ODF Alliance now loves me!

by Rick Jelliffe

I was chuffed to see the ODF Alliance quoting this blog in their new Alliance Response to Ecma’s Proposed Disposition of Comments on OOXML. And they seem particularly interested in getting good results on the Standards Australia issues AU-09, and AU-15, AU-23 which are issues I submitted.

I guess they love me now! Though not enough to mention me by name, I am the only person quoted who is left nameless merely one XML expert. Hmmm, "He who shall not be named"... Since Groklaw thinks that the mere linking to this blog with my name by collegues foreshadows bad things, it is only prudent. I suppose it will have to be a secret love.

Since they quote me, I hope it is not too much to look at their response.*

Procedural Irregularities

In their early material various claims are made which bear looking at in more depth. They say there are many "documented irregularities", yet when ISO JTC1 looked at them they found no substance. Looking at the list on Wikipedia where is the actual evidence of this villainy?:

  • Portugal: a fixed working group size caused late-applicants to have sour grapes. Actually, the Portuguese already had expanded the size of that working group. Not chairs. The problem as such is the regularity not the irregularity, it seems: Sun and IBM didn't like the rules. (Note the Wikipedia entry is biased.)

  • Sweden: MS withdrew within hours an mistaken inappropriate offer of support to 2 partners before the meetings and notified the Swedish body themselves before any votes. (Again the Wikipedia entry is biased: IIRC it was MS who reported it, not "it surfaced.") Sweden ended up abstaining due a procedural SNAFU: a double count of a vote in a meeting where another meeting could not be convened in time. So what do we have? A cock-up, transparency, the correct channels notified, no votes affected: no smoking gun (unless there is material that hasn't come out.)

  • In the Netherlands, the MS delegate voted one way, other people voted another way: again, a case of regularity not irregularity. (The Wikipedia entry is biased here:why is that substantial problem? Different national bodies have different rules depending on their bureaucratic culture and traditions apart from anything.)

  • In Switzerland, it seems discussions were limited to technical and editorial considerations. These are the only comments that can be considered by the BRM, as has been emphasized recently by Alex Brown, the BRM convenor. So the Swiss chairman had in fact completely legitimate view, as far as I can see, as far as what is in-scope for ballot comments; that other NBs might put out-of-scope material in their ballot responses might make them feel good but they don't go anywhere. (The Wikipedia article does not mention the scope of ballot comments to provide some balance.)

  • Malaysia voting abstain is typical when there is no consensus. Australia did the same, it not an irregular procedure. If a NB submits their comments with the abstention, the comments get to the BRM and they become part of the mix, so no harm is done.

  • Cyprus joins late. The idea that one side is more remiss than the other in trying to stack SC34 is not evidenced by the numbers: they just came in different waves separated by a few months. Given that perhaps 2500 of the 3500 comments sent in by NBs are parroted comments from a mail-in campaign (i.e. not from a proper independent review) it would take a lot of chutzpah for the ODF Alliance to get too excited by this one.

  • Finally, in Norway MS asked its partners to participate. Again, no procedural irregularity at all.

I don't know if pointing this out will have much effect. I think the point with the various bribery/corruption claims is that they have the necessary
truthiness, so it doesn't matter if none of them have any procedural irregularities.

5 Months?

ODF Alliance say there was only 5 months to review, yet there was a full year before then during the Ecma process for participation (e.g. by ODF Alliance and Ecma member IBM). Yet the draft was submitted in: December 2006 draft submitted and the ballot was in September 2007: that is at least 9 months. (And then there is the five months until the BRM for further looking at how to resolve the issues and the issues of other NBs.)

And after that comes the maintenance process, whatever form it will take: certainly it will have a pretty high premium on interoperability with ODF and other standards.

6,045 Pages

I have previously dealt with why raw page count is not a very fertile metric. There is so much duplication, so much whitespace and so many diagrams that the effective size for review is much smaller. Furthermore, the assumption that any large standard will not be reviewed with an international and national division of labour is, in my experience and certainly in this case, incorrect.


The trouble with this number is that people then think "3520 flaws" rather than "750 individual issues and a lot of repetition". Too many? In my blog On error rates in drafts of standards I have a good quote from Jim Melton, the editor of SQL, who has commented on his standards frequently getting thousands of comments. For a large standard, a good number of comments is an indication of real review, and says absolutely nothing good or bad about the general quality of the standard or the technology IMHO.

Seven Dwarfs

The ODF Alliance groups its response under 7 heads:

In short, the proposal does NOT address the critical need for: a.) review time; b.) harmonization, c.) a clear name; d.) a sound standard with no (new or old) technical errors; e.) interoperability; f.) support for legacy documents; and g.) consistency of “fixes.”

Lets have a look at each of them:

Review time

I have mentioned above that there is more review time than is often bandied about.

But the ODF Alliance argument here is that OOXML should be be standardized because of errors that were not found in DIS29500. This is a remarkably hopeful claim (perhaps a cunning plan): see falsifiability for a discussion on why it is shakey ground.

The strongest evidence would be if the (non-duplicate) flaw rates detected for DIS29500 were far in excess of the same for other standards. However, as the blog item above mentions, the numbers don't go that way.

However, this is not to say that OOXML and ODF and PDF would not have been better submitted as Committee Drafts in the accelerated process to ISO/IEC JTC1 SC34. No-one is particularly enamored of any of the current fast-track processes.


It is interesting that the ODF Alliance quotes Tim Bray that the world doesn't need another way to express basic typesetting features. If it is so important, why didn't ODF just adopt W3C CSS or ISO DSSSL conventions? Why did they adopt the odd automatic styles mechanism which no other standard uses? Now I think the ODF formating conventions are fine, and automatic styles are a good idea. But there is more than one way to make an omlette, and a good solution space is good for users.

My perspective is that harmonisation (which will take multiple forms: modularity, pluralism, base sets, extensions, mappings, round-trippability, feature-matching, convergence of component vocabularies, etc, not just the simplistic common use of a common syntax) will be best achieved by continued user pressure, both on MS and the ODF side, within a forum where neither side can stymie the legitimate needs of other.

Clear name

This is actually something that I have been pushing since early last year, in discussions with other SC34 people. It is part of the general observation that many of the problems with DIS29500 are not with the technology or the technical parts but can be fixed editorially: the scoping and conformance issues are examples. My point is not that "Office Open XML" is particularly confusing or that it should not continue as a brand name (not ISO's business!), my point is rather that it is too similar to ODF/ODA/OpenOffice to be the name of the standard. I don't know why the standard cannot have an extra part added to its name to be more descriptive. (And indeed if the plan to split out OPC to a separate part comes off, then the Ofiice Open XML really applies to the other parts so it may not be the best collective name.)

For example, the full name of the ISO Schematron is Information technology -- Document Schema Definition Languages (DSDL) -- Part 3: Rule-based validation -- Schematron.

But is this really a showstopper for the standard? Of course not: the brand OOXML is already out in the wild. And Alex Brown has indicated that this kind of issue might be at the bottom of the list for discussion at the BRM; it is the kind of thing where people are happy to spend days discussing, which Alex is clearly not going to allow. 120 people are not traveling from all parts of the world for a week to get the issues they have raised ignored because other people's issues are taking a disproportionate amount of time.

Sound standard

This is where I (this blog) get quoted! The blog item was The design goals of XML.

Note the difference in approaches. My angle is "I think this is a problem, I hope it can be fixed." Their angle is "He thinks this is a problem, therefore the whole process should be abandoned."

I think there is a kind of bait-and-switch going on: to understand it you have to make the distinction in your mind between what a particular draft (e.g. DIS29500) says and the larger concept of what OOXML could be when fixed up (e.g. substantially the same, with the same design approaches, though different in details.) It is the difference between text and technology. Here is the ploy: first find a technical or editorial problem in the draft, then transfer this to OOXML as if it were intrinsic or necessary, then use it as evidence of the unreformability of OOXML, in which case there is no point fixing the draft since the whole thing stinks.

My POV, if anyone cares, is no different from what I wrote in 2005:

I read recently a criticism of the "Binary XML Infoset" project as polluting the stream. I believe the lesson to be learned from XML is not that "Everyone should use one format, it should be simple, it should be Unicode, it should use angle brackets" but the far more challenging "Respect-driven standards development produces really good and generally applicable results."

Note in particular this:

when I read general, rather than technical, criticism of standards or standards bodies, I usually detect strategic sour grapes, where the organization or writer is trying to undermine a process that they cannot influence enough. XML wasn't based on the mentality people who don't or won't use this are idiots but we want to add to the solution space.

All that being said, I think buried in this section is the germ of an entirely valid point: even things included for legacy reasons should be in standard notations. You have make a more specific judgment than legacy=good (as some Ecma some people are perhaps prone to) or legacy=bad (as some anti-ODF people are perhaps prone to).

For example, I have written about the integer measurement system EMU used in OOXML: this is unusual but useful and a common kind of thing to do (e.g. groff, PDF, etc). But I don't see any reason for twips let alone half points, they are just a bunion and a carbuncle, if not vice versa. Are they showstoppers? Well, it would be really good to get gratuitous problems fixed now, rather than leaving it for maintenance. But it is a matter best practice, but not an actual error or gap.


Interoperability is a great motherhood word. No-one is perfect.

They complain that
While the proposers “agree that it is important for the specification to support multiple types of object linking,” they suggest changing oleLink(OLE Link) to oleLink(Generic Object Connection). And, instead of referencing the specific OLE2 connection they say to use any generic 'embedded object'.

When we look at ODF we see they have an element draw:object-ole which has a definition represents objects which only have a binary representation, almost the same thing. So the ODF Alliance want to keep the reference to OLE (and make it a normative reference, which is probably dubious but I digress). Fair enough: lets make the spec better! But look at the use this issue is put to: the heading says "What is missing? Interoperability! Why ignore the re-use of existing standards?" but the use of existing standards is never mentioned in the text.

I suspect that the heading is a carry over from a previous draft, where the body text was changed as it was discovered that among the Editors Disposition of Comments are details of adding scores of references to the various standards used by OOXML (both in DIS29500 and in other proposed fixes.) But my point is that the conclusion is not supported by the evidence, and their reaction to the issues they raise is too strident and over-reacting.

Support for legacy documents

This begins with actually quite an interesting point, and the first really new things to consider. Should a new standard have deprecated material? Putting aside the general point that a fast-tracked standard is not a new standard but a review and rebadging of an an existing external standard, the comment is that OOXML is a different case than other standards where this mechanism has been used: like C++ these standards capture a living technology in which some parts are living and others are dieing, but the ODF Alliance thinks that compatibility or legacy options are only warranted when they reflect multiple previous implementations. I wonder whether the presence of compatibility options designed to handle old Word Perfect behaviours puts a spanner in the works for that argument?

From the interesting start, the material on this point rapidly descends, ultimately saying

However, from the details provided, it appears that Ecma is merely taking a subset of VML, giving it another name (DrawingML), and using it in places where VML was previously called for. What is deprecated
merely re-enters through the back door.

This is quite bizarre: VML and DrawingML are in different namespaces and I have not seen anything in the Editor's Disposition of Comments about taking subsets of VML and renaming it. I'd love to know what in particular is meant by this. DrawingML is not something new, but part of the draft (VML had almost been entirely retired, the difference is that the Editor wants to completely retire it.) In particular, there is nothing in the section they quote (Response 92) about subsetting: there is only material on the mechanics of deprecating VML, removing references to it in favour of DrawingL, and enhancing DrawingML so that it can do every that VML did (for example, to support rich text comments); deprecating VML necessarily involves making sure that DrawingML has equivalent features, how else could it be? So the ODF Alliance comment here is completely wrong, perhaps they think they can get away with it because the Editor's Disposition of Comments document is not generally available.

The background to all this is that France's AFNOR in its comments asked that the standard be split up with all the core material in one part and all the deprecated functions, documented settings, VML etc in a second part. Many other NBs also asked for the standard to be split up and for OPC to be its own part. My suggestion, through Standards Australia, was to split into 9 parts for example. So ECMA's proposal is to do both: a part for core, one for deprecated/legacy/VML material, and a part for OPC, but then to add various conformance classes for different application areas which would give the same conformance subset effect that having multiple parts would achieve. So splitting up is a straightforward and direct response to NB suggestions.


Once the Editor's initial Disposition of Comments document is out, then the issue of consistency rightly becomes important for reviewers. If the Editor accepts one comment with a particular fix on certain grounds, why not accept another comment with a similar fix on the same grounds? So now is exactly the time to be bringing up consistency issues. And there certainly might be inconsistent responses to different NB comments, where the NB comments are themselves incompatible.

It is the job of the BRM to work through as many of these these kind of issues as it can. The Editor can only say "Here is how I would solve this" and the BRM has to sort through the issues and contradictions. And ultimately it is the National Bodies who then decide whether the revised text of the standard passes their tests.

The ODF Alliance give two example of horrible inconsistent responses. One is concerned with which version of schemas is normative, with the choices being suggested of either the electronic version or neither. (I hope what will happen is that the schemas will be printed as an annex in the standard, and that many of the schema fragments in the standard will be removed. ) I don't think they are very serious here, the standard will end up saying something, and that something will in all probability be whatever the BRM decided.

The other inconsistency concerns another one of the Standards Australia Issues I raised. I don't see the contradiction here: one response concerns content-type labels, the other concerns how to locate executables. Maybe there is some deeper issue that has evaded me...I think there might be a confusion here between OOXML content types (which are expressed using MIME content type notation, and live in the [Content_Types].xml part) and relationship types (which are expressed using a URI syntax and live in the various .rels parts.)

Again, the reason to mention all this is not to say that it is not appropriate to bring up issues like consistency in the lead up to the BRM. My problem is in using these run-of-the-mill things that can happen in any standard as evidence that we should decide to disallow the revised OOXML spec ahead of fixing it.

They write:
Can we in good faith endorse a standard that is not technically sound with conflicting recommendations on technical remedies?

But hold on, who is asking for such an endorsement? The purpose of the BRM is to fix these, so that the identified tecnical unsoundnesses get addressed and that there are no conflicts in the editor's instructions. Then, after these have been fixed, the National Bodies can respond by changing their ballot responses if they are satisfied.

I am sad if I may jeopardize the love of the ODF Alliance, but this document of theirs is so full of non sequiturs that I don't see it as adding much light to the discussions. But perhaps the purpose of the document is not to join in any dialog but to try to withdraw participants from it.

[Update: I think if I make fun of poor efforts, I should also praise good efforts. After the disaster of the document above, I see the ODF Alliance has now put out another one OOXML: Top 10 Worst Responses to the NB Comments which is a much more respectable effort, raising reasonable issues this time, restraining itself from the dire and lazy mish-mash, and good-humoured rather than ranting, which is particularly welcome. Its only a document format. In a previous blog I mentioned the spin technique of "innoculation" with the example of list, but I don't see new ODF Alliance document as that at all, but entirely appropriate, and the kind of things the BRM should be discussing and that non-armchair people should be thinking about. (Of course, I do make the same proviso as with the NB comments: if you parrot a set of points provided by a campaign, you are not doing an independent review of the standard draft but you are doing a review of the pre-fab talking points! If every NB comes with its own Top 10 Worst list, that allows much more coverage and improvement than just one: otherwise when the BRM takes 10 minutes to fix these 10, there will be four days left twiddling thumbs! :-) ) So, well done ODF Alliance, I hope this is a sign of things to come.]


2008-02-01 02:22:47
Quite a lot read.
But definitly worth it.
Rick Jelliffe
2008-02-01 03:21:25
hAl: I have put some paras into small print, in case it makes it easier to read.
M. David Peterson
2008-02-01 08:30:19
>> ODF Alliance now loves me!

I've long suspected they've had a secret crush on you, Rick! ;-)

Rick Jelliffe
2008-02-02 21:43:08
Dave: I feel like George Michael singing "Once I had a secret love" on his Songs of the 20th Century album :-)
Anonymous Coward
2008-02-05 14:28:26
You are a boob.
2008-02-05 18:23:37
Malaysia's TC4 voted 9-1 NO. The only one who voted YES at TC4 was IASA (...{2 sentence deleted}.... IASA' Malaysia's head is Aaron Tan who hold a Microsoft business card too).

Malaysia's ISCG (the highest level committee on this issue) unanimously voted NO. This was overturned by the Minister of Science Technology and Innovation (MOSTI) to an abstain.

Insiders say that there was heavy lobbying from MS to MOSTI. But putting that aside, doesn't the fact that ISCG and TC4 both voted NO and this got overturned indicate something is fubared?

Note that both TC4 and ISCG are manned by members from government, industry, NGO's and universities. Unlike other countries, members are invited into the committee and nobody pays for a seat. The Department of Standards Malaysia is fair in that sense. They even kicked out MS and IBM as full members to reduce politicking!

Rick, you can at least take these points into consideration before jumping to a conclusion that there was "no consensus".

Rick Jelliffe
2008-02-05 23:45:07
Sky: Thanks for the extra information. (Unfortunately, the websites that tend to report these things are so partisan as to be useless and borderline disinformative, so extra information is useful.)

I am surprised if MS and IBM were "kicked out" from a running committee. If MS was kicked out in order to achieve a specific result (e.g. unaminity), then clearly that committee's results are unsound and is exactly where the Minister (or NB supervisor) needs to step in and quash the vote. It sounds like the Minister did exactly the right thing, in view of his responsibilities. (If a No recommendation from a committee were unilaterally changed to a Yes vote in that situation, that would be unusual and much more cause for interest, b.t.w.!)

So this looks like an example of an irregularity but not by MS or Ecma. So what is my response? Throw out the anti-OOXML people, they are corrupt manipulators! Purge the Department of Standards! This kind of behaviour is typical of countries with high levels of corruption!

No: my response is as above: "Abstain" is the correct vote when there is a lack of consensus, when procedures have not been followed, or when there is a lack of confidence by the overseeing authority in the committee. So the NB seems to have done the right thing, and the ISO vote was not compromised by "No" or "Yes" votes obtained under shadey circumstances.

People get things wrong: the subcommittee in question might have been acting entirely in good faith, but got it wrong procedurally. There is no need to make up elaborate conspiracy theories. I'd bet every NB in the world would act similarly, if the only dissenter was "kicked out" of a subcommittee to get unamity. (Readers, please note, I don't have any information that Sky's claims of kicking out are true or not true. If they are, I hope it embarrasses the more gung-ho types into being a little more chilled.)

(By the way, I will be removing the comment you ascribe to Mr Alan Tan. Please do not use my blog as a forum for unsubstantiated libels, it is just nasty. Try to win your argument fairly. You might like to try sites which are happy to print any old crap as long as it reinforces prejudices, such as NOOOXML. If you have a problem with something you claim Tan said, please take it up with him.)

2008-02-06 00:22:26

MS and IBM were kicked out as _full_ members *before* the meeting. And no, IASA wasn't kicked out, I said MS AND IBM were kicked out. The reason given was to remove all vendors. Wise decision, I thought, given the intense lobbying going on by pro-OOXML and anti-OOXML folk. So there was no overturning of YES votes that took place.

There wasn't any irregularity in the processes and conduct of the meeting. In fact, it was very well run with all members being allowed to speak and present their points of view. Nobody was allowed to dominate the discussions that took place. The meetings were even recorded and high level DSM managers were present to ensure that processes were strictly followed. DSM conducted itself with utmost integrity, IMHO. It took a Minister to overrule the decisions made which implies politics were at play, doesn't it?

Now consider this: if two completely separate committees attended by different people came to the same decision, one would expect there to be some legitimacy in the decisions reached. I cannot confirm this to be absolutely true but as long as I have been involved with standardization process, this is the very first time that the Minister has overruled DSM on such a matter. And there have been other contentious (non-IT) standards but never did somebody at the Minister's level overturn any decisions made by technical or industry bodies.

To put your mind at rest, I am not making up elaborate conspiracy theories. I'm reporting facts as they are having witnessed this first hand. Reach whatever conclusion you see which fits the facts. I have reported the conclusions which I have reached.

As for Mr. Tan, again, I am only reporting the facts. It's your blog and you can choose to remove whatever you may think is not accurate. But I am free to post comments describing exchanges I have heard (ie its not hearsay).

You ask that anti-OOXML folk to be fair in their presentation of the facts; all I'm asking is that you live up to the same demand you have made of others.

Rick Jelliffe
2008-02-06 00:38:30
Sky: It implies the Minister had no confidence in the committees. What reason did he give?
2008-02-06 01:11:19
Rick, you could have Googled that (or for political correctness on this blog, perhaps I should use the phrase "msn-searched"?)!

His response is akin to "Let the market decide" (sounds familar?). The original link on New Straits Times (a local newspaper) is 404-ing but you can find the contents elsewhere on the Interwebs:

PUTRAJAYA: Malaysia abstained from voting for Microsoft’s Open Office XML (Open XML) as an ISO standard on the "technology-neutral" principle, the Science, Technology and Innovation Ministry has said.

This means that it is not against the proposed standard, but would rather let the market decide on which technology meets its needs, minister Datuk Seri Dr Jamaludin Jarjis said in a statement.

His statement was in response to a report that the ministry does not support Open XML as an ISO 9001:2000 standard.

Open XML is a document format, or a set of specifications, which supports its respective software.

Jamaludin said abstaining from voting meant that the Open XML would need to go through a more rigorous standardisation process.

A review will be held in February.

ISO member countries will then look at proposals for re-evaluation, and the proposer of Open XML can resubmit its application to be published as a standard.

"By abstaining, it does not mean that Malaysia agrees or disagrees with the new proposed standard, but that at the moment it is too premature to make a concrete decision based on vague and unclear information."

He said the government consulted key ministries, agencies and industries before reaching its decision to abstain from voting.

Another reason cited for abstaining was concerns over the format voiced by the market and industry.

Seventeen countries voted to approve, nine abstained, while 15 voted against approval, including several European Union countries and three of the Group of Five countries.

Rick Jelliffe
2008-02-06 02:30:00
Sky: Well, that report you mention is exactly the kind of thing I have no faith in: what has ISO 9001 got to do with anything here?

So let me get this straight: the Minister did not change a No recommendation into a Yes vote, the technical committee's responses were sent to ISO for the BRM, the Ministry gave a justification based on a general policy of "technical neutrality" and confusion, one set of stakeholders were kicked out, the issue had been controversial, and no-one exceeded their authority? Exactly where is the problem?

I am not sure what to make of this "technical neutrality" rationale, though: if they are supporting the idea (held by many of old-timers in SC34 including me intermittently) that it is better to avoid standardizing application formats (which would include ODF) since it gets too political (my variation on this is that once you let one in, you have nothing to stop others, out of equity.) But it sounds more like it applies to OOXML and national standards, which seems to have little to do with the ISO vote: is there some special quirk in Malaysia about the status of ISO standards versus national standards?

Looking at the ML comments, I see in the Editor's Disposition of Comments:
MY-001 Agree
MY-002 Agree
MY-003 Agree
MY-004 Partial Agree
MY-005 Partial Agree
MY-006 Disagree (issue for maintenance)
MY-007 Agree
MY-008 Agree
MY-009 Agree
MY-010 Partial Agree (deprecating)
MY-011 Agree
MY-012 Agree
MY-013 Agree
MY-014 Agree
MY-015 Disagree
MY-016 Disagree
MY-017 Agree
MY-018 Disagree (Very detailed response)
MY-019 Agree
MY-020 Agree
MY-021 Agree
MY-022 Agree
MY-023 Agree
So roughly 16/23 simple agrees, 3 partial agrees, and 4 disagrees, even before the BRM. It is looking pretty good for Malaysia to get almost all the issues it raised resolved.

Yoon Kit
2008-02-06 03:07:19

1) You are right about the ISO 9001:2006 issue. It goes to show how well versed the person who can veto this item is with the DIS in question. The number actually came from a news article which criticised that politician.
[ http://www.openmalaysiablog.com/2007/08/microsoft-turns.html ] It too stated the wrong number.

2) There was full consensus in TC4 and ISC-G. The minister veto'ed it, and claimed there was no consensus. Why it happened, we dont know. Whatever it was, its inaccurate to say that there was no consensus found.

3) If you were to read Ecma's response, the first word is generally a 'Agree' but the subsequent words go against our recommendations. Things like 5 date formats. What is the point? 2 ways of encoding Paper Sizes... 2 ways of encoding Line Numbers.. the list goes on. Why the inefficiencies?


Rick Jelliffe
2008-02-06 03:30:46
Yk: Now that OOXML has a year's worth of documents out, Ecma apparantly thinks it is important that (critical parts of) existing valid documents don't become invalid, as far as I can see. It will be the BRM's job to figure out if that is indeed a reasonable consideration, and whether it has been consistently implemented across the board.

There is not so much precedent at ISO for how to support mass technologies in the middle of their lifecycles. I tend towards the IETF idea: be conservative in what you create and generous in what you accept. So where there are two ways, it is typically the old way and the new way. At some tage in the future, the old way can be deprecated if that serves any purpose.

2008-02-06 04:08:11

The ISO 9001 reference came directly from the news article (ie the news article got it wrong), I was simply posting the article as you requested.

The issue at hand is that you are claiming that there was no consensus. I've tried to illustrate to you that the committees charged with dealing with OOXML *did* come to a consensus and that it was overturned by a Minister who has no background and grounding in the subject and issues at hand. So when you say Malaysia had "no consensus", that doesn't accurately state Malaysia's position, does it?

As a high profile blogger, you have the responsibility of blogging fairly and representing positions and statements within the full context of the situation to your readers. That would be an excellent way to avoid any bias. Otherwise, your blog pieces wouldn't be fair and that would be just nasty, wouldn't it?

As to the dispositions, Ecma did agree to most of Malaysia's technical commentary but whether their responses are technically adequete remains to be seen. My personal view is that, other then editorial changes and minor fixes, plenty of other responses simply shift text around and add more complexity to the spec. And yes, I have *read* the dispositions and I have done the necessary research - I'm not quoting something blindly from any of the anti-OOXML sites.

Brian Berrigan
2008-02-07 13:21:34
What a bunch of weasel-worded CROCK. No doubt you feel superior
for your clever ability to talk drivel, unsupported by factual
history. i hope M$ paid you well. Those crooks need all the help
they can get, and you need a large dose of honesty and integrity.
2008-02-07 15:31:22
You sure must be dizzy from all that spinning.


Frank Daley
2008-02-07 16:02:08
You continue to miss the most basic point of all - that an International Standard, both in name and fact, must be directed and controlled by a truly independent body.

Any independent assessment of OOXML makes it clear that OOXML and derivatives are ultimately controlled by Microsoft.

It is an injustice that various key document formats of the global community be controlled by a single vendor. Therefore OOXML needs to be dropped and out of justice to the global community Microsoft should work to incorporate the best features of OOXML into ODF.

Rick Jelliffe
2008-02-07 20:22:09
Frank: You might be interested in reading the letter in the next blog: http://www.oreillynet.com/xml/blog/2008/02/significant_open_letter_from_p.html

Durusau's points are that there has clearly been increasing openness, that this should be continued, that OOXML has improved as a result of this openness, and that ISO is a good forum. Most significantly, and this is something that I really don't think a lot of people have thought through adequately, is he says a "well defined and publicly controlled OpenXML would be a great benefit for future work on the OpenDocument Format standard..."

I don't think I am missing the point that standardization (which involves more than just rubber-stamping, it involves this pre- process and then a maintenance process) is good for OOXML, in fact it has been one of the dominant themes (in this blog at least) for the last year. I am entirely supportive of Dr Durusau's comments, that we need to work on real issues not slogans based on yesterday's fears that time has rendered irrelevant.

It seems to me there are a lot of people still stuck in a kind of cold war mentality, where the only choices are 'we dominate' or 'MS dominates', and where the idea that MS (and everyone!) needs to be engaged and maneuvered into a least worst position is regarded as some kind of capitulation of principle.

Brian, cybervegan: Thanks for your kind words.

Sky: People can read through the comments and come to a conclusion. But I cannot see any grounds to claim it is an "irregularity" (if that means something wrong rather than something rare): no harm was done (no "Yes" vote, interested parties heard, all comments passed on), no-one exceeded their authority. (Note that Yoon Kit's welcome comment also confirms that the minister gave "No consensus" as a reason. But happy to be corrected if some other reason was given.)

Readers might like to know that there is more going on that is going on than has been reported so far here. In fact, there were two technical committees, the first was suspended for cooling off time. See this blog entry. Note that this is indeed a very rare thing, and certainly enough to make any Minister wary to take sides.

It is also unusual for people to be "kicked out" of anything in advance of wrongdoing (I have never heard of such a thing, actually), but if they agreed then that is fine. It is particularly surprising if the champions of a standard were not allowed a chance to defend it, even if they were not given a vote, as a matter of proper conduct of committees.

2008-02-08 01:16:04
"Now that OOXML has a year's worth of documents out, Ecma apparantly thinks it is important that (critical parts of) existing valid documents don't become invalid, as far as I can see."

Rick, I find this extremely puzzling.

MS made some really bad decisions when compiling Ecma 376. For more than a year now, MS, and many people who claimed to be independent of MS, have fiercefully I may say, defended these decisions. I would take the ridiculous data formats as an example. An aweful lot of excuses were given for these "features" in Ecma 376.

Now it is concluded these decision were really bad indeed. But again, there are new excuses found to enshrine these horrible bugs in stone for all of eternity. Now because a few (really a few) documents actually might have used them.

Please, explain us why Ecma 376, or whatever you call it today, is a good STANDARD for the next century and all of humanity.

ODF may have faults, but at least it didn't start out with 5 date formats and thousands of pages of deprecated features. All of which will have to be removed at great costs in a few year again. Features that cannot even be deprecated by any other supplier than MS because they do not even know how it worked in the first place.


Paul Maul
2008-02-08 20:02:12
Rick, you say "Looking at the list on Wikipedia where is the actual evidence of this villainy?"

In the interest of full disclosure, could you tell us if you accepted Microsoft's offer to pay you for favorable editing of Wikipedia entries regarding OOXML?

Rick Jelliffe
2008-02-08 22:12:21
Paul: You can look through the discussion page for the Wikipedia entry and see all my interactions concerning that page: it is completely transparent. You can read my bio in the link to my name above for more info. You can read the blog items on this for more info too.

The way I participated was this: I made comments in the discussion page pointing out the flaws I saw; people discussed the points; if the Wikipedia editors agreed, the changes were made. This is the correct way to handle it, unlike companies that skulk around submitting anonymous changes that point to sites that then reference their own PR material, or people who use aliases.

I spent about 4 days on it, spread over about half a year. As I have mentioned before, I received very professional and productive guidance from the Wikipedia editors.

The issue was widely misreported as if there was any intent to either do anything secret or to subvert the Wikipedia process. As I was the one to raise the issue, and as I was scrupulous in making sure that I followed Wikipedia's rules the whole thing was totally bemusing.

The lesson I learned was that there is a section of people who, when their technical argument becomes weak, resort to personal attack. And that they have a larger group of people who think that it is some-how open-minded to give credence to slander.

Rick Jelliffe
2008-02-10 23:18:36
Winter: You will be happy to learn that your premise, that there are new excuses found to enshrine these horrible bugs in stone for all of eternity is incorrect.

ISO standards are reviewed (every 5 years) and withdrawn if they are no longer living standards. They are subject to maintenance as well, so that problems not found in time for one round can be dealt with in the next round. This maintenance regime also allows for parts of standards to be obsoleted as needs change; a prime driver for change here being the need to harmonize ODF and OOXML together, one would expect.

A large standard will have parts that are coming and parts that are going, and may document parts that have indeed gone.

2008-02-12 05:24:32
"A large standard will have parts that are coming and parts that are going, and may document parts that have indeed gone."

Rick, that is a relief, but I already knew that. This standard is soo large, a large fraction of it is going before it is even an ISO standard :-)

But if there are 5 date formats and X table formats in the standard in a few months, how will they be able to handle all the legacy documents created with this forest of formats?

Even now, before the standard is accepted, you come up with legacy documents that require these outgoing extra formats. So I have absolutely NO confidence that these extra date formats will go away EVER.

But maybe you know facts that will ease my fear. How difficult IS it really to remove deprecated features if they are the default of, say, Office 2007 documents?


Viral Tarpara
2008-02-13 10:50:43
Definately one of the best articles on the current climate of the standards debate. The technical arguments you present as well as the politics you expose is something the general press, the ODF side, and Microsoft have failed to communicate effectively to the general population.

Good job.

Jesper Lund Stocholm
2008-02-13 11:35:12

I just wanted to tell you a bit about how things are done in Denmark - as a comparison to the way things developed in Malaysia.

In Denmark standardization-issues are handled by an independant, private organisation called "Dansk Standard" (DS). They are partly funded by the Danish State/Government. The shutters between DS and the Danish Government are highly water-proof and no political influence on DS is tolerated.

Now, the way it works with document formats (or any ISO- or CEN-standard really, is that the Danish IT-sector has been asked by DS to participate in the work around DIS 29500 (they were also asked about DIS 26300, but nobody cared). There is a fee of almost EUR 3000 per person/company/association to participate in this work. About 30 parties are represented in the group. Participants include companies, software associations, universities and also counties and municipalities.

DS is the part with expertise in standardization, so the group does not even submit a recommendation to DS for the vote on behalf of Denmark. No vote in the group is carried out and the overall idea of the work is the good old Scandinavian "consensus-driven" approach.

So Denmark is one of the countries where no preliminary vote is done by the group of participants. We deal with the responses from ISO/IEC editor, we talk (a lot) about if it is good or bad or if any corrections should be made to the dispositions of comments and we then leave it to DS to figure out what to vote. This also means that it is actually possible for DS (and thereby Denmark) to vote against the common opinion in the grouop if it is too "political". So if one of the "sides" in the software-political battle of OOXML stuffed the commitee with sheep just waiting to raise their hands and say "No" or "Yes" I think it is highly likely that DS would choose to vote "abstain".

Does that make DS (or Denmark) corrupt?

Well ... you tell me :o)

2008-02-14 06:59:21
So if one of the "sides" in the software-political battle of OOXML stuffed the commitee with sheep just waiting to raise their hands and say "No" or "Yes" I think it is highly likely that DS would choose to vote "abstain".

Does that make DS (or Denmark) corrupt?

Hmmmmmmm. So because Denmark voted 'No with comments' you believe that is proof nothing untoward has been going on? Interesting logic.

Rick Jelliffe
2008-02-14 07:01:28
Winter: I think you have it back to front. The ISO process and the BRM is the forum for people to get better fixes than the editor has suggested, not the way to enshrine them.

How easy is it to remove deprecated features? That depends on the feature. Some deprecated things are "removed" by converting them to a different form (e.g. vector graphics) which can be done by a converter. Some deprecated things are "removed" by letting them die out: flags for bugs in old applications for example.

Rick Jelliffe
2008-02-14 07:03:59
Viral: Thanks
Rick Jelliffe
2008-02-14 07:10:44
Jesper: I think Standards Australia is quite similar to that, except we don't pay a fee. There is a technical committee to work through technical issues, but it just passes its comments to a higher committee CITEC and Standards Australia, which has the final say, is independent of the technical committee and government.
2008-02-14 07:39:09
Durusau's points are that there has clearly been increasing openness, that this should be continued, that OOXML has improved as a result of this openness, and that ISO is a good forum.

This reads like a line from Microsoft's PR 101 guide. How many times is it going to be pointed out that you can't just throw around the word 'open' as a response to everything.

This is the first line of that document:

"I have seen some attacks on OpenXML saying it is not an "open" standard. I am quite puzzled by those attacks and think that OpenXML makes the case for open development of standards."

The fact that he is puzzled is neither here nor there. Saying that something is open is easy. However, what do we mean by 'open' Rick? What does open mean? You can't just throw that word around arbitrarily and expect it to suffice as an answer. What people have been talking about is whether changes can be made to OOXML independently of it's primary stakeholder and whether an independent and fully 100% implementation of it can be made. There is ample evidence around that neither is the case.

He then puts this caveat point at the bottom of page 1:

"TC 45 did not have an open discussion list for its work and did not release meeting minutes to people outside TC 45. Both of those were serious mistakes in my opinion but neither is sufficient to damn a proposal for all time."

Hmmmm. So there was a closed meeting, with a closed set of meeting minutes, and through some perverse logic system, this is the OOXML process being more open? Hmmmmm. Right. I'm of the opinion that when people show you who they are, you believe them.

Unless Patrick or you can come up with just one example where a new draft of the specification has come out with just one addition in it not put there and proposed by Microsoft, saying that "...there has clearly been increasing openness, that this should be continued, that OOXML has improved as a result of this openness..." is utterly meaningless twaddle that fills a few lines of text in a blog and wastes bandwidth.

"well defined and publicly controlled OpenXML would be a great benefit for future work on the OpenDocument Format standard..."

Yes it would, wouldn't it? I didn't download and open a PDF in my web browser to be told the bleeding obvious.

It seems to me there are a lot of people still stuck in a kind of cold war mentality, where the only choices are 'we dominate' or 'MS dominates'

No, no, no, no sweetheart. I can't let you dredge up this well worn chestnut from Microsoft's 101 PR course again. The issues is with how OOXML has been proposed, is being developed and what is in it. If people get a proven, fully 100% implementable specification that can fulfil the ISO's goals of fair trade with regard to Microsoft Office interoperability, everyone is fine.

You're the one coming up with the 'it's us or no one' accusation. At the moment, the ball is fully inside Microsoft's court regarding giving up domination of OOXML. They know what the issues are, and they know our phone number if they have questions. There are also a few half-decent psychologists in the phone book if they have difficulty with 'world against us' issues.

2008-02-14 08:00:01
Readers might like to know that there is more going on that is going on than has been reported so far here. In fact, there were two technical committees, the first was suspended for cooling off time. See this blog entry. Note that this is indeed a very rare thing, and certainly enough to make any Minister wary to take sides.

That version of the Malaysia happenings was widely discredited by me and one or two others. The basic accusation was that there was a lot of 'belittling' and 'personal attacks' going on. However, there is of course, no evidence of this happening and no descriptions of what people were arguing about. What really happened was that Dr. Ariffin started coming out with a lot of interesting comments (although it seems he wasn't quoted directly), not related to what allegedly went on, which I'll quote here:

"The OpenXML format would have been affected had the ODF supporters been successful in their bid."

"Microsoft has promoted OpenXML as a document standard through the European standards body, ECMA, which approved it late last year."

"But Microsoft Office is by far the most popular desktop productivity suite in use, and documents using OpenXML greatly outnumber documents in other formats."

"Second, a mandatory standard would constitute an illicit non-tariff barrier against software products using other document formats, according to him."

"He said this would violate Malaysia's commitments to free trade under the World Trade Organisation."

"Ultimately, it is up to the general public and users in both the public and private sectors to decide which format they want to use,"

The last quote, if he believes that, begs the question of why this standardisation process was started in the first place. It also conveniently matches the line of 'choice of formats' that Microsoft has consistently used.

This was a decision taken out of nowhere, with no specifics as to what went on and an awful lot of back peddling by the Chief Exec as to how this would adversely affect OOXML. You would have thought that if there were free trade issues then this would have come to light earlier. Based on that, having any committee meeting to decide on standards is essentially worthless.

Jesper Lund Stocholm
2008-02-15 02:05:13

Hmmmmmmm. So because Denmark voted 'No with comments' you believe that is proof nothing untoward has been going on? Interesting logic.

Please don't twist my words - the above is your logic not mine. Furthermore I believe the Danish vote was the right one and I also believe that DIS 29500 is a much better specification now than in September 2007 (with the disposition of comments)

Jesper Lund Stocholm
2008-02-15 02:09:51

What I meant by referring to the Danish process was, that just because Person A changes a vote from NSB X from "No"/"Yes" to "Abstain" is not necessarily the same as a corrupt process. The reason could also be that the participants in the process were ... ahem ... stupid.


Rick Jelliffe
2008-02-15 14:29:06
Segedunum: How do you discredit it when you were not there, you don't know what the comments were, or who they were made to? Very clever! If someone thinks they acted within the bounds of civil behaviour but others disagree, that is not surprising; some people get carried away without realizing it and other people are excessively touchy.

As for begging the question, of why have a standard if they are not mandatory, you clearly are trolling again. This is an issue dealt with multiple times here. ISO standards (excluding health and safety standards which have different impacts) are voluntary standards: they are a library. It is the government's job to mandate them, not something delegated to ISO. ISO site has good introductory material on this.

Your comment that issues of free trade would have come up early, is just pathetic. He is giving his views, and you would expect the head of a national standards body to have ideas about the interplay of standards and treaties.

Rick Jelliffe
2008-02-15 14:37:29
Segedunum: You ask for just one example of a draft with a non-MS change, however that is not the way the fast-track process works. There is 6+ months for initial review before a ballot, then 6+ months to work out concrete proposals for change, then the final text is prepared.

But if you want examples of changes that are not coming from Microsoft it is easy: most of the 1000 individual issues raised by NBs are being agreed to, often with exactly the text that the NB has raised. It is reasonable to expect that the BRM will accept the editors dispositions where he in turn has accepted an NB's suggestion. Since MS wanted a yes vote, *all* those issues even the ones the editor has disagreed are examples of openness that can get resolved by the BRM.

2008-02-19 00:59:51
Jesper Lund Stocholm wrote
"Please don't twist my words - the above is your logic not mine. Furthermore I believe the Danish vote was the right one and I also believe that DIS 29500 is a much better specification now than in September 2007 (with the disposition of comments)"

In some ways, having 5 date formats of which at least one is a recognized ISO standard is better than having 2, neither of which were recognized standards and one was definitely WRONG.

But it is not a definition of "better" I see much use for in standardization.

The whole point of a standard is that it leads to LESS choice.

Less choice in power plug voltage or sides-of-the-road to drive. When Germany annexed Austria, there was a choice of two standards: You could drive on the left (Austrian civilians) or on the right (German tanks). No one saw this as an improvement to sticking to one side.

In the same way choice in a standard is something only to be tollerated if it cannot be avoided. As it is now, ECMA just added every objection as a valid option into OOXML/Ecma376/DIS 29500.

Why this is better than NO standard is beyond my comprehension. Especially as MS already proclaimed several times that they won't be bound to implement the changes in their products. If they just wanted to open up their office products, MS could have published the storage format of MS Office2007 without going through the trouble of destroying ISO's credibillity. Just as they said they would do with the older binary "formats". So I must conclude the "opening up" was not the only, or even true, reason of this whole excercise.


Jesper Lund Stocholm
2008-02-19 05:11:40

The whole point of a standard is that it leads to LESS choice.

It is strange that even after all these months of blogging and debating, there are still people out there with the misconception that a standard implies exclusivity. It is not the case. The purpose of a standard is to be able to do stuff the same way.

As it is now, ECMA just added every objection as a valid option into OOXML/Ecma376/DIS 29500.

You should do a better job at your homework. The above is simply not true.