Note to headline writers: Yes, Maybe, No, Dunno!

by Rick Jelliffe

Here is my free advise to headline writers: please use "Maybe" for the countries that vote "No with comments" on DIS 29500 (Office Open XML).

Those are effectively the four major votes that can be given on an ISO standard by a national body. As always, the best place for disinformation on votes is headlines.

An vote by a national body of "No with comments" is a "Maybe", and not an absolute "No". Looking at it more, I wouldn't now go as far as Job Bosak's comment that "No with comments" is the same as "Conditional approval", however. What really matters is the particular comments: if they are doable or reasonable and inline with goals of the standard and the proposer's conception of the standard, (and if no-one's hair is on fire) then No means Yes. But if the comments are undoable or unreasonable or out-of-scope for the standard's goals or depart from what is acceptable to the proposer, the No means No.

As in "New Zealand says Maybe!", "India says Maybe!", "Japan says Maybe", "China says Maybe", "Brazil says Maybe", and so on. Is is not so difficult is it? (Now even then there is scope for variation: "New Zealand says Maybe but probably not" or "Japan says Maybe, but probably" for example. But that would require actually research.)

And for journalists struggling to write the story well, here is another big tip: the votes are on particular drafts and the technical and editorial issues in them. So when there is a "No with comments" vote, that is a vote on the particular draft -- a book in progress -- not on the underlying technology. A careful writer will distinguish between DIS 29500 (the book being voted on) and Office Open XML (the technology.) Sometimes this distinction does not make a difference, but sometimes it really does, especially in the case of "No with comments" where you may be in favour of having a standard for the technology but want some improvements in the draft. In that situation, treating "No with comments" as the same as "No" misrepresents the process.


J David Eisenberg
2007-08-30 07:51:39
In that case, I hesitate to contemplate what "Yes, with comments" might signify. I suppose it all depends on what the meaning of "is" is. <grin/>

2007-08-30 10:27:53
Note that once there was a debate on the topic, Sutor turned off the comments on his articles that reference the topic. Andy Updegrove just asked for a "No With Comments" vote from the Linux Foundation. Updegrove states that MS is hurting international standards.

How so? He admits they follow the rules. I'll be the first to admit they are playing hardball, but as far as I can tell, only the pro-ODF side is actually beginning to squelch debate.

THAT is doing damage.

When the Republican Party wanted to squelch opposing opinions during the last Presidential election, they locked the doors to protesters or anyone not signing loyalty oaths anywhere Bush or Cheney went to speak. The results speak for themselves.

The web has been melting down for some time now. The BitTorrent scandals, the hedge fund investors, the money-for-nothing buy outs are all poisoning the environment, ut this debate is the beginning of something worse. In the past, split in the stitching could be restitched because the people who do that sort of work are usually willing to put down their axes and go have a beer and work out some reasonable compromises. The NO OOXML crowd, a subset of the Anything But Microsoft crowd is going nuclear. Once that is felt, then it won't be a matter of just your reputation being sullied. It is the end of the web as a design by consensus. What follows is going to be very ugly with only the deep pockets able to guide change. In the end, it will just be MS, IBM, and Oracle making the choices. Individuals and companies on the edge can say as much as they like, but they won't be listened to because they simply won't be A-listers.

Don Christie
2007-08-30 17:40:33

What you are describing is the process. At Standards NZ they said there were three possible outcomes. "Yes", "abstain", "No".

Yes and No *always* come with comments. In other words, there is no distinction between a "No" and a "No with comments".

You are welcome to question the expertise of SNZ staff if you want to but they seemed pretty clued up on the process and also in what happens after a "No" vote.

SNZ also recommended a process by which harmonization between the two standards could be achieved.

Rick Jelliffe
2007-08-30 20:19:30
Anonymous: I don't think you can say that the "pro-ODF" side is the same as the "anti-OOXML" side. For a start it denies a spot for the people who occupy the middle ground, walking on both sides of a barbed wire fence. But also because within both there is a lot of variation. And also, because one or two voices or forums, no matter how prominent, are just that: one or two voices or forums.
Rick Jelliffe
2007-08-30 20:35:26
Don: I certainly wasn't intending to slight anyone at SNZ! It is the simplistic headlines. It is not the contents of the stories that I am so concerned about, it is the PR use of the headlines.

Every time there is a vote on a draft, it gets reported as "X says No: rebuff to MS" or "Y says Yes: game over for ODF?" and so on. But the process is one of discussion and negotiation. People will be surprised that after ticking "No" on the ballot, a national body may still accept a standard, because of the possibility to change the vote if comments are satisfactorily addressed (through the BRM process.)

Focus on Yes/No makes people think that the process is political: that by shouting louder someone wins. Whereas the process is technical: by sorting through the technical and editorial issues systematically and calmly, the aim is to get win/win.

You can see the effect of this Yes/No mentality: it makes "No with comments" into a PR issue rather than a process one. You recall that I recommended "No with comments" at NZOSS, but now that I blogged about it I am being accused of changing sides! It makes MS try to get "Yes" votes (with or without comments) because of the PR implications.

On whether there can be a "No" without comments, IIRC the ballot form gives a place to tick if addressing the concerns would change the vote. It is a different class to a vote where there is a simple no. By "No with comments" I mean that that box is ticked.

2007-08-31 05:55:11

I meant to sign that. I'm pushing some software to demo so distracted and forgot to put a name in the name box.

Any polarity has all those inner domains you mention, but the loud voices dominate regardless of the frequencies that make up the middle. I am reading very few who step back far enough to see that the continued use of these tactics causes fractures that won't close for a long time. I've no obligations to Microsoft, certainly other than being a user of their software, and IBM is just expressing its genetic code; still it is disappointing that we don't see more people stepping back and realizing that this battle is nuts for the customers. The only entities who take away any benefits are the larger forces and those inner domains simply get grooved into them.

Individual choice relies more on giving up having than having what is given. I realize that reads like another 'len being cryptic' but I think it clear enough.


Rick Jelliffe
2007-08-31 19:19:58
David: The distinction I am making is based on the actual voting forms and the different processes that follow them.

Why do you think that is just Clinton-esque equivocation?

J David Eisenberg
2007-08-31 21:46:50
Why do you think that is just Clinton-esque equivocation?

I thought the <grin/> made it clear that was a joke. I guess I am smiley-impaired.

Seriously, though: If you did a "man from Mars" test, that man from Mars would tell you that "No," with or without comments, means that OOXML is not ready to be an ISO standard at this time. The "with comments" simply means that the voter thinks that at a future time (if Microsoft decide, in their infinite wisdom, to address any objections), it might be ready. But the vote is for the current status, not what might happen in the future. And for now, no really does mean no.

P.S. If any company other than Microsoft had proposed a standard with the same sorts of problems that people have pointed out in OOXML, would you still be saying that "no with comments means maybe"?

2007-09-01 08:37:00
Actually, yes. I think you will find many examples of standards that went to press with comments and flaws. XML was one.

The question is, if any company other than Microsoft submitted the standard, would the brouhaha be this loud? Worse, now that the precedents for these tactics are set, is the way we can expect future submissions to be handled?

Rick Jelliffe
2007-09-01 19:25:31
David: But a grin makes your comment pleasant (as I am sure you are!), it doesn't unmake the point of the joke.

The problem is the incorrect transition that people make by switching in the same sentence between DIS 29500 (a particular text) and Open XML (a technology that could have many different texts that describe it).

So the vote is on DIS 29500. But you cannot say that No on DIS 29500 is the same thing as No on OOXML, which is the way that it is reported. Which plays into the hands of the marketeers and spin merchants.

2007-09-02 12:01:18
I have seen at least a dozen comments on OOXML to which ODF does not comply either. It would be weird is an ISO NB would consider those worth a no vote
I think OASIS will need to a bit of verifying of these on ODF because they are definitly not going to get a next update 1.2 version of ODF tru the ISO on current specification level.
2007-09-02 12:24:23
I think hAL makes a good point. With this level of nitpicking, one can reasonably argue that the next ISO document standardization effort (which may very well be the next version of ODF), will be very difficult to get through. What is to stop Microsoft or other OOXML players from blocking any future ODF standards on similar grounds to the comments against OOXML.

It seems like the pro-ODF and anti-OOXML side (the most populated quadrant of the standards support grid) needs to consider the precedents they are setting with their tactics against OOXML. This global campaign against Microsoft in standards bodies is really destroying constructive discourse in this sphere of technology. You might argue that Microsoft has a campaign as well, but they don't tend to use mis-informed soldiers to raise specious points in standards fora. How many times have you heard of a pro-OOXML person getting up and saying something utterly false about the format? It seems like the comments that even made it into some NB submissions contain incorrect information. This is not productive... just a waste of time and money that could be used in actually competing with Microsoft rather than trying to block them in the ISO.

Rick Jelliffe
2007-09-02 16:08:54
hAl, nksingh: +1. On the face of it, ODF does indeed represent precedent about what is acceptable. What is good for the goose should be good for the gander.

Yet reviews, like drafts, are never perfect; so it is possible for an NB to come to a realization about an issue late, raise it on OOXML now and submit it to ODF for urgent maintenance. But it is difficult to see how a NB can justify a no vote because of any single issue if they don't also raise the same issue about ODF.

I suppose there could be an expectation that ODF is easy to evolve while OOOXML is presented as a big block whose maintenance NBs are unsure about, perhaps. So accessibility becomes an issue suitable for handling by later maintenance for ODF, but something that should be dealt with immediately for OOXML. That is the kind of subjective judgment that needs prudent consideration but tempts FUD too.

I know that the OASIS ODF people are paying attention to the comments on Open XML, and they will be keen on making sure that ODF follows the best practices that come out of the OOXML round of discussion.

2007-09-04 11:33:59
One way to look at this is that given the anti-OOXML fervor, the draft has been picked over reasonably completely by all sides as represented in the comments. Given those, if these can be resolved, a much cleaner version will be returned.

It seems likely that we will have two ISO standards and in terms of market choice. Some do have to explain the "single standard" theory given it reduces choice oddly enough in the favor of market minorities.

Meanwhile, ISO can reform some of its processes to offset the effect of member pile ons and recruitment of disruptors. BSI did the right thing to stop that. I will not be surprised if several member organizations take this opportunity to improve their review and membership policies.

Overall, it will be a good thing.

Dave S.
2007-09-06 07:24:40
Rick - the term for votes with comments is Not Yet. That "Yes with comments" is allowed is ignorant. If the comments are not incorporated exactly as made, that vote should be recorded as No. If the comments are incorporated exactly as made then all other votes should be rejected until those participants have the chance to review the incorporation and vote again.

Many of those who are not participating in the voting process are supporting 'Not Ever' because a second standard in the document market will lead to one of two things - either constant translation troubles or maintenance of application and OS lock-in for Microsoft.

Still want tow standards?

Look at
"Standardization of equipment is vitally important ..."

Anonymous - "only the pro-ODF side is actually beginning to squelch debate" is balanced by 'Only the pro-OOXML side sends lobbyists to privately squelch consideration of ODF.'

A Microsoft senior executive tried to influence the president of Peru when the Peruvian government was considering a shift to Linux. Know someone named Bill?

Big companies meddle with operations of foreign governments all the time, but a direct cash hand-out is usually frowned upon.

Rick Jelliffe
2007-09-07 02:52:44
Len: My fear is that the draft may not not been picked over adequately. There is such an incredible lot of parroting that has clearly not been the result of independent review but merely cutting-and-pasting. We will be able to see from the national comments, when all they become available, how much actual independent review occurred; hopefully I am wrong and the BRM get a good swag of fixable issues.

Dave S: Your mistake, if I may say, is in thinking that ODF ever had a hope of displacing the MS native formats, except in niche areas where governments can regulate, such as their own public websites. Whether or not OOXML is a standard, there will always be translation problems with ODF 1.0 (ISO ODF) and ODF 1.2 because they have different capabilities.

Rick Jelliffe
2007-09-07 03:20:31
Dave #2: Yes, I like "Not Yet", but I wouldn't quite go that far until I had seen the objections.

Also, I disagree that "Yes with comments" is worthless. If there are any comments on any vote, I am told it is up to the discretion of the SC34 secretariat to schedule a Ballot Resolution Meeting. The status of Yes comments (and Abstain comments) is one thing that many of us have been unclear about over the last few months. At ISO groups, any comments are taken very seriously, which is not the same as meaning they all will be adopted as stated.

To understand comments resolution you have to understand a couple of principles. The first principle is that all technical changes must be voted on. The second principle is that it is the editor who writes the standard, in collaboration with the Working Group, and under instruction from the SC which in turn are under instruction from the national bodies; so there is some minor leeway in how editing instructions are performed, it is not just dictation by the National Bodies.

Armed with these principles, you can see that if there are technical comments in a Yes with comments or an Abstain with comments, they can only can be approved if there is a Ballot Resolution Meeting with a formal vote. However comments about minor editorial matters (typos, unclear sentences) don't require a a BRM and a formal vote: the editor can just go ahead and fix them because they don't change the technical content.

So, my current understanding is that a Yes vote with technical comments may, at the discretion of the SC Secretariat, trigger a Ballot Resolution Meeting. The draft has been accepted, so a BRM is not required, but the whole intent of the ISO process is to work towards agreement as far as it is possible.

Obviously in the case of OOXML, where there are people who say "we want it" and others who say "we don't want it" no agreement is possible so one side or the other will walk away disappointed: the process is indeed skewed towards making standards not blocking however. So the agreement that will be worked out will be between the national bodies who say "We want it" and those that say "We want it, but only with these changes".

2007-09-07 06:09:59
@Rick: As Tim asked on XML-Dev, will the comments become available to non-members to inspect?

Mike and Jim may be right that given the size, there are too few comments to say the inspection has been thorough enough. A major lesson coming out of this is that parties with legitimate interests need to get involved earlier in the process instead of waiting until just priot to the comment submissions and national voting. The pile on is clearly business politics and that is simply bad behavior.

Tim Bray is suggesting dividing and merging the specs to create an alternative. That would mean yet another standard and while it might be a good technical artifact, I don't think it a reasonable suggestion for the current offering.

I expect new threads that ISO is not the right organization for work in Internet Time, the same tactic used to wrest control of markup from ISO before, but hopefully the maundering of XHTML and the failure of SVG have taught us to be leery of this. As soon as a pile on begins, any chance for a fair outcome is squandered. That is why ISO processes exist to begin with and even if they are not fast enough to meet the needs of some corporate strategies, they are the best way to get a transparent result as they have in this case.

Dave S.
2007-09-09 11:31:22

To be accurate I used "ignorant," not "worthless," in refering to "Yes with comments." "Yes with comments" results in a "Not Yet." Perhaps "Yes-as-is" and "Almost, but" and "Phew" cover the range more accurately.

As for ODF displacing MSO-XML, were it true that ODF could not displace Office format documents, Microsoft would not spend a nickle tryng to defeat it.

However, if ODF is the only ISO office-document standard then an ever increasing number of public records would be in ODF format, leading to ever increasing market pressure for tools to create, manipulate, and manage ODF. Unlike corporate or home use documents, which have limited useful lifetimes, public records accumulate - and so would ODF related industry.

Additionally, any industry that interacted with the government would have to adopt an ODF information stream - defense contractors, for example.

Likewise, the public education system would follow - especially after industry and government were using ODF.

The pressure would then be on Microsoft to be ODF compatible.

Would this drive MS from the marketplace or wipe out all those .doc/.xls/.ppt files? I can't see either happening immediately. But I notice there are no longer huge herds of bison roaming freely on the plains. There used to be millions of them.

Time will tell.