Arnaud's Blog

Opinions on open source, standards, and other things

Can anyone be more disingenuous?

There is not enough time to blog about everything that should be said about Microsoft’s indecent tactics to win the ISO vote on OOXML at all cost. I explained in my previous entry how misleading the disposition of comments document is, claiming agreement even when they disagree just so that the response can be seen as positive.

For another demonstration of pure disingenuousness let’s look at Microsoft/Ecma’s response to China’s comment.

China filed along with their No vote in September a comment explaining that “we found it is a very complex technology […] We think the fast-track procedure is not suitable for this DIS” and ending with “more time is necessary and essential to conduct a credible and responsible evaluation.

Seems reasonable enough and it’s fair to say that this sentiment is shared by many.

In response, Microsoft/Ecma’s wrote the following:

DIS 29500 is indeed a large specification. However, there is precedent for ISO/IEC specifications totalling housands of pages. Examples include:

  • ISO Standards for the Exchange of Product model data (STEP):
    • ISO 10303-210:2001 – 4,515 pages
    • ISO 10303-214:2003 – 3,529 pages
    • ISO 10303-212:2001 – 2,808 pages
    • ISO 10303-218:2004 – 1,837 pages
  • MPEG 2 Standard (ISO/IEC 13818) – 1,558 pages
  • MPEG 4 Standard (ISO/IEC 14496) – 4,415 pages
  • ODA – 1,244 pages
  • POSIX (ISO/IEC 9945) – 3,549 pages”

On that basis, many will think “Oh. So, that’s really not a rare occurrence. So, what’s all the fuss about OOXML being so big then?”

Well, here is the catch: What Microsoft is conveniently omitting to indicate in its response is that none of these standards have gone through the Fast Track process! They all went through the normal 5 stage development process over several years.

For instance, documentation on MPEG 4 (ISO/IEC 14496) indicates that “The total documentation package for ISO/IEC 14496 is extensive; 17 parts have been published from 1998 to 2004, with more to come.” This makes it very clear that while the specification is indeed several thousand pages long it was developed in several parts over 6 years!

But that’s not all. Microsoft/Ecma’s response then goes on into citing how PDF went through Fast Track and is “a specification of over 1300 pages, which was submitted to ISO in June 2007 and ratified as ISO 32000 in December 2007.” Putting aside the fact that 1300 pages hardly compares with the 6000+ pages of OOXML, once more they omit some fundamental pieces of information:

PDF did go through the Fast Track process but it has been a de facto standard which had been publicly available for many years before it was submitted to ISO. Only 205 comments were filed during the review, and all of them were resolved. In the end it was approved unanimously.

Unlike PDF, OOXML is a brand new format. It is NOT the format that everybody is using today. OOXML is neither a de facto standard nor a format that has been publicly available for years.

If OOXML had been developed the way MPEG 4 has, it wouldn’t be of such a low quality today and, its standardization through ISO wouldn’t be so controversial.


February 22, 2008 Posted by | standards | , , | 2 Comments

When “Agreed” means No.

Speaking of agreement, I should point out how misleading Microsoft/Ecma’s Disposition of Comments is.

The Pro-OOXML lobbyists a la Rick Jeliffe were prompt to demonstrate with fancy graphics how “The Editor (Rex Jaeschke on behalf of ECMA TC45) has accepted the lion’s share.” Graphics that are now being reused by Microsoft in other documents prepared to convinced NBs that everything is fine, Microsoft/Ecma accepted most comments.

Of course, Microsoft conveniently forgets to mention that even Rick Jeliffe himself admitted in a follow up comment that “ISO-ese ‘Agreed’ is sometimes more like the Japanese ‘Hai’ or English ‘OK’ rather than the English ‘Yes’.” and that “indeed [this graphic] is of limited usefulness“.

Ironically enough, Rick ends up explaining that it’s because ‘People want slogans and headlines and they prefer “MS agrees to nothing” or “MS agrees to everything” to “Editor agrees to most but not all issues raised and makes suggestions in response usually prompted by the suggested solutions of the national bodies.”‘, that he made this post, all the while producing one of the most bogus and misleading piece of information for Microsoft to reuse as a headline and slogan.

I have personally read my share of comments and responses from Ecma and I had myself made this puzzling observation that while many responses start with “Agreed.” they follow with an explanation for denial of the request. Rick claims that in this case “Agreed” means “OK” but my reading of this is that it often merely means “No”.

While Microsoft/Ecma’s response is impressive in size, its content is far less impressive, and this kind of tactic can only lead to conclude that it is designed to mislead people into thinking they have agreed to most comments.

I wonder how that plays with the notion of “standards professionalism”…

February 21, 2008 Posted by | standards | , , | 2 Comments

Can you live with it?

In this latest entry Jason Matusow started the final phase of Microsoft’s pro-OOXML lobbying by saying how much “I really like [ Patick Durusau’s ] comment in his first footnote on the first page:

Granted, I have a number of issues with the current OpenXML proposal but experts do disagree in good faith even within open standards development projects. If a proposal cannot progress until we all agree, then we risk proposals being held hostage to whim and caprice.

Jason then insists on “The fact that there may be issues that remain open and/or in contention does not necessitate the perpetuation of a “no” following the BRM.” and that “[he is] hopeful that the same spirit of standards professionalism exhibited in Patrick’s letter will be reflected across all NSBs.

The sole irony of being lectured on “standards professionalism” by a Microsoft employee could have prompted me to write about this just because, having spent the greater part of my career working on standards, I find the whole OOXML debacle truly appalling and a total disgrace to the standards community. But this is not why I’m writing about it.

The reason I’m posting this entry is because, while I agree that total agreement isn’t always achievable, it is a mistake to conclude that it is therefore unreasonable, or unprofessional, for a National Body (NB) to insist on disagreeing by maintaining a No vote, and that instead they should accept that not all of their requests can be fulfilled so they should let go.

Anybody who’s participated in the development of standards knows that it’s all about compromises. It is a give and take process. Nobody gets exactly what he wants, but nobody gets nothing. In some cases, all agree, in other cases, they don’t. The question then is the level of disagreement you have and how you deal with it.

I think it serves to look at the W3C in this regard, because W3C is an organization that strives to be open and to not favor any particular stakeholder. For this reason it has set as a goal for itself to make decisions by consensus as much as possible.

Consensus does not mean everybody agrees, but it sets the bar higher than having a majority. A practical way to judge whether consensus is reached is not only to ask whether everybody agrees but also whether anybody strongly disagrees. The actual question asked to judge the latter is: “Can you live with it?”

What’s interesting is that the result can be completely different. In a situation where there are two options A and B, where the majority favors A over B but somebody can’t live with A, while everybody can live with B, B is the chosen option.

Getting back to OOXML, the question is not simply whether there are remaining open issues and whether NBs agree or not. The question is the number of issues that remain open, the importance of these issues, and ultimately whether they can live with it or not.

Given that NBs were never given the time necessary to review the whole specification, that the little review that could be done has revealed a low quality level, plus the fact that the BRM is limited to discussing the issues that were raised from partial reviews, no matter what happens at the BRM, there is plenty left for one to say “I can’t live with it”. It would actually be unprofessional not to.

February 21, 2008 Posted by | standards | , , , | 2 Comments

How to make a fool of yourself – Ecma’s lesson #1

One of the comments India’s NB registered with its NO vote on OOXML in September was:

The name “Office Open XML” is often mistakenly called ‘Open Office XML” implying a connection to the OpenOffice project which does not exist. This naming confusion has been documented and has occurred numerous times, including by analysts and even in Microsoft press releases and blogs.

It then requested the name to be changed to something that would be less confusing.

Ecma’s response is to deny the request, explaining that there is no need to change the name because “we believe there is no confusion“.

Yet, in the very same document, in response to another comment from India’s NB mind you, Ecma wrote (emphasis is mine):

There is no specific definition of macro languages in the Open Office XML specification […]

You’ve got to love it. 🙂

February 8, 2008 Posted by | standards | , | 5 Comments