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The ISO/IEC Voting Process on OOXML Explained (and What Happens Next)

OpenDocument and OOXML
I've had several questions from journalists today who want to know how the votes will be counted on the OOXML vote, and what the distinction is between the influence of P (Participating) as compared to O (Observer) members of ISO. I had promised in a prior blog post to explain the rather complicated rules, and with voting now in its final stages, that time is now. While I'm at it, I'll also explain in greater detail why the surge in membership in SC 34 matters, and what will happen between now and the OOXML Ballot Resolution Meeting (BRM) in Geneva, Switzerland in February 2008.
 

First, here's the flow chart for how it will be determined whether the vote to approve OOXML has passed:

[Updated:  The following explanation is presented in linear fashion for clarity.  As Alex Brown points out in the comments to this post, each step is of equal importance, and are applied simultaneously.  Alex is helping to maintain a detailed explanation at the subsection of the OOXML Wikipedia entry that addresses the ISO process.  Alex will be the chair of the BRM (in ISO-speak, the "Convenor") - a difficult job indeed.]
 
Step one: Count all P votes cast, and determine whether at least 50% of P members have voted
 
If yes, then proceed to next step
 
If no, then the resolution fails
 
Step two: Subtract all abstentions (in other words, throw them out)
 
Step three: Determine whether 2/3's of the remaining P votes are to approve
 
If No, then the resolution fails
 
If yes, then go to step four
 
Step four: Determine whether 25% or more of the total votes cast by both P and O members are "No" votes
 
If yes, then the resolution fails
 
If no, then the resolution passes
 
From this, it becomes clear that P votes are far more important than O votes, and therefore why the recent upsurge in P members – from 30 to 41 this year – is so significant. We will see what the actual votes will be next week, but my expectation at this point is that the votes cast by those that were P members on January 1 of 2007 will be heavily negative, and that OOXML would have failed decisively absent the recent upgrades. 
 
From the above, you can also see that an abstention is the next best thing to a "yes," since it helps make the 50% test, and also avoids another vote in the no category, which can't exceed 25% of all votes cast. As a result, a conversion of the Swedish vote from a "yes" to an abstention, due to irregularities, is still helpful to the OOXML cause. That's because if the vote would have been "no" without the sudden increase in membership (and it appears that it would have been), the increase still succeeded in taking a no vote off the list – a tactical victory.
 
So now let's turn to what happens after the votes are cast.
 
Step five: The ballots and comments will be sent to Ken Holman, the Chair of SC 34 (Canada currently holds the Secretariat roll for SC 34, but recently announced that it wishes to relinquish that role. As a result, Canada will later be replaced by Japan). The votes and comments will also be sent to Ecma and to all JTC1 members
 
Step six: Ecma and Microsoft have until January 14 to come up with their suggestions for how to resolve the comments. Those suggestions can be to ignore or to address any given comment, and if the latter, how to address it. Note that while Ecma and Microsoft will have four and a half months to make their recommendations, the JTC1 members will only have about six weeks to review those recommendations before the BRM convenes on February 25.
 
Step seven: SC 34 reviews the suggestions, and forms its opinion on what should be done with each comment. One task would be to determine whether some issues are "irresolvable."
 
If yes, then cancel the BRM, and the process ends
 
If no, then consider how to resolve issues
 
Step eight: The BRM meeting is held. If the initial vote was to approve, then the process completes with the agreement on which comments should be accommodated. If the initial vote was no, then the question is whether enough comments can be resolved to the satisfaction of those that voted no.
 
Step nine: If necessary, revote. And note: if there is a revote, it will be of all P members at that time. So keep an eye on whether there are further upgrades of O members to P membership, even after the September 2 vote closes.
 
That leaves one last topic: why does it matter that SC 34 has more than doubled in size this year?
 
Here's why: if a National Body votes no, it has an obligation to attend the BRM. On the other hand, if it votes "yes," then its role is basically done. But – if it joins SC 34, then it has an obligation to participate in the process of addressing the comments. If SC engages in meetings before the BRM, it has the obligation to participate in them. And at the BRM itself, it also has an obligation to help resolve the comments. Since the resolution is by "consensus," then the more proponents of OOXML are members of SC 34, the greater the pressure to resolve comments in a manner favorable to Microsoft – if it so happens that Microsoft is pulling the strings of all of these new SC 34 members.
 

It will be interesting indeed to see how the votes come in next week, and how those votes map against those that have upgraded their status, and to those that have conceived a recent urge to be part of SC 34. I will report on, and analyze, those results as soon as they are available.

For further blog entries on ODF and OOXML, click here

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The ISO/IEC Voting Process on OOXML Explained (and What Happens Next) | 18 comments | Create New Account
The following comments are owned by whomever posted them. This site is not responsible for what they say.
A distinction without a difference?
Authored by: Anonymous on Friday, August 31 2007 @ 04:05 PM CDT
If SC engages in meetings before the BRM, it has the obligation to participate in them. And at the BRM itself, it also has an obligation to help resolve the comments.

Obligation is one thing, and enforcing that obligation is something else.

I don't see any mechanism for actually enforcing that "obligation," such as barring non-participating members from voting.  In a normal standards setting this wouldn't matter, but we've already seen quite a few instances where an NB forms a WG to deal with DIS-29500, and the WG holds a meeting the same day to approve it without discussing the content at all.  What happens if:
  • MS (via ECMA) makes no substantive changes to DIS-29500
  • 33 P members play possum until the BRM
  • At the BRM, all 33 vote to approve DIS-29500 more or less as it stands today.
In other words, a straight "party line" vote; my way or the highway.

Again, I'm well aware that in a normal standards process, failure to participate weakens a party's persuasive authority.  However, if the votes are there for a coup de main, then this isn't really a "normal standards process" any more, is it?

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The ISO/IEC Voting Process on OOXML Explained (and What Happens Next)
Authored by: Anonymous on Friday, August 31 2007 @ 05:29 PM CDT
Andy,

Do you happen to know when the ISO result will be reported out? Should I be sitting next to my PC all day on Sunday morning/afternoon/evening/night (bearing in mind I am UK time) or is the result likely to trickle out on Monday or later?

Regards

phantomjinx
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The ISO/IEC Voting Process on OOXML Explained (and What Happens Next)
Authored by: Anonymous on Friday, August 31 2007 @ 06:24 PM CDT

Thanks for this information. I made a comment in a previous thread claiming that abstention would be no problem for OOXML opponents, but I see why I was mistaken about that now.

- Andrew

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The ISO/IEC Voting Process on OOXML Explained (and What Happens Next)
Authored by: Anonymous on Friday, August 31 2007 @ 08:34 PM CDT
"Note that while Ecma and Microsoft will have four and a half months to make their recommendations, the JTC1 members will only have about six weeks to review those recommendations before the BRM convenes on February 25."

That four-and-a-half months is not wasted time. During that time, NBs (their experts, delegates, working groups etc) can discuss and familiarize themselves with the other NB's comments, and work towards provisional national opinions on them.  It may be that the NB experts think "Oh, we agree with that one" or "Freedonia's proposed solution to this problem is much more practical than ours" or "Laputu's comment is crazy"  or "Utopia's point is against the goals and scope of the standard" or "Mordor  has scrutinized this more than us, and they think this is not so important, so a partial fix is OK". So during this time an NBs emphasis can shift on which issues are critical to be resolved and which issues there can be a compromise (or, even, which issue the NB was mistaken in). 

Rick Jelliffe
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The ISO/IEC Voting Process on OOXML Explained (and What Happens Next)
Authored by: Anonymous on Friday, August 31 2007 @ 08:35 PM CDT

I get the feeling that what we are seeing here is similar to what happened with email -- a system was created without realizing that people would misuse it for commercial advantage.  So we got junk email years ago, and now we are about to get a junk standard.  Spamdard?

I hope the standards-making process is better-suited to repair than the email system has been.

I wonder whether this is the first time that someone has misused or attempted to misuse the standard-making process.  If it has been tried before, it would be interesting to look back and see what came of that.

Hmmm. Spamdards.  Perhaps if Microsoft does get OOXML approved, we should make a practice of always referring to it as the OOXML Spamdard and let the natural tendency people have to avoid looking ridiculous work to minimize the number of official adoptions of the spamdard.

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The ISO/IEC Voting Process on OOXML Explained (and What Happens Next)
Authored by: Alex Brown on Saturday, September 01 2007 @ 01:23 AM CDT
Andy,

I think there are some things in your description of the process which need correction/clarification:

For Steps 1-4, it's not clear (though the JTC 1 Directives aren't too helpful on this point) whether the votes are even counted at the end of the letter ballot: the important test is whether the ISO arithmetic holds at the end of the process, not this mid-way point. Consider, for example, if every country votes "no with comments" with only trivial technical comments, in this case it would be clear that the comments would be ultimately resolvable and the process would continue.

For Step 7, I'm interested you state SC34 has been tasked with reviewing Ecma's proposed changes. Where did you get this from?

Steps 8-9. The ballot resolution meeting operates ultimately by voting, not consensus, and for DIS 29500 to proceed the vote at this meeting (potentially of all those who voted in the letter ballot) must meet the usual ISO arithmetic. I've been trying to keep the description of the BRM process accurate on Wikipedia.

- Alex Brown.

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The ISO/IEC Voting Process on OOXML Explained (and What Happens Next)
Authored by: Anonymous on Monday, September 03 2007 @ 01:10 AM CDT
Updated tally of the results as they come in from here (if anyone is interested)
-> http://balanceofcowards.blogspot.com/2007/08/tracking-status-of-office-open-xml.html
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