecially worrysome considering some of the attendees will likely to be IBM employees so in a way that shows some intent by IBM to go into this meeting and discuss all of the 3500 issues even though hit is blatantly clear that 90% of the issues are resolved in the disposition in accordance with the comments.

    Comment by hAl | January 25, 2008 | Reply

  7. I have no problem with duplicates being regrouped and I have yet to hear anybody, from IBM or elsewhere, arguing against doing this. So, you don’t need to worry about that.

    On the other hand I’m interested to know how you have established that “90% of the issues are resolved”. Are you saying you have already reviewed the 2,293 pages of the proposed dispositions document and concluded that 90% of the proposed changes are satisfactory?

    Maybe you really meant “addressed”. But that’s very different from being “resolved”.

    It’s what the BRM is all about. Discussing the proposed changes and deciding whether they are appropriate or not. I don’t know how NBs can fully participate in this if all they do is look at their own comments. They would effectively end up sitting silent for most of the BRM.

    Comment by Arnaud Le Hors | January 25, 2008 | Reply

  8. An example is here.
    http://xmlguru.cz/2008/01/ecma-response-to-czech-ooxml-comments
    The Czech comments were adressed 100%
    and almost 91% were addressed satisfactionary.

    Comment by hAl | January 25, 2008 | Reply

  9. Hello hAl,

    You have to acknowledge that what you’re referring to is only the opinion of one person. Others may disagree with his assessment. I’m not saying they will, we just don’t know.

    So we will have to wait for the outcome of the BRM to see whether everybody agrees with this assessment and whether it turns out to be true for the many other comments.

    For what it’s worth the Czech only submitted 75 comments so that’s definitely too small a sample to generalize.

    And even if 91% of all comments were satisfactorily addressed, the remaining 9% might still be a deal breaker. It all depends on the nature of the remaining comments.

    Regards.

    Comment by Arnaud Le Hors | January 25, 2008 | Reply

  10. At best, you would hope that the NBs at the BRM would be concerned with many MS-OOXML issues, not merely their own. The few issues each one raised is often a subset of the ones they might want to have raised, but perhaps knew there was duplication among NBs. At worst, they follow Microsoft’s instructions, which would not be in the interest of ISO, of users, and the value of standards.

    When all else is lost and you’ve already lost by trying to game the system, Microsoft teaches us to try to game it again and again and again.

    Comment by Zaine Ridling | January 26, 2008 | Reply

  11. The convenor of the BRM meeting has already indicated that the NB’s are able to vote on the dispositions of all issues trough a paper vote.

    On the other hand IBMs Rob Weir has stated that he (a member of the US committee) has found issues with the disposition but up till now it does not seem that the US committee has informed Ecma or ISO of those issues. I would seem a rather strange way for an ISO committee member to not make an effort in improving a possible new standard.

    Comment by hAl | February 3, 2008 | Reply

  12. Hi hAl,

    Let me first say that I was glad to see that Alex Brown (the convenor) agrees with me on the fact that NBs need to be prepared to discuss and express their opinion on all issues.

    He made that very clear in this latest entry OOXML Homework in which he wrote:

    The delegation should ideally know their national position on all 1,000 or so distinct comment/responses that could be discussed.

    Now, regarding your point about the US committee not informing Ecma or ISO of found issues, the problem is that there is no process to do that at this point. The BRM is the only venue to discuss the proposed disposition of comments and there is absolutely no way to raise new issues.

    This is just one of the many reasons why the Fast Track process is inappropriate in this case.

    Comment by Arnaud Le Hors | February 3, 2008 | Reply

  13. No one has said anything about “raising new issues”. Rob Weir has claimed that “proposed fixes to editorial comments have introduced new technical errors” (quote from a comment in Alex Browns blog). There is nothing preventing him from discussing these errors in the US committee and prepare suggestions for solving them. Afaik, there is nothing preventing him or the US committee from communicating the errors to ECMA or ISO either.

    It seems to me like the only reason to keep the errors a secret is to obstruct the work at the BRM. It would not surprise me.

    Comment by Fredrik E. Nilsen | February 3, 2008 | Reply

  14. And when exactly are people like Rob Weir supposed to do that when there isn’t even enough time to review the proposed disposition of comments?

    Reviewing the 2,293 pages of proposed disposition of comments in the 6 weeks we have before the BRM, means reviewing an average of 55 pages per day, including weekends. I know some pages are indexes and all but even if you take those off the task remains daunting.

    Do you really think people can do that and, at the same time, engage in technical discussions and prepare suggestions for solving them?

    If you do, please, tell me how.

    Comment by Arnaud Le Hors | February 3, 2008 | Reply

  15. I’m well aware of the size of the proposed disposition and the amount of work it is to review it.

    The point is: There is no reason not to inform Ecma and/or ISO about these alleged errors. I’m sure there are plenty of people at Ecma who are willing to look at them. Keeping them secrect will only obstruct the work at the BRM.

    Comment by Fredrik E. Nilsen | February 3, 2008 | Reply

  16. And my point is: The reason is no big secret but simply that there isn’t enough time to do everything. The current focus is on reviewing as much as possible to be as ready as possible for the BRM.

    I agree it’s not ideal and a more interactive process would be much better but this, again, only shows why the fask track process isn’t appropriate in this case.

    Comment by Arnaud Le Hors | February 3, 2008 | Reply

  17. Well, first you say “there is no process to do that” and then you say “there isn’t enough time”. Seems to me like this is just excuses to obstruct the work at the BRM. It wouldn’t take too much time to inform Ecma and ISO about the errors. Since Rob finds the time to post blog comments about the errors he has found, I’m sure he is able to find time to inform Ecma/ISO about them too, don’t you think? That is, if he really wants to. 😉

    Comment by Fredrik E. Nilsen | February 3, 2008 | Reply

  18. Well, I stand by what I said first and second: there is no process to do that AND there is no time.

    But you seem to have your mind set on what you want to believe, so be my guest. Conspiracy theories over IBM’s doing are in fashion these days. 🙂

    In fact, it’s a simple matter of priority, as always when you are short in time. OOXML was ill conceived and full of errors because it was rushed. As such it doesn’t deserve to be promoted as an ISO standard. Our priority is on proving this point.

    Getting a few errors fixed would be a drop in the ocean anyway and might mislead people to believe that the specification can be fixed in the given time frame when it can’t. That would be wrong.

    Comment by Arnaud Le Hors | February 3, 2008 | Reply

  19. Hehe… This gets funnier and funnier.

    First of all: According to Alex Brown “Ecma are arranging conference calls in which NBs can participate and informally raise such things, if they choose” (quote from his blog). So there clearly is a process to raise such issues. Why do you repeatedly say there isn’t?

    Second: Is the national committee informed about these alleged errors? Or is Rob just keeping them to himself? Or is he just making it up as he goes along? Hard to say really. It would take a couple of minutes to inform Ecma/ISO. I can only guess why he doesn’t.

    Third: To prove something you need proof. Saying there are errors but not saying what and where they are is not proof. Thats just childish.

    Fourth: Are you saying you won’t tell anybody about what the alleged errors are because it might mislead people?? “Hey, I found a lot of errors but won’t tell you what they are”. What is this? Kindergarten? Come on, you are intelligent people and so are we. Don’t insult us.

    Comment by Fredrik E. Nilsen | February 4, 2008 | Reply

  20. In fact, it’s a simple matter of priority, as always when you are short in time. OOXML was ill conceived and full of errors because it was rushed. As such it doesn’t deserve to be promoted as an ISO standard. Our priority is on proving this point.

    It is like ODF which is full of holes because its standardization was rushed and as such is fully useluss for providing an interoperable documentstandard. I see issues on OOXML going into detail on how to use the file formats UTF character encoding in hashing algorithems where the ODF spec just states that an (arbitrary) hash method can be used not describing anything that can remotly lead to an interoperable hashing method in two different implementations.

    It is just amusing that you now see issues on detailitems in OOXML that are fully undefined in ODF and then claim that OOXML was rushed whilst ODF is severely lacking a ton of the most basic info required to make an interoperable format (as OASIS claimed it was designed for).

    The ODF spec is so underspecified that you can only implement it using the OpenOffice source code.

    That you now suggest that IBM, being member of the US ISO committee, apparently is able to find issues in the disposition but lacks the time to communicate them to Ecma before the BRM is just laughable. I seriously hope that is only a joke.
    If I had members in my standardscommittee deliberatly withholding information important to a standardization proces I would remove them from the committee and asume the US committee would do the same.

    Comment by hAl | February 5, 2008 | Reply

  21. Guys,

    You so much want to see evil here that it appears that you’ll use anything to spin what I say in a way that suits you. The problem with this type of medium is that we can easily misunderstand each other.

    I’m not going to respond point by point because you’re so off track it’s not worth it. Instead, let me try to clarify, but if that doesn’t help I guess we’ll have to leave it at that because this isn’t very productive.

    First, the ISO/Fast Track process doesn’t provide for a formal way to report issues and engage in discussions over the proposed disposition of comments at this point in time. All the process says is that the proposed disposition of comments are to be discussed at the BRM, and NBs need to prepare for that. So that’s what we are doing.

    Because ISO/IEC doesn’t govern how each country functions, what each NB is doing in preparation for the BRM varies greatly from one country to another. In some countries, there are actual committees that are meeting and having discussions. In other countries there isn’t even a committee, there may just be a government person responsible for voting on behalf of the country.

    When there is a committee and there are discussions we can participate in we certainly bring up the issues we found.

    Microsoft is involved in about every committee so they are in fact directly informed of the issues being brought up and I’ve heard of Ecma holding teleconferences and they certainly have engaged with NBs (and try to convince them that everything is fine and they can now vote yes. 😉

    But this doesn’t mean there is time to engage into discussions on how to resolve the issues. That’s what the BRM is for. And the priority needs to remain on preparing for this.

    You have to understand that it’s not as if we were in a development phase in which everybody participates and, when the spec is ready we move on to the next phase. We’re in a rubber-stamping process where the answer is supposed to be yeah or nay, with some additional provision for a second chance.

    Microsoft has been trying to squeeze in a mammoth through a mouse hole and it wouldn’t do any good to anybody other than Microsoft if we helped it get through at all cost.

    You can look at it whichever way you want but the bottom line remains that the Fast Track process is just not suited for this and time is lacking on all fronts.

    Indeed, evidently, the excruciating time constraints of the Fast Track process forced Microsoft to rush their response and the quality, just like that of the specification itself, shows. I find case #2 of the ODF Alliance’s Top 10 Worst Responses particularly telling.

    Comment by Arnaud Le Hors | February 5, 2008 | Reply

  22. You wrote that fast track process is totally inappropriate for OOXML. Why was it more appropriate for ISO/IEC 26300?

    Comment by Shahzad Rana | February 5, 2008 | Reply

  23. The fast track process was designed in recognition of the fact that there are standards organizations other than ISO in the world and when an organization has already spent several years developing a standard it’d be rather silly for ISO to pretend it is starting from scratch.

    The assumption is therefore that the standard submitted through fast track has already gone through a thorough development and review process with input from the key players and the ISO process can basically be reduced to a vote.

    Unfortunately Ecma is abusing this process. It rubber-stamped a specification solely developed by Microsoft as an “international standard” and quickly submitted it to ISO as if it had gone through a thorough development and review process when it had not. The facts that it only took a year for Ecma to produce a 6000 page document and the number of errors that have been uncovered from partial reviews are clear evidence of that.

    In comparison ODF went through several years of development at OASIS, and builds on several other standards that too were developed over several years, in a totally open process.

    Comment by Arnaud Le Hors | February 5, 2008 | Reply

  24. I can assure you: no one here “wants to see evil”. We are just trying to get some real facts. We know how you feel about the OOXML specification and the fast track process. There is no need to repeat it again and again.

    We are not asking you if you have the time to solve the alleged errors. We would like to know if you are going to inform ECMA about them, within the process that is described by Alex Brown.

    Comment by Fredrik E. Nilsen | February 5, 2008 | Reply

  25. I would indeed expect NBs to which we brought up the issues we found to report these problems if they participate in Ecma’s teleconferences.

    I should note that IBM doesn’t control any of this.

    Comment by Arnaud Le Hors | February 5, 2008 | Reply

  26. So, your basic opinion is that other members in ECMA TC 45 have not done any job when it comes to developing and giving input to ECMA 376?

    WOW – I wounder what standardteams at e.g. Statoil, BP and British Library would think about this statement…

    I believe that it is an overstatement when you mention that 6000 pages was written in a year. What I have read is that Microsoft submitted a spesification and it grew to 6000 pages in ECMA TC-45.

    Am I wrong?

    Comment by Shahzad Rana | February 5, 2008 | Reply

  27. I didn’t say that 6000 pages was written in a year. I said Ecma produced 6000 pages. And it is obvious that they didn’t write any of this. Microsoft did.

    I don’t know the details of what was done during that one year but I understand some members of the TC requested from Microsoft the addition of the definitions of several underlying technologies that were not part of the original submission to Ecma. This led to the addition of many more pages leading to the 6000 pages they ended up with.

    Nevertheless it was the TC’s role to ensure this specification which was to be published as a standard was sound and of good quality. There is no way they could do that in a year.

    I wouldn’t say that the TC members didn’t do anything but given the time they had, the size of the spec, and the number of errors being found, it had to be extremely limited.

    I’ve personally been involved in the development of several standards, such as HTML and XML, for which the documents were minuscule in comparison and they all took many more months to produce.

    My guess is that members like BP and the British Library thought that they would be better off with some documentation of Microsoft Office’s format rather than none. That’s why they endorsed the project. I can understand their motivation but I think they got played.

    In the allocated time they apparently didn’t realize that much more work was needed than the addition of the many pages they asked for for the spec to qualify as a standard.

    Comment by Arnaud Le Hors | February 5, 2008 | Reply

  28. Arnaud Le Hors wrote:

    You so much want to see evil here that it appears that you’ll use anything to spin what I say in a way that suits you. The problem with this type of medium is that we can easily misunderstand each other.

    I’m not going to respond point by point because you’re so off track it’s not worth it. Instead, let me try to clarify, but if that doesn’t help I guess we’ll have to leave it at that because this isn’t very productive.

    This is a very good and true quote. These guys are running around in the Norwegian blogosphere, behaving exactly the same way, spreading FUD.

    Keep up the good work, Arnaud! 🙂

    Comment by Martin Bekkelund | February 6, 2008 | Reply

  29. I think the British Library is in the position of having vaults full of VHS videotapes, finding that ISO has issued a standard for DVDs, and finding that vendors are likely to cease their production of VHS tape decks and grow production of DVD players.

    Can they access the material on the old VHS videotapes, as VHS players break down and cannot be replaced economically ? Can the VHS videotapes be transcribed to DVD (practically and legally) ?

    British Library have a problem with ‘access to legacy material’, for sure, but it should be the British Standards Institution rather than the British Library who set the way things should work for the future.

    Comment by Chris Ward | February 6, 2008 | Reply


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