Arnaud's Blog

Opinions on open source, standards, and other things

Clarification on what the Fast Track is really about

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.


March 26, 2008 Posted by | standards | , , , | 13 Comments

Crowd lines up to complain about the Fast Track process!

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.

Fast Track Customer Services

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.

March 5, 2008 Posted by | standards | , , | 1 Comment

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

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.

January 23, 2008 Posted by | standards | , , , | 29 Comments