From the outset of the process several countries pointed out that OOXML was inappropriate for Fast Track processing and that it should be rejected and re-submitted to the formal standards process. This has since then be repeated again and again, by me as well as many other people, and I have no interest in rehashing that point once again.
On the other hand it appears to me that some people are getting confused about what the Fast Track is really about and what it’s not designed for.
JTC1’s choice not to listen to the countries that raised contradictions basically led it to trying to replace the multi-year standards process by a few months and a 5 day BRM. Predictably this has failed leaving many issues undiscussed, unresolved, or simply to be accounted for.
I said predictably because the Fast Track process is not designed to fix broken specifications, so it is no surprise that it failed short of achieving that goal.
The Fast Track process is merely designed to ratify specifications that already meet ISO standards criteria or are very close to. OOXML doesn’t, and for this reason alone, if nothing else, it shouldn’t be approved.
People should also remember that voting No to OOXML now doesn’t necessarily mean No forever. It simply means not yet, it is not ready – and there is plenty of evidence this is the case -. By voting No, people are simply giving the world a chance to fix OOXML before ratifying it.
As I stated before the world has nothing to gain from rushing OOXML through ISO. The only urgency here is not to rush into making this broken specification an ISO standard.
For what it’s worth, ISO/IEC officials’ response to criticism over the use of the Fast Track process has been that if people don’t think it is appropriate they should simply vote No. So you can take it from them: Vote No.
If the discussion on OOXML was purely technical I don’t think there would be much debate. Apart from Microsoft employees and a few lost souls, for whom we can only wonder about their real motivations, I have yet to meet any technical person arguing that OOXML is a good specification.
The reality is that from a technical point of view OOXML is just plain terrible and the body of evidence proving this point only keeps growing as people get time to review it. Antonis Christofides of the Greek delegation in his write-up on Some clarifications on the OOXML Ballot Resolution Meeting, sums it all up with “the Ecma responses make the text slightly better, but though slightly better it is still abysmal.”
Given that, it means the only reason OOXML has even a chance to become an ISO standard is political. On that front I see two factors at play. First and for most is the extent of Microsoft’s powerful network built over the years which proves to be enough to, at least in some cases, skew the results in National Bodies. Second appears to be the belief by some people that by approving OOXML as an ISO standard they’re somehow bringing Microsoft to the table and taking control over the format.
It is this second point that I want to talk about here because I have no doubts that many well intentioned people fall in that latter category and I’m afraid they are badly mistaken. To be clear I’d be more than happy to be proven wrong on that front, but Microsoft’s track record leaves me no hope to see this happen.
Indeed, Microsoft’s track record shows that they never give away control and that they only use the standard process to appease customers’ fears by making them believe that everything is all right because their products are based on standards.
Let me share with you some personal experience on this so you can understand where I’m coming from.
At the time I was a W3C employee, in response to when Microsoft would fully implement CSS2 Microsoft’s representative once replied: “We will never do it. We have implemented what we are interested in. This is it.” Almost ten years later, this is still basically true. Yet, Microsoft at the same time kept pushing for CSS3 with new features they were interested in. What this told me is that they pick and choose.
Later, when I became IBM’s main representative at W3C and dealt with Microsoft to bring to W3C several of the Web services related specifications we were developing together I kept being confronted with the problem that while IBM leaned towards bringing the specifications early on to W3C Microsoft kept delaying this as much as possible. This kept me intrigued until one day my peer at Microsoft told me: “For us, the submission to W3C is the end of the road. What happens after doesn’t really matter.”
I didn’t need to ask why. The explanation was obvious. Once the specification is submitted to W3C Microsoft can tell its customers that it is a standard. Technically it’s not, but if any customer ever cares to ask it’s easy enough to put their fear to rest by explaining that the process is started and it’s simply a matter of time. By the time the standard eventually comes out, customers are already using Microsof’s technology and no longer have much choice if they find out that Microsoft doesn’t even bother adhering to the actual standard. They are locked-in.
Now, someone I’m sure could point out that they aren’t the only ones failing to be fully compliant to a given standard and for that matter I’m sure somebody will quickly bring up a case where IBM is at fault. But while I believe it usually is accidental what I got from Microsoft tells me that in their case it is not. It is simply part of their strategy.
So, back to OOXML. I’d like to know what makes people believe this isn’t going to be the case here. I’d like to understand what makes people think that all of a sudden Microsoft has decided to play nice and relinquish control over the technology that constitutes its biggest cash cow, mind you.
Just looking at the their response to the comments that were filed for the BRM I can already see where this is going. In response to the lack of use of standard technologies Microsoft has generously offered to ADD many of these technologies. This is the case of SVG for vector graphics for instance, or ISO 8601 for dates. But while doing so they were very careful not to require implementation of these technologies, and they were very careful not to remove any of the technologies they actually use.
This is all Microsoft needed. They can, and I predict will, ignore all these additions which are optional and stick to what they have. The only reason they were added was to remove reasons for National Bodies to vote against OOXML.
You’ll note that in this case, because governments aren’t satisfied with a mere submission to ISO, it was important for Microsoft to actually get the ISO standard label. That’s why they chose the shortest way and put all their resources into achieving this goal at all cost.
If OOXML becomes an ISO standard, I predict that they will claim compliance with the standard overnight. Quite easy thing to do when the standard was custom made for your product and every modification brought to it was carefully carved out as optional. Then they will either ignore the standard process altogether and dump a new version every once in while through ECMA+JTC1, or pretend they care about the standard process to appease any possible discontents and participate in its “maintenance” while still ignoring it in its product. They will undoubtedly continue to pick and choose.
And what this means is that, if OOXML becomes an ISO standard next week, all the people who thought they were forcing them to the table will simply have given them carte blanche to abuse the ISO standard label.
I hope we’ll never have to find out but if we do, I sincerely hope I’m wrong. I’m used to joke about the fact that I’m always right, but in fact, it that were the case I challenge Microsoft to prove me wrong. I’d be much happier if they did, I just see no reason to believe it.
I’m French and have lived in the US for over 10 years now. Yet, even some of my closest colleagues still have trouble saying my name right. They usually get the first name alright but the last name often remains a problem so, I thought, as a small distraction from the OOXML raging debate, I would spend a few minutes talking about my name.
My first name is “Arnaud”. The way to pronounce it is “Arno”, or if you will “R-no”. Easy enough but many English speaking people keep wanting to say every letter and insist on saying the D when it is totally silent. In general the end letter is silent in French, and “au” is basically just like the letter O. Don’t ask me why, I don’t know, and I’m not especially a defender of the many irregularities and complexities of the French language.
When I first moved to the US and had to give my name in a restaurant to be put on the waiting list I used to spell my name so they would write it correctly. I quickly discovered that this was a big mistake because I would later fail to recognize my name when called. I now simply say “Arno”, which they often understand as “Arnold” (with the D I never say, mind you 🙂 – it’s amazing how our brains want to always match what we hear to something known. -) But that’s ok, it’s close enough for me to recognize when it is called later, which is all I care about in this case.
Now that I’m done with my first name, let’s get to my last name. My last name is “Le Hors”. This one is tougher and in fact even French people have trouble with it. I’ll explain why later but first, let me insist on the fact that it is in two words.
This is actually not that uncommon in many parts of the world but for some reason people in the US seem to have a major problem dealing with last names of more than one word. It is a constant struggle to keep my name as two words.
People always seem to want to either attach it as in “LeHors” or as in “Le-Hors”. It’s neither. The fact that many names are spelled in one word even though they were clearly two initially, such as “McDonald” or “McTracy”, is a testimony that many did give in on keeping their names in two words at one point in time. Maybe my son will too one day, if he stays in the US, but I won’t.
A related problem I discovered while insisting on having my last name written in two words is that people reading “Arnaud Le Hors” then wrongly infer that “Le” is my middle name and address me as “Mr Hors”.
Of course, it’s understandable in a country where so many names are so common that people must use their middle name to try and differentiate themselves, but in my case it’s just another trap. To prevent that I now often write my middle initial, as in “Arnaud J Le Hors”, which clues people in. Some still get it wrong though.
I also try to put two spaces between my first name and last name, as in “Arnaud Le Hors”. But more than often computer programs collapse the two spaces in one, defeating my attempt [Update: looks like wordpress does exactly that as a matter of fact, I can’t seem to figure out the right escape sequence to get two hardcoded whitespaces…]. In fact, computer programs that are developed in the US by people who make the same typical assumptions often garble my name one way or another.
Whether at the drugstore or at the car rental my name often reads as “Hors A”, “Le A”, or some similar variation, on the display panels. And because airline companies and travel agencies handle the two words differently I often have trouble with non matching frequent flyer numbers, etc.
Back to the pronunciation, the way to say my last name is “Luh Oarss”. It took me a while to figure this one out with help from a couple of American friends but having tested it on several occasions I’m now confident that, when said with an American pronunciation, it leads to the write sound. (Special note: Come on, Bob, try it a couple of times, I’m sure you can do it. 😉
The H is silent and the S at the end is pronounced. That’s where the French too have difficulties. See, as I previously said “in general the end letter is silent in French”. So, most French people don’t say the S.
But my name is not really French. It is from the north west part of France, called Britany (“Bretagne”) which had its own language and my name used be spelled “An Horz”. After the French revolution, all the names from Britany were translated to French in an effort to unify the various regions of France. The “An”, which is an article just like the English “An”, was thus translated to the French article “Le”. In the process the Z was changed to an S and since then the spelling no longer quite matches the pronunciation.
All my life in France, starting from primary school up to now, I’ve had to correct people’s pronunciation – “it’s not ‘Le Hor’, it’s ‘Le HorSS'” – and correct people who systematically write my name as “Le Horse” even when I spell it to them – “No E at then end”!
Sometimes I envy my cousins who live in Britany where local knowledge shields them from all these troubles, but I wouldn’t trade the Californian sunny weather for the rainy weather of Britany, even though the coasts of Britany are some of the most beautiful regions I’ve seen.
So there, you have the whole story now, and probably more than you care to know. Standard program to resume shortly. (pun intended) 🙂
In case anybody misunderstood my blog entry “Let’s be clear: The Apache Software Foundation does NOT support OOXML“, I did not mean to imply that the ASF has any official position one way or another regarding OOXML.
My point was simply that Microsoft is misleading people in claiming OOXML support from basic XML tools and their parent organizations.
I don’t think anybody who actually read my entry could read it otherwise but I respect the sensitivity of some ASF people on the matter.
Every so often I watch some financial program on TV and one thing I’ve always appreciated is the full disclosure policy they have in the financial world.
That is, when someone from the financial industry is being interviewed by journalists on what they think about a particular financial interest, be it a particular company or a specific sector, a chart is typically displayed disclosing any relationship the interviewee has with the financial interest he or she is speaking about.
The disclosure typically includes information such as whether the person owns stock in the company being discussed, whether his or her company owns that stock or manages a fund that owns that stock, etc.
This is something especially important to know given that if the person owns that stock and tells you to buy it, he or she will directly benefit from your purchase. It doesn’t mean that the expressed opinion is necessarily false or misleading, but it’s important for you to know there is a possible conflict of interest so that you have all the elements in hand to make your own decision.
Once the dust settles on the rubbles left behind by the OOXML debacle, as we move forward in the IT industry and reflect on what we ought to do to improve our standards setting process to prevent this type of abuse from reoccurring, I think we should look into globally adopting a disclosure policy similar to what the financial world has.
Looking at the people who’ve participated in the worldwide debate around OOXML I see two categories of people. There are those who are employed by a company, like myself, and who speak with that hat on clearly disclosing to the world a possible bias. Then there are those who talk without showing any particular affiliation with any interested parties involved. These people are either truly independent or simply hiding the ties they have. The problem is that we don’t know.
I should note that some standards development organizations already have such disclosure policy. When one joins a working group, he or she must disclose any relevant affiliation. But this needs to be generalized.
It is currently too easy for people to speak as if they were independent and use this pseudo-independence to influence uninformed people. Groklaw recently posted a story called “How to Get Your Platform Accepted as a Standard – Microsoft Style” with evidence that Microsoft, for one, has made this kind of tactic an integral part of its business development strategy. It is hard to read this and not wonder about Rick Jeliffe’s continuous lobbying and Patrick Durusau’s recent change of heart. Especially when everything they say becomes Microsoft’s new ammunition in a matter of minutes.
I think in the long run blatantly biased people discredit themselves and can only do so for so long. It takes a lifetime to build a reputation and minutes to destroy it. Those who have been working on destroying theirs for months over OOXML have in my opinion little prospect other than specializing in the job of “pseudo-independent for hire”, with the inherent risk of seeing their value proposition diminish over time, as their game becomes more and more obvious to the world. But more subtle people may still go on for quite a while before being detected, if ever.
Of course a disclosure policy similar to what is used in the financial world isn’t bullet proof either. There will always be some room for game play by unscrupulous people and companies. But at least it would set some expectations and, just like in the financial world, the consequences when being caught to have failed to disclose any relevant affiliation could be far greater than they currently are. I’m not excluding judicial prosecution here. After all, the stakes are not that different than in the financial world and without being a lawyer I think anti-trust laws and others may apply.
Something to think about when considering ways to increase transparency in the standards development process.
OK, I’ll admit that nobody has claimed otherwise. Yet.
But in these days and age you are never too prudent. It wouldn’t surprise me to see this or other similar fancy claim being published eventually.
Indeed, in its desperate and last minute attempts to convince National Bodies around the world that OOXML is happening anyway so they might as well support it as an ISO standard, Microsoft is eager to claim support by as many companies and organizations as possible.
As evidence, in its latest OOXML propaganda open letter Microsoft lists IBM among other companies as having “already adopted (or announced adoption of) Open XML in their products”. This, despite a clear explanation of the contrary by Rob Weir, published two months ago! Does anyone believe they haven’t seen it or heard about this? I sure don’t. And if there was any room for misunderstanding Bob Sutor’s statement filled that in.
A colleague in a foreign country even reported that in a National Body meeting he had been confronted by a representative from Microsoft who was trying to silence him via intimidation and insistence that IBM supported OOXML contrary to what he was saying.
Microsoft’s oversight of IBM’s denials is clearly not accidental. It is part of a well crafted and continuous disingenuous plan to convince NBs at all cost. There is already so much evidence of Microsoft going far beyond what most would consider normal lobbying behavior it is sickening. For one, I’m not ready to forget the case of the NGOs in India. Talk about dirty practices.
But what really is at the bottom of Microsoft’s claims is that basically any software that handles XML supports OOXML. While technically this is true to a certain degree, such a bold claim without any further qualification is pure misinformation. Obviously, one of the advantages of using XML is to make your format, whatever it is, easier to handle, it’s one of the fundamental benefits of using XML. But as I previously touched on in my entry on XML vs Open, there is a big difference between being able to handle XML files at the XML level and truly supporting the particular format at hand.
Supporting OOXML. cannot be merely declared on the sole basis that a software can read OOXML files, or store OOXML files. If that were the case, then any XML parser could be said to support OOXML and the Apache Software Foundation could be said to support OOXML because its XML parser, Xerces, can read OOXML files (one would actually have to unzip them first but it’s not like Microsoft would stop at that kind of detail). But it takes much more than that to really support OOXML.
One has to understand the actual structure beyond the XML representation and the semantic associated to each and every piece of data found in an OOXML file. That’s what the 6000+ pages of the specification are supposed to define, unfortunately they do that extremely poorly.
The good news is that I don’t think Microsoft is fooling that many people. Based on my own observation of Microsoft representatives and the way they talk to people they seem to be completely oblivious to the fact that they appear as if they think the people they are talking to are too stupid to see through their tired arguments. I’ve got news for them: people aren’t that stupid. Thankfully. And I’m hopeful the results at the end of the month will make that clear.
The other good news is that whether OOXML gets approved or not, I believe Microsoft will pay a high price for all of its mischief and its image will come out of this badly damaged, something they can only blame themselves for.
In the meanwhile, don’t take for granted any claims of support for OOXML from Microsoft. The fact that Microsoft claims IBM has adopted OOXML can only make one wonder about all the other companies they list…
A lot of the debate around OOXML has focused on whether it is good to have competing standards or not. The debate started from the simple fact that Microsoft decided to create its own standard for office applications rather than adopt the established ISO standard for office applications: ODF.
While there is clearly a need for evolution and there are times when it makes sense to introduce a new standard to replace an old one there is no doubt in my mind that in general there is much more to lose from having multiple standards rather than a single one than there is to gain.
Interestingly enough I should point out that Microsoft defends that very point at times. In the case of XML for instance, when the W3C introduced XML 1.1 to address some internationalization limitations in XML 1.0, something important to many non-western countries, Microsoft voted against XML 1.1 arguing that the introduction of a new version of XML would be too disruptive!
Yet the tactic of introducing a competing standard to disrupt the status quo is common practice for the Redmond company. For instance, in the Web services management area, an area not so visible to the public as office applications but still very important to the IT industry, they did the same. Microsoft consistently refused to join the ongoing industry effort around Web Services Distributed Management (WSDM) at OASIS for years. They kept claiming that they had no interest in this topic. Yet, in 2005. after WSDM became an OASIS standard supported by a large segment of the industry mind you, Microsoft introduced their own technology named WS-Management, with support from some well chosen partners. Three years later the industry is still trying to figure out what to do with the mess they thus created.
But all this debate around multiple standards is somewhat of a distraction from the real issue at hand. In the end what is really being asked to National Bodies (NB) around the world isn’t to choose between ODF and OOXML, or to choose between ODF alone and ODF and OOXML. The question that NBs are asked to answer is whether OOXML deserves to become an ISO standard in its own right.
The reality is that if the OOXML specification wasn’t of such a poor quality it most certainly would have had a much easier ride through the Fast Track process. If all that could be argued against it was that it was too big, the IP license has gaps, and multiple standards aren’t good, this may not even have made headlines, no matter how true it is.
What is appalling about OOXML is that it is fundamentally a VERY BAD specification and I just can’t understand what process would allow this garbage to even be presented as an ISO standard up for vote. OOXML is from a technical point of view just terrible. All I’ve seen from it and all I’ve read about it only confirms this. And I have yet to meet any technical person arguing in all honesty that OOXML is a good specification. The latest facts reported by Rob Weir speak for themselves.
So, again, the real question isn’t so much whether the world would benefit from having several competing standards or not. The real question is how many bad standards do we need? And the answer is zero.
OOXML must be voted down simply because it is a bad standard.
If you travel a bit and stay in hotels you will have for sure noticed that most hotels around the world seem to have become environment aware.
Invariably it seems, you now found in hotel rooms a little sign, of one form or another, inviting you to help the hotel protect the environment by reusing your towels from one night to the next. In an effort to convince customers the sign never fails to explain how much laundry hotels make every day, and how the tons of water and detergents being used over time adversely impact the environment.
I’m actually completely fine with reusing my towel. Without waiting for hotels to educate me on the necessity to spare our environment as much as possible, I have always thought it was a complete waste to change my towel every day. This, along with the systematic change of the soap bar, has always annoyed me actually.
So I’m glad there is now a simple way to communicate my preference as to when to change my towel based on the very simple convention being typically used: towel on the floor means “please, change my towel”, towel on the hanger means “I’ll reuse that towel, thanks”. I did notice that sometimes it still gets changed even when I don’t leave it on the floor but it seems to work for the most part.
Now, despite this improvement, I’m still annoyed. The reason for this is that hotels aren’t being honest with us. I think hotels are using our willingness to spare the environment not so much to protect the environment but primarily to increase their profit.
This sentiment is ever so reinforced when in the very same hotels I find that they use disposable dishware in the breakfast room. How come they aren’t concerned about the environmental impact of throwing away tons of plastic utensils, paper cups, and styrofoam plates? They certainly know that this has a terrible impact on our environment, maybe even more so than doing all their laundry. Most of the time they don’t even appear to recycle anything because all they provide is a single trash bin in which food remains and used disposable dishware pile up.
The only possible explanation for this inconsistency is that hotels don’t care that much about the environment. What they really care about is their bottom line. When they gain from the program, such as from doing less laundry, they are happy to do it, but if it’s cheaper to use disposable dishware than washing dishes every day they’ll put aside any consideration of environment protection to ensure greater profit.
Granted it is still better that they have some program rather than none, but if their sole interest was to save the environment they could go one step further and pass the cost saving they generate from doing less laundry onto customers in one form or another, donate the money to some environment protection program of one kind or another, or simply use the money to wash dishes! If anything, I believe this would constitute an additional incentive for customers to participate in the towel reuse program.
Instead, it is clear that hotels merely see these towel reuse programs as an opportunity to improve their public image by endorsing an environment friendly attitude all the while increasing their profit. Now, there is nothing wrong with companies trying to increase their profit, that’s what companies are expected to do, what’s wrong is being deceitful about it.
I wish I knew how to fix it but I don’t. What I do know however is that the ISO/IEC process is severally broken in that it is riddled with room for game play. I guess ISO/IEC managed to get away with it for a long time but things have changed now that Microsoft has shown how to use every loophole in the process to get to its end.
Hopefully, justice will prevail and OOXML will rightly get voted down at the end of the month but the process shouldn’t have allowed to go that far into this sad farce in the first place.
In the latest demonstration of how broken the process is the US V1 technical committee voted on Friday to recommend approval of OOXML in a 17-4 vote, where Microsoft and no fewer than 11 of its business partners voted in favor of the specification. Am I the only one to see a major conflict of interest at play in this?
Evidently the result of the vote simply reflects the make up of the committee and can in no way be trusted to represent any kind of objective evaluation of the proposed standard.
So, I have to ask: how can we ask someone to vote on its own specification? Has any submitter ever voted against its own submission? I actually don’t know if that ever happened but the conflict of interest is so obvious that I wonder why this was ever allowed in the first place.
My guess is that this same process usually works just fine because normally specifications brought up for ratification by ISO/IEC are the product of a standardization process which involves more than one interested party. In such a case, the standard doesn’t solely benefit one particular vendor but represents a compromise between stakeholders.
In the case of OOXML, the reason the process falls apart is I believe primarily because OOXML is the product of a single vendor and because this vendor is supported by a large ecosystem that can participate in what is nothing else than a hijack of the standards process.
To be fair, it is not clear that other standards organizations are immune to that type of scam but thankfully there aren’t that many Ecmas around ready to make it that much easier.
As I said at the beginning I’m not sure how to fix this problem. Given the possible intricacies of partnerships between companies of our modern world it is going to be hard to figure out a clear way to discriminate among the companies involved and decide whether they have a conflict of interest or not. This doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try though. For one thing, it is not hard to make the call when it comes to Microsoft and OOXML. So, we could definitely do better than what we currently do.
At a minimum when there is an obvious conflict of interest, such as when asking Microsoft whether OOXML should become an ISO standard or not, the rules should make it impossible for the company to take part in the evaluation process.
When I was a kid I remember there was a TV show called “Eurovision” in which musical bands from various European countries competed with each other. The bands were given scores by judges from each country and the band with the highest tally won, a bit like what is done for ice skating. Although my memory isn’t very clear on the rules and all I do seem to recall that judges did not take part in the scoring of their own country band. This was clearly meant to lessen any risk of bias due to conflict of interest.
Maybe some similar rule should be used for standards ratification. Of course, the fact that a company can hide behind a pseudo standards organization such as Ecma makes this a bit trickier to figure out but, again, I still think we should try.
Note that the recommendation from the V1 committee does not necessarily translate in the final US vote. This recommendation now goes to the INCITS EB, for a 6-day ballot and resolution meeting, which will decide on the final position.
I can’t wait to be done with OOXML so that we can focus our energy on fixing the international standards process. If anything, what we’ve learned throughout this whole ordeal is that it is in need of a serious scrubbing.
It appears that, in spite of Microsoft’s attempts to spin the BRM into a successful meeting which delegations from around the world left “happy” and “cheering” (I seriously wonder what they are on, do greed and deception get one high?), people are really upset about the way the BRM went on and are lining up at the “Fast Track Customer Services” counter to file complaints.
I actually took that photo while waiting for my plane in London Heathrow. Even though I wasn’t really paying attention the sign caught my eye and I couldn’t prevent smiling at the whole scene. I took the shot vainly trying not to look too conspicuous to the many puzzled people surrounding me. I didn’t try to explain.
I guess the words “Fast Track” will never be the same for many of us.