World of Confusion

by Rick Jelliffe

As the anti-OOXML crowd's technical and editorial objections evaporate, and consequently as the reasonable people increasingly see that ISO is delivering a good result for them and jump ship, the rabid anti-OOXML misinformation campaign is ramping up. The basic strategy is to say that things are so bad that no improvement is possible, and indeed that any improvement is complicity.

But it is quite possible for the different sides to engage civilly and constructively.


On Friday last week UNSW CyberSpace Law and Technology Center organized a really good day-long seminar in Sydney on the technical and legal feasibility of implementing Office Open XML, to try to get people talking.

The morning was a technical meeting: I was honoured to be invited to speak first, with 30 minutes on ISO and SC34 standards and I will be putting up my slides later. Other invited speakers include Mathew Cruikshank (who was very active in New Zealand's vote), and Colin Jackson (NZ government angle.) Also speaking in little 10 minutes slots were a representative of IBM (same old material), and Lars Rassmussen from (notorious VML-users) Google Maps (he has a meeting report here but I don't know why he has an "issue" with me; in any case, like Matthew, I think he is a goody.) MS had a 3 man contingent, and people were obviously trying to be on their best behaviour: Oliver Bell from Singapore was there and had blogged. Not many fireworks, I was tired and grumpy from travel so probably just as well. I was pleased to also see Standards Australia's Alistair Teggart there too; he made some good clarifications. Prof David Vaile was very interested in what people had to say, and frequently asked for clarifications or expansions. Gnome Foundation's Jeff Waugh was lively (in fact, he called the technical issues boring...clearly a big picture man) matched only by UNSW's Pia Waugh. (Clarification: Jeff's point was, I think, that other issues were more important than the technical/editorial issues of the Australian ballot comments.) (I am sure I have missed some who spoke!)

I'd stereotype the various opinions as people who didn't see why there should be two standards, people who didn't see the value of even one standard , people who saw the value in their own standards, people who didn't see the value of their competition's standards, and people who thought there should be many more standards (err, probably only me.) (Updated: I originally had some names against these stereotyped positions, but as they are probably not even fair stereotypes I've removed them, they don't help the gag. If you think I have misrepresented you in any of my blogs, please write and I will certainly try to fix things.)


The afternoon was the legal session, and very interesting. Unfortunately it only looked at the OSP and didn't cover any standards law (relation to law of fraud, anti-trust, etc.) probably because in many countries there has been no relevant case law, and in each national jurisdiction the situation will be difference. The US law is quite advanced (or, at least, explicit) here: Australia really needs some legislation to clarify the duties and rights of stakeholders in voluntary national and international standards processes. I have previpously posted some material on this blog Standards and IP for people who are interested.

First up in the afternoon was legal background material by Ron Yu, a very likeable guy. He has made a report that is available from the CybserSpace Law Centre's website. It was mainly a discussion paper raising various issues that people had made, rather than a definitive position on anything. Then MS' Steve Mutkoski gave a talk on OSP, mainly focusing on the similarities and differences from the Adobe, Sun and IBM equivalent. He was one of the legal team who drew up OSP and pushed for less legalize in it (using "promise" rather than "covenant" for example.) His main thrust was that the differences between the Sun, IBM and MS licenses were only cosmetic. Steve made his points well.

As it turned out, from discussions it emerged that there was really only one bone of contention, which was the meaning of "required" in the OSP. Now this is something that I have blogged about before: see the lengthy comment (search for "Matthew:") and also here (search "Kurt #2").

MS' legal department have been absolutely hopeless in helping people figure this out, and if OOXML fails at the final vote, they and Steve Ballmer have the lion's share of the blame. Many in the open source community react strongly to the memory of MS's FUDing on Linux patents; rather than (as I tend to do) saying "oh good, at least in the standards process they are opening up their IPR" (i.e. due to things like standardization and the OSP) the MS FUD has raised suspicion to the level where people say "since they clearly want to enforce their IPR, they cannot be genuine about OSP" (i.e. there is some trick there). That Steve Mutkoski was so unprepared to answer questions about what "required" meant shows, I think, that this issue (which has been repeatedly and constantly raised over the last year) just has completely flown over the heads of the MS legal department. This part of the QA session was a pretty disappointing performance.

The issue here is that the OSP only covers "required portions" of the spec (MS, IBM, etc) promise not to enforce their patents unless you sue them. When I looked at the OSP, I went ahead and looked at all the other licenses to see what "required portion" meant, since it was clearly some kind of legal term. IBM's license is better, because it spells it out; MS thinks it is unnecessary to spell it out since lawyers would know; they wanted to keep the OSP to one page. But they got it wrong: people think that normal language is being used.

W3C (and OASIS) dealt with this very problem. I think the OSP should be redrafted to follow their wording (and of IETF), and use "normative" rather than "required". That aligns the promise with the language of the standards and clears up some potential for confusion.

Laypeople look at "required portions" and decide that this must be in opposition to "optional portions". Here is the MS wording from OSP:

To clarify, “Microsoft Necessary Claims” are those claims of Microsoft-owned or Microsoft-controlled patents that are necessary to implement only the required portions of the Covered Specification that are described in detail and not merely referenced in such Specification.

Predictably, IBM 's rep was trying promote this confusion. Quite a lot of chutzpah considering that IBM in fact uses the same legal terminology in its covenant

"Necessary Claims" are those patent claims that can not be avoided by any commercially reasonable, compliant implementation of the Required Portions of a Covered Specification. "Required Portions" are those portions of a specification that must be implemented to comply with such specification. If the specification prescribes discretionary extensions, Required Portions include those portions of the discretionary extensions that must be implemented to comply with such discretionary extensions..

Intel v. Via Technologies

IBM's wording is much clearer and better, and "required portion" is indeed a common term in these licenses. However, what if Microsoft turned around and said "We didn't define it as a required term, and now we want to charge licenses for patents"? Lets put aside the common legal usage of required portion in licenses. Lets also put aside the small likelihood that there could be non-junk patents in the area of document processing formats (considering the maturity of Unix Publisher Workbench, TeX and so on from the 1960s to the 1980s, not to mention ISO SGML (IS 8879:1986) and its applications since 1986 and before. And lets put aside fraud issues, given the consistent public representations by dozens of top-level management from MicroSoft.

What happens with an ambiguous licenses? During the session I asked if anyone knew of any case law where "Required" was discussed, having a nag in my memory. I have looked it up again and it comes up in the case Intel v. Via Technologies, 319 F.3d 1357 (Fed. Cir. 2003 which has a discussion here. In that case, the judgement was that "required" must be given the widest interpretation (to include "optional")

Although we agree with Intel that its reading of the plain meaning of “required by” is a reasonable one, we disagree that its reading is the only reasonable one. First, the words “required by” without any clarification could mean either non-optional protocols of AGP 2.0 or electrical interfaces or protocols that are required to perform any specification “described” in AGP 2.0, including non-optional protocols for an optional specification. For example, books “required by” a school could mean books needed for (1) “required” (non-optional) classes; or (2) any class taken, including optional classes.
The word “optional” does not occur anywhere in the license agreement.
Thus, we conclude that VIA’s and Intel’s interpretations are both reasonable readings of the license agreement. The district court erred in holding that VIA’s reading of the agreement is the only reasonable one. Nevertheless, it was harmless error because, as there is ambiguity in the agreement, the district court properly granted summary judgment of noninfringement relying on contra proferentum.
When a contract is ambiguous, the principle of contra proferentum, under Delaware law, requires that the agreement be construed against the drafter who is solely responsible for its terms.
Contra proferentum has been held determinative in resolving ambiguity in a contract that, like the agreement here, is drafted by one party and offered on a “take it or leave it” basis without meaningful negotiations.

It would be interesting to know in which other jurisdictions would also allow contra proferentum: according to Wikipedia it also includes Europe, California and international arbitration. Here in Australia, there are multiple cases that endorse the principle in various circumstances.

If I may throw a spanner in the works, the thing that I see missing from all these licenses is that they only seem to cover the of patents where use of the patents is unavoidable to implementing the spec. In other words, if there are multiple ways of implementing something, you have to use the way that is not covered by the patent. I think this is unacceptable, and something that MS, IBM and the others should fix. Don't compete at this level, boys and girls, it is counter-productive: open up.

So it was a really enjoyable day, and I enjoyed catching up with Greg Stone, Matthew Cruikshank and the others during the breaks. I think Pia, David and the CyberLaw Policy Centre organizers did a really good job.

Consortium Disinfo

But outside in the world, confusion is still rampant. OASIS lawyer Andy Updegrove has never been known to say a positive thing about MicroSoft nor a negative thing about IBM, and most of the time he is happy to be one link down the S-bend from Rob Weir's mischief, however he is really valuable when commenting on law. But it is interesting to see the level of misinformation of some of Updegrove's readers.

A case in point. While I don't see this issue as primarily IBM versus MS (that is one aspect but there are also open source people and industry people and governments occupying all positions: pro, neutral, con, don't care, be fair, make it right, etc) nevertheless I think IBM's strategy has long been that since they cannot prevent DIS 29500 being fixed and adopted, they need to shoot the messenger and blacken ISO's name. In fact, IBM's Bob Sutor is quite open about who IBM are really interested in, no shame in that: when asked about Open XML and ODF and ISO he replies

I think we have collectively educated and permanently changed the policies of procurement people in many organizations around the world.

Recently, IBM marketing guy Rob Weir has not had much to blog on, since according to JTC1 rules (which they are trying to get strictly enforced following their meeting in Australia last month) ballot resolution discussions are private. This rule is intended to stop hysteria and allow the participants the full range to describe options without outsiders citing proposals and options as done deals. (I.e. exactly what Rob has been doing, such as his complaint that the early issues dealt with were the trivial ones, to try to prop up the crumbling argument that there would be no changes to DIS 29500 in response to the National Body comments) People who are interested in participating have had a year to join their national standards body's committees and come to grips with all the issues and procedures. So Rob came up with a great spin: Microsoft is bad because, PERFIDY! they are following the rules...

Anyway, Andy's blog on this was a real classic according to the formula. He picks up on Weir's message of the day, and links to both Weir and MS' Brian Jones, which is some balance. Then, in further imitation of fairness, he quotes "Pamela Jones" (Groklaw) but her article is also just a riff from Weir's tune. Pamela manages to find some minor wording issue based on some material on the SC34 website (the FAQ is really clear on the issue, I thought): Pamela because most people in ISO committees do not have English as their first language, it is not a good idea to try to find the worst meaning in phrasing: material on a general webpage is just general material and you are wasting people's time by trying to read too much into them. Then, based on the spurious idea of the vote being taken at the meeting, off she goes with imagined opportunities for conspiracies and so on. Again, it is the basic strategy: FUD. Take the most lurid interpretation possible, try to discredit the process.

In politics, this kind of spin is called "innoculation". What you do is try to get ahead of your opponent by coming in early with responses to them. For example, "Six lies the Democrats will tell you" or whatever. The intent is that then the public will hear any statements through the framework established by you. (Indeed, IBM's Bob Sutor even talked of having a competition for this.)

Andy's blog has a similar comical moment: after given some of the smaller details of an ECMA press release, where ECMA rolls over on some of the most contentious issues which previously the Echo Chamber had told us would never be changed, Updegrove says
Despite the meagerness of the sampling of recommendations described in the press release, it is possible to get an idea of the degree to which Ecma and Microsoft are willing to go in order to secure a final, favorable vote.

What Andy: no "How great, we got what we asked for!" instead a complaint about the press release being meagre (oh no, not enough material for a convincing spin) and then the corker that this shows "the lengths" they will go to! PERFIDY! They are refusing to act unreasonably! PERFIDY! They are giving in to user demands! So despite this utterly clear evidence that the process looks like it is working (ECMA proposes a standard, national bodies consider it and make comments, ECMA and the national bodies work out constructive solutions to them, the way that every other fast-tracked ISO standard procedes), instead it is supposed to be bad news. It is hard for me to think why it isn't kind of pathetic.

Anyway, the thing that grabbed my attention about this blog item was that there had been four small discussion threads. And all of them were based on wrong information.

  • The first makes a statement about maintenance, but the maintenance regime has not been decided yet. (See the SC34 Kyoto minutes 8.1

  • The second is some FUD on copyright. Yet the ECMA copyright is very clear.

  • The third claims that ISO requires two implementations. (Actually, now that Apple has about 10 different independent implementations of parts of OOXML released or in the works, claims about the impossibility of implementation are looking increasingly implausible.)

  • The fourth is that OOXML could not have gone through the PAS process, as ODF did. (I made a reply giving the actual JTC1 directives on the issue: Appendix M) This last claim is often based on the idea that OOXML is a really rotten spec from the technical writing POV: ODF is contrasted. However, the fact is that all specs when looked at in detail have a large number of things to improve. Look at the Japanese defect report for ODF which has finally surfaced: 98 problems ranging from trivial editorial ('An' not 'A') to the incorrect (#68) to the incomplete (#75) to the inconsistent (#88). The thing to do with errors is fix them, not augur calamity or incompetence cheap points from them.

A world of confusion. The emperor's new clothes are tremendously well-ventilated.


Alex Brown
2007-12-17 07:07:13

The comments on Groklaw that there is "something odd" about the description of the voting rules (which Andy Updegrove then hints may be a "serious mistake") are a little wide of the mark.

The general info on the SC 34 site stated that at the end of the BRM NBs "will indicate if their original vote stands". And so they will, the can "indicate" whatever they want. Indicating something is however not the same as voting on it. For an approval vote to change (as the FAQ makes plain) a NB must inform ITTF in writing of this change in the 30 days following the BRM.

I expect at this particular BRM, however, most delegations will not be empowered by their standards bodies even to indicate their national position -- BRM delegates are meant to be technical experts, not policy makers.

I too thought the FAQ was very clear on voting procedures :-) I haven't yet had any queries on it from participants in the process ...

BTW, in some quarters this FAQ is described as my document, published by me. While I confess I did do a lot of the typing, it should be clearly understood that this document is published by ISO/IEC and is the combined work of many hands. Every word has been weighed (and re-weighed) very carefully by senior standards professionals and officers in ISO/IEC.

- Alex Brown.

Rick Jelliffe
2007-12-17 08:27:44
Alex: Thanks for the info.

(Despite my huffing and puffing, I do think that phrase on the SC34 website could be improved though. I guess a straw poll would be useful, but only a little. Perhaps on your blog you might like to say what the BRM will actually vote on: the proposed editor's instructions?)

2007-12-17 08:46:22
>Look at the Japanese defect report for ODF which has finally surfaced: 98

well, then the score is

ODF: 98
OOXML: +1200

wow... OOXML won!!

go on rick, defending the indefensible. You have taken this too much personal, please try to be less subjective.

Alex Brown
2007-12-17 08:46:59

Yes, maybe a couple of changes might tighten it up a bit ...

As to what BRM votes are for, I think FAQ 1.4 covers this:

1.4 Will the BRM vote to approve or disapprove DIS 29500?

Not directly, no. The BRM will vote (if voting is necessary) to approve individual disposition of comments (essentially, instructions for textual revision) that will be decided during the course of the meeting. [...]

Of course, everything might proceed by consensus at the BRM, in which case there will be no voting there at all. But if voting does take place, it be voting on modifying the text, NOT on approving the standard ....

Rick Jelliffe
2007-12-17 09:09:16
I just saw the hilarious post on NOOOXML.ORG which has the summary Open XML fanboy Rick Jelliffe and others will convene at an OOXML symposium. A legal session will address legal concerns no one ever raised. And there is yet another paper ahead.

omz: Can you not read then? "OOXML won!" That kind of cheap point scoring is the kind of thing I was writing against, not engaging in. My point was that all specs have issues. (B.t.w, in the initial ISO ballot there were about 35 unique comments. Many of the same issues came up: should/must conformance language, typos (not enumerated), tightening up whether ODF requires DDE, and so on. Raw numbers are unreliable, because some NBs make general commonts that may require multiple edits while others make specific comments only.)

"Try to be less subjective" is spintalk for "Try to be more gullible".

2007-12-17 10:16:48
Unfortunately, your credibilty as an un-baised jounalist has evaporated. You writing has become so one sided, it is no longer objective and it makes you look like a MS pigeon.
Karsten S.
2007-12-17 11:16:08
Oh my god, there is no reason to support Open XML as long as the patent conditions are not clear enough. Stop the stupid ranting. If Microsoft was fine with it they could sign the same CNS as SUN did. Do you trust them. The report of Ron Yu was very clear, there is no reason to trust them. You did read the paper, right?

Sorry, Rick you are not an unbiased expert. Dont simulate a neutral stakeholder. It is funny to watch your eruption of hate because you know that you are wrong.

2007-12-17 11:16:32
Robert - you will embarrass yourself less if you actually read what Rick is saying before commenting.
2007-12-17 17:32:56
"Try to be less subjective" is spintalk for "Try to be more gullible".

my impression ( could be wrong of course ) is that you have lost focus in this discussion

the reasons: since the infamous "Microsoft offer to edit wikipedia"[1] you have received lot of attacks by "pasionated" people who defends what they believe is fair and important to keep our digital-life open

and you developed a fight-them-at-all-costs reaction: no matter how , but contradict this ODF people , no matter if i have to throw the "XML honour" through the window

( i'm not a psychologist , but sometimes your comments responses and blogging makes me think that this could be an explanation )

Long life to XML, keep the quality of formats Rick, the XML community deserves it.


Colin Jackson
2007-12-17 17:35:15

I enjoyed the debate at the seminar, although I find your stereotyping of people's positions a bit, well, stereotypical. It's a mistake in my view to assume that anyone's position is as simple as that - your own is clearly quite nuanced.

Anyway, I'd like to make it clear for the record, in case the opposite is read into your post, that I do not speak for the New Zealand government. I made that quite clear at the meeting as I am doing here.


Colin Jackson

2007-12-17 18:44:17
My, my. Oh my oh my.

Well, you have the inside track on this. I don't envy your having to sit in the middle of that circle and sort things out.

I do find your characterization very consistent with behaviors that I have been able to observe directly and to fact-check myself. I also find that Microsoft Legal can be their own worst enemy (the boss included).

I notice how everyone is stepping over your observation and that of others that *from* a *legal* perspective, the different covenants and other assurances from Sun, Microsoft, and IBM are indistinguishable. The only way the criticism is maintained is by ignoring the fact that the passages being criticized are used by others not being criticized.

Furthermore, I have heard no one ever placing on record an instance where Microsoft has sued for an IP infringement (although they have had to be defendants often enough). Yet the littany about Microsoft skullduggery and plotting is continually paraded forth. As far as I can tell, the only thing that Microsoft has demonstrated is (1) an ability to acquire companies having valuable properties and making some of them even more valuable, (2) an over-zealous licensing arrangement that started out as a piracy defence and ended up so successful that it became a basis for monopolistic abuse, (3) using licensing and bundling power to exclude equal access to their platform by others, including hardware providers, and (4) mastering the developers-platform-hardware-productivity-tools network effects to provide a high level of standardization and acceptability for all players, especially customers.

To surpass the quality and reliability of the result is going to take long hard work on the part of would-be competitors who must offer greater economy as well. Meanwhile, it would be great to have the freedom to interoperate based on agreed standards rather than be subject to sole-source solutions.

Wow, what a way to endure the North American Winter months - U.S. Presidential Primaries and the OOXML BRM. I think there may be a Super Bowl in there somewhere, too. It's like watching those old science fiction films that showed badly-animated dinosaurs fighting to the death.

2007-12-17 18:58:22
"reasonable people increasingly see that ISO is delivering a good result"

Rick, you couldn't be more condescending if you tried. That this result is being delivered is no thanks to you. You were all for voting yes, then maybe, then no but also yes. God knows you criticise us for making sure a process is being followed properly, praise the outcome, and then criticise us *again* for continuing to make sure there is a good and solid outcome.

And I see you continue with your trick of misquoting or misrepresenting folks.

Is that "reasonable"? I am not sure you should be so fast at applying that tag to yourself.

Jeff Waugh
2007-12-17 19:21:30
Wow, way to mischaracterise my participation, Rick. Given that you didn't raise any of these concerns to me during the public discussion or our personal discussion, this just smacks of passive aggressive behaviour. My respect for you was elevated on the day, but you've wasted that with this post.
Matthew Cruickshank
2007-12-17 19:27:10
A goody? Well, Lars isn't a baddie (I didn't catch him twisting his curly mustache and cackling from under a black cape, for example) but I probably wouldn't describe people in those kind of terms anyway.

Lars was however very well spoken and he provided some great comments that day on technical and legal matters. I'm glad that he brought up the issue of internally undisclosed information, and whether these non-disclosures are covered by the OSP.

Anyway, good talking to you Rick, despite our occasional disagreements about naming conventions ;) Hope you got those couple of emails that I sent your address.

Cheers :)

Rick Jelliffe
2007-12-17 20:47:57
Karsten: So an expert cannot come to any conclusions? Far from being unbiased, I am quite active in promoting standards that I think would bring benefit. I will certainly read Ron Yu's paper again, but I think you may be reading more into it than it has.

Robert: I am not a journalist.

omz: ah, so people can throw whatever dirt they like as long as their motives are pure?

Colin: I trust my readers are smart enough to know that the stereotypes I gave were indeed stereotypes, and I hope they gave people a laugh. The trouble with nuanced opinions is that no-one gets them: see Don's comment for an example.

orcmid: I didn't say that the the licenses were indistinguishable, I was characterizing Steve M's talk as bringing out that the differences were cosmetic rather than substantial. He would have used much more discrete and lawyerly words.

As to whether MS is good or evil or none or both for IP litigation, it should not matter for the standardization process. Just as a postman should still deliver letters to a prison, the standards process has to be neutral.It is a completely fair issue for NBs to discuss and go into IPR issues, and to try to understand what their local law is. But "going into" means talking to people and studying, not participating in a conga line of parrots.

2007-12-17 21:41:54
"The trouble with nuanced opinions is that no-one gets them: see Don's comment for an example."

Well, you're right. Either you were being nuanced and I didn't "get it" or...not and what?

The trouble is Rick. Those of us that have seen you in public, hosted you, given you the time of day are feeling rather betrayed by the way you misrepresented these events. Its not that you have to agree with us (nobody has a monopoly on "right"), it's that you chose to misrepresent.

You might think we are being "unreasonable", "parrots", and displaying "mob" like behaviour. But you did not say that to our faces, rather the opposite in fact. You make your calls, we will make ours.

Rick Jelliffe
2007-12-17 22:19:40
Don: I am reporting what I hear; this is a personal blog not minutes of a meeting. Even at this seminar, which had mainly people unimpressed by Open XML, I heard several comments that it wasn't going to be as bad as people thought, or that the editorial & technical problems seem to be being dealt with, leaving the imagined legal and real politico/economic issues as the stumbling block. (Are you really saying that no anti-OOXML person would soften their opposition when the reasons they gave for opposing DIS29500 were dealt with?)

As for misquoting people, it is impossible to give any complete view of what anyone says in just a phrase: that is a problem with language and life. I welcome people correcting me or giving a more complete description of their POV. The meeting was recorded, the participants were not shrinking violets, and the presentations will be online.

As for me changing my mind, I hope I am not completely doctrinaire. But in this case I don't think I have particularly changed my mind. I have written about this before in this blog. I have *always* expected a BRM (as I wrote in Feb this year) and I have *never* expected that DIS29500 would be accepted as is; everything I write has consistently been predicated on there being a BRM a reasonable level of fixing. It is just another spec. This utterly disinclined me to give any credence to the hysteria and panicking and misinformation that has characterized 2007.

Where I *have* moved is that in 2006 I thought that if Sun/OASIS could have their fast-tracked spec, I could see no reason why MS/ECMA should not have their spec too, on the grounds of ISO neutrality and what I understood the JTC1 procedures and system to be (which has proven entirely accurate, so far), despite being not keen on SC34 standardizing applications; during 2007 I have come to a more positive position that, especially in light of the SMB case, all interface technologies by market dominators should be QA-ed, ZRAND standards! and that is the prism through which I tend to view the OOXML issue currently.

I have particularly tried hard to differentiate between DIS29500 and OOXML.

I recommended a "no with comments" vote on DIS29500 as it stood, because I want an ultimate yes vote on a version of an OOXML which has been reviewed and improved. In the early days I did not AFAICR have a strong view on whether the initial vote should be yes with comments or no with comments: reading the spec and deciding that though it is mainly fine it had some severe problems (and very similar ones to the ODF draft), that firmed up my view. If you can look at what I have written and said and say You were all for voting yes, then maybe, then no but also yes. then I have really failed to communicate.

I support having an ISO standard for OOXML. I support fixing the problems in DIS29500. I have tried to participate in the process and debate, and sort out which issues I thought were significant and which were misguided, and what the best way to get them addressed was. The problems were severe enough IMHO that DIS29500 warranted a "no with comments" rather than a "yes" with comments. I think the BRM process looks like delivering changes that address the issues I had adequately. It seems entirely 'reasonable' to me.

That this result is being delivered is no thanks to me? Am I claiming any special credit? Am I demanding thanks? Next year, after this is over, will you have forgotten about standards and be on to something else? I submitted most of the Australian comments, and I tried to fairly represent many of the criticisms expressed during the Standards Australia meeting as well as the issues that I had, in a form that would be useable by SA and by the BRM (trying to find the principle behind the individual issue, trying to express the Australian angle, suggesting a possible fix); as a result, it looks like ECMA has rolled over on most of *our* issues.

Rick Jelliffe
2007-12-17 22:40:35
Jeff: I am sorry if I have misrepresented you: what is this in regard to?

When we were going through the Australian comments to see how they were faring, you stopped discussion by saying the technical/editorial issues were boring (i.e. that there were other more important issues.) Did you mean something different?

As for sstereotyping you that didn't see the need for one standard, that is indeed simplistic and in retrospect I probably should have omitted the names. But I put you in that camp because of a comment you made where you said no-one has ever said why Open XML should become a standard: I have invariably found that when people take this line they actually ultimately mean that they can see no sense in having any standards (for software) in the kind of pluralistic voluntary systems that we have.

The conversation usually goes: Me: "Standards are good because they allow discussion, debate, review, fixes, forums, copyright and licensing clarity, editing, standard formats, QA, international concerns, formal processes"; response:"But we could have that without being a standard"; me: "But we haven't and won't get them outside this kind of process"; response: "But that is their fault for being bastards" and so on.

Perhaps you have a different position than that: the limited interaction we had was indeed to small to fit you into that box. I will remove the names.

Rick Jelliffe
2007-12-17 23:03:06
Matthew: Yes, great to met you again. Thanks for the material: I am at DEFCON 3 on a deadline at the moment so I will be looking at them later in the week. For naming conventions, I have just wasted 2 hours because of a URL in an XSD that included "Checkbox.xsd" rather than "CheckBox.xsd": the dumbest errors are the most difficult!

One thing that I took from the meeting was that I think it would be really good to have some kind of industry-wide license that all the big players could use when approaching standardization. I know there is that OSI review, but still I don't see why there should not be some common license. (Or, given my pluralistic bent, a couple of standard ones that approach the problem from different angles.)

Rick Jelliffe
2007-12-17 23:52:42
Don: If I have offended you and others by using the words parrot (in relation to NBs) or mob (above), I apologize. But the serious point behind the words remain: deprecatory of a way of acting but not derogatory about any people I hope.

And how I could I possibly have discussed my reasons for thinking that parroting is an abuse of the ISO voting process (not a moral flaw, but an execution flaw) face-to-face to anyone anywhere before it had happened? I had no expectation that such a thing would happen on such a scale.

As to being "unreasonable", I think I have tried hard to always mention that the rabid fringe is not the mainstream: indeed, that is the premise of this blog But it is quite possible for the different sides to engage civilly and constructively. That I think there has been a small handful of toxic types involved, does not mean that I think that all, most or even many of the anti-OOXML are unreasonable. I hope in future standards reviews, there will be more independent and unique comments from both our National Bodies.

Rick Jelliffe
2007-12-18 05:47:02
Don: Even though I think you are reading far to much into my use of "mob", I have also replaced "mob" with "crowd".

But over here it is commonly used (especially by non-city folk) to mean a tribe or gang or group, not necessarily in a pejorative sense at all (

E.g. "our mob" or "your mob" or "they're a weird mob" (

It seems to be the favoured term used by aboriginals.

E.g. "It was funny that while all the white mob were discussing TEEā€  scores, the Aboriginal mob were more interested in where you were from and who your mob were."

E.g. "JOHN VALDER: So I think it's a term of respect ladies and gentlemen, to describe you all as the mob."

In fact, in Today's Australian we have
"I said: “My mob hopes you never get the leadership back.”

I am surprised that it is not used in NZ? It is the kind of usage in "FlashMob" I think, so I thought it was common English.

2007-12-18 08:12:43
This is a no win for anyone trying to steer to the middle.

The temperature of this debate *indicates* that closing the rooms and having a very tough chair will continue to be the best means going forward. While I typically favor openness, IMO, the use made of this issue to fuel the marketing strategies of different companies makes it difficult for any serious participant to avoid the tar. This damages the standards process by increasing the risks for participants. This is a debate where the use of the web has only hastened to death march to the sea. It won't be the first time the veterans have seen this.

Close this up, focus on the work in accordance with authorized processes, and starve the combatants of oxygen. The hysteria does not serve the common good.

Kurt Cagle
2007-12-18 11:37:26

I'm not sure that causing any more brain damage than has already occurred getting this particular spec through would be particularly helpful or conducive to ameliorating the process to any great extent. ;-)


You have taken a stand, one that you may feel is the correct one to take, one that some others (including myself) feel may not be the correct one. At stake is not a question of "spanking Microsoft" or "vindicating Microsoft" - as someone who has worked at Microsoft and who has both a brother-in-law and sister-in-law working at Microsoft, I do not really have any significant complaints towards the company itself that aren't applicable to most big software corporations. My objections have come about because I feel that the standardization of OOXML according to the terms and conditions I have seen do not work in the best interests of ISO in the long run, and given that this organization, more than any other, represents the point where software and politics intersect, I think it is very important to raise the question on a level beyond "is this a good spec technically".

To give an extreme example, suppose that you were wanting to push a specification for a "human abattoir" to ISO to be accepted as an ISO standard. Technically, the specification might be perfectly valid, might be well drafted, might be technically correct, concise and internally self-consistent. By a purely technical definition, it should be standardized. However, it is very likely that there are moral implications to the endorsing organization for approving this specification, implications that could have generally negative ramifications for the credibility of the ISO as an organization in providing that endorsement.

That was, as mentioned, an extreme example meant to illustrate a point (and I am in no way comparing OOXML to an abattoir, no matter my own personal feelins). However, I think that what you are dealing with here is a difference of degrees, not of kind. There are troubling aspects about the OOXML specification from exactly this kind of a decision, and these are significant beyond whether the specification itself is technically valid or not.

Insisting upon agreement based upon the purely technical issues isn't going to help you (or Microsoft) here - indeed, the purpose of the technical advisers is precisely for that rule -to provide technical advice both about the integrity of the specification and its technical implications beyond those covered within the body of the specification itself. It is the role of the governmental delegates to weigh this into their decisions, but also the role of those same delegates to also consider whether the recommendation of granting this status comes at some moral or business cost to the governments in question.

Painting the anti-OOXML side as some kind of rabid, foaming, knee jerk idiots may prove satisfying in the short term, but considering that the people you are describing may also be the ones making either the moral decision or making the recommendations about the moral decision, it's not necessarily wise in the long term.

-- Kurt

Rick Jelliffe
2007-12-18 18:24:09
Kurt: OK, so you say there are overriding moral and economic implications. What are they?

If you want to take normal economic theory, it is difficult to justify any kind of (avoidable/non-natural/long-term) monopoly, which means single standards as well as single organizations. There needs to be a market between technologies (standards help choosing the optimum technology for the job) then a market within each technology (standards help allow multiple implementations).

The competition between the formats means they will be improved, but not just according to the agenda of each side independently (as has happened so far.) The competition will mean that both sides will need to start matching important features based on user preferences (e.g. if people want something that OOXML provides but ODF doesn't, there is an increased pressure and objective evidence for the maintainers of ODF to add it), which is exactly what we are starting to see now. (Ultimately, the effects of competition lead to a feature matching, in which case the difference in formats reduce to syntactic, extension and organizational differences, at which point, all other things being equal and all parties being in the same room with expectations of being heard, you would expect unification to become a cost-saver and market-enhancer.)

It is not a zero-sum game: more OOXML causing less ODF.

If you want to take the economic line that OOXML will continue MS' market dominance, that is where we are starting from (in many areas) and it is not credible to think that MS would not adapt to whatever circumstances it finds it has to do business in. You are left with the same market power, but none of the advantages of standardization.

If you want to take the moral argument, there are two issues that people seem to have raised. One is that MS has somehow corrupted the standardization process by particating in it. The other is that since MS is evil, anything they want is evil and must be resisted.

I disagree with both: the standards process was designed to allow all interested (non-armchair) stakeholders to participate including big business, and that there are lot of business around the world with an interest in OOXML naturally means there will be a lot of businesses and potential users who can be prompted to stand up for what they need in their local standards bodies. I have not seen where MS has been naughty with any significant effect, and a process cannot run on rumour. In any case, why penalize the rest of us (who have been calling for this kind of thing for years) because of them: that we may be suspicious of them and their motives is exactly why getting them to commit and submit to standardization processes is a good thing.

OOXML is exactly the kind of thing that industry has been calling for for years--are we supposed to reject anything we ask for from MS on the grounds that they have said yes? What is the point in pushing for anything from them if we think they will only accede where they can trick us?

The only argument I see is one based on laziness and stupidity: that procurement people will buy into the marketing argument that OOXML and ODF are equivalent therefore it doesn't matter which one is adopted. But a fool and their money are soon parted.

As I said in the seminar, having a technology as a standard does not force you to adopt the standard. These technical standards at ISO are voluntary, and AFAIK do not automatically become the national standard of any country anywhere unless the country explicitly adopts them. So it is misguided to conduct this fight at ISO: the location for fighting for adoption of ODF is at the user/consumer/developer/procurement side.

It seems that in 2006/2007 ODF applications were not quite ready to step up to bat, regrettably, but things will be different in 2008/2009 I am sure. The thing to overcome MS' monopoly is not file formats, but substitute applications that people prefer to use, coupled with regulation to prevent bundling strategies. (And I still think MS should be split up.)

Rick Jelliffe
2007-12-18 18:30:30
Kurt: Re-reading your comment, I was struck by your mention of governmental delegates.

I think you may have a misunderstanding of what standardization at ISO achieves. For a government member of a national standards body (NBs vote, not governments, formally: in Australia's case the standards body is wholly independent of the government) what they are voting for when they vote in favour of a document being accepted as a standard is not a vote that they are mandating that technology in their country. It is a vote on the potential technologies that are available in standardized form *from which* they can choose or ignore as they see fit.

Where is there any moral dilemma in that?

Rick Jelliffe
2007-12-18 21:01:14
Len: Yes, starving it of oxygen may make my life easier and be good for my soul, but it does not make the mis/disinformation go away. What will I have to be passive/aggressive about then? The reason I mentioned the commentors on Andy Updegrove's blog was not because it was remarkable that they all seemed to be on the wrong foot, but because it seems the rule. Multiple implementations and people still say "unimplementable"...(I leave it to the reader to follow same pattern for parallel phrases to complete the sentence) By and large, of course, people are much better informed now: I don't see many comments that claim that optional or deprecated things are in fact required for example: so it is not all bad. (And I think several NBs came around to my view that this confusion shows that the conformance language of the draft was not working. Conformance clarity is the basis for a workable standard, much more important than completeness for example, IMHO, to make a perhaps false opposition.)

Anyway, I have just been contacted about helping out on the DIS29500 edits, which presumably means I should be under the JTC1 gag for most OOXML issues next month, if we go ahead with it. They have said they want to adapt my Grokdoc bitmask material for example (how to do bitmasks in XSLT): my natural inclination would be to use this blog to try out various arguments and get some public feedback to see which ones have holes, but I guess that is not on. If I can indulge in "China-watching" speculation, it *might* be a sign that ECMA is doing the larger not just the smaller changes to the spec that people have asked for; I don't know yet. (As Jon Bosak said in this very regard on the INCITS V1 list, these big changes are straightforward but tedious.)

If my theory that (some of the leaders of) the anti-OOXML side are running this along the lines of an election campaign, while MS has been trying to run it along the line of an education campaign, we would expect to see some kind of January surprise (in the US they call this the "October Surprise": in Australia think "Tampa".) I suggest that it should be outrage that members of ISO groups and National Bodies participate in editing drafts: a clear conflict of interest (ignoring that this is how 100% of standards are developed.) Or perhaps outrage at the discovery that industrial standards bodies can have people from industry participate!

Alex Brown
2007-12-18 23:38:46

The "JTC 1 gag" only applies to re-publication of the NB comments which accompanied the 2 September ballot. Ecma's responses (in isolation), new drafting, etc. are entirely outside JTC 1 framework and so can be published in public.

2007-12-19 06:43:43
You have my respect in this, Rick, as you usually have over the long years of collegial debate. You as well, Kurt.

My remark isn't meant to suggest brain damage or to gag the debaters in public forums. In other blogs, it has been suggested that ISO has to open its processes as a means to fix the problems. I am saying that once an issue like this becomes so inflamed that rational discourse in the ISO meetings can become impossible, then this is the precise example of why closing meetings and almost ruthlessly but professionally chairing them is the best way to ensure the job at hand gets done.

I suspect that were we to interview older veterans of the pre-web standards processes, we would discover that such rules are in place because this isn't the first time a standards effort caught fire. The difference now is the web which can push so much oxygen towards the fire, it becomes like the Santa Anna winds on the US West Coast. Once two campers set a blaze and walk away, nature is doing the rest.

As you say, there are those involved in this for whom the anti-* (pick a side - any side) arguments have little appeal. But the majority of the tinder is coming from those who do relish such. I read some of the blogs of people I have respected throughout the years and I am aghast. In a kaffeklatsch discussion, it might be ok to get this loud, but professionally, I think it does no credit and it does real damage to the domain of international standards.

So the metaphor is not to damage, but to starve the flames of raw antipathy before they burn down the neighborhoods. This has become too much about who is being most noticed and that is pathetic.

Doug Mahugh
2007-12-19 07:33:15
That's the way I took your comment, Len -- just turning down the volume. If I hear one more person talk about "evil" ... it's just all so silly.

And as Rick has said so many times in so many ways, the claims of "corruption of the ISO process" are based on rumors and wishful thinking and nothing more. Yes, Microsoft has suggested to various partners that they might want to get involved, since this issue affects their businesses. And many others have done the same.

For example, I have, with my own eyes and ears, watched IBM execs thanking a friend for showing up and joining a technical committee, and that person proceeded to add not a word to any of the debate and voted NO when the opportunity came. But you won't find me writing a blog post about IBM's evil manipulative corruption of the ISO process, because it's my understanding that what I saw was entirely within the rules.

If people don't like the rules, they can try to change them. But the personal attacks and fearmongering have become simply boring.

Fred Arnold
2007-12-19 10:13:03
Despite all the thousands words you have emitted in support of OOXML Mr. Jelliffe, the fact remains that it's a fairly simple issue, which your masses of verbiage seem to be designed to obscure. OOXML is not an open standard that anyone can follow and completely implement because it includes closed, proprietary Microsoft elements. Its incomplete 6000+ page spec is not a true spec, but a mass of deliberate confusion and obscurity.

Microsoft has been gaming the ISO process shamelessly, engaging in their usual tactics of intimidation, bullying, and bribery, and wreaking havoc with no regard for the consequences. The interoperability ball has always been in Microsoft's court; all the open standards, protocols, and code have always been there for them to use. They do not want interoperability, but even tighter lockin and blocks to interoperability, which they think is necessary for them to survive. (I think they're wrong, but that's a topic for another day.) It's a tacit admission that OOXML cannot stand on its own merits.

2007-12-19 13:26:23
@Rick, sorry for over-stating the cosmetic as indistinguishable.

@Fred Arnold, OK, how about a short list of some of those proprietary technologies that OOXML requires, with some indication of the normative passages where those requirements are stated, please?

A link to an authoritative source (one that provides line chapter and verse) would be helpful. I hear this claim over and over and over as it if is true by repetition. Please parade out some verifiable evidence.

Rick Jelliffe
2007-12-20 03:46:37
Fred: From your comments it is clear you have never actually looked at the spec. Most of it provides perfectly adequate details to implement, and there are now multiple system that support it (e.g. Apple).

Sure, there are multiple places which need clarification: big deal, that is what this review process is for...the order of doing things may be different than would happen in a slow track process, but the review still occurs.

There are a handful of flags for compatibility hints which are not specified in detail (indeed, there is no evidence that even Office implements anything for them as well): indeed some are deprecated and all typesetting, kerning and line-breaking kind of issues are not specified in detail anyway. But since people think it is important, the descriptions are going to be fixed. (When people see the descriptions, I expect they will tend say "Oh, actually that is not anything important after all")

These kind of specs have very little that is "obscure" or "confusing". They have clear grammars (XSD or RELAX NG) and a section describing every element and attribute. Of all specs, OOXML errs on the side against obscurity by putting in far too much explanatory text and things like example graphics (e.g. Maple Muffin Border). In the National Body reviews, there were no comments that the text generally was obscure, it is a shame that your insight managed to evade the other thousands of reviewers around the world.

As for MS, they can speak for themselves. But what intimidation are you talking about? What bullying? What bribery?

(I think you are trolling. ;-)

2007-12-20 04:00:25

Joke of the day : Rick Jetliffe asks a commenter : what kind of bribery are you talking about? Coming right from the king of bribery.

Joke of the day (2) : Doug Mahugh to Rick Jetliffe : look how cool we are. Even those Gnome pussies are with us.

@orcmid : "OK, how about a short list of some of those proprietary technologies that OOXML requires, with some indication of the normative passages where those requirements are stated, please?"

Last time we did this and Grokdoc got it posted, it only took one week for Microsoft to repaginate the ECMA specs and as a result make the detailed review useless. I'm sure that was a coincidence.

2007-12-20 08:06:16
Mayby my english is not good enough but why would you not interprete:
"the required portions of the Covered Specification"
"the portions, required by the reader/implementer, of the Covered Specification"

As i can see it that is a valid interpretation of this clause and allows all use of the patents for implementing whatever part of the spec you want.

Rick Jelliffe
2007-12-20 08:20:19
hAl: I think the point is more why anyone would interpret a document outside its literary habitat: a legal document will use legalese and needs to be approached from that route. A standard uses standardese and needs to be approached from that route.

I have no problem that "required" means "not optional" in plain English, and that this might confuse. But it will primarily confuse you if you don't look at other examples of the same kind of license.

But I think it should be improved. Even if the lawyers think it is enough, enough people have claimed they don't understand it (i.e. they come up with a different interpretation to the interpretation of the MS management who commissioned it) to warrant a re-write.

2008-01-14 17:41:47
When we were going through the Australian comments to see how they were faring, you stopped discussion by saying the technical/editorial issues were boring (i.e. that there were other more important issues.) Did you mean something different?
2008-01-15 03:53:51
this is again a wild west with Microsoft as main character. In the end only programmers are victims. I am inspired by the ZDNET article, it fits the open acadamic learning sharing on For those dutch Read more about OOXML standards and its place in improving your skills as programmer.
Rick Jelliffe
2008-01-17 03:22:17
John: Is your comment to me? It was not me who said the technical issues were boring and stopped discussion of them. Indeed, I had thought the that point of the morning was exactly to discus technical issues... But the discussion was interesting nonetheless.
2008-01-19 23:49:04
I have to admit that the ODF JIS committee has not been
thorough in reporting defects to the OASIS ODF TC and SC34.
I reported some recently and plan to report more in the near future. See