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Forecast: ISO Will Announce on Tuesday that OOXML Approval has Failed

OpenDocument and OOXML

Updated:  The vote did fail.  Further details are here.

With the polls now closed and the early results in (some public, some not), think it's time to predict with assurance that ISO will announce tomorrow that ISO/IEC DIS 29500, the draft specification based upon Microsoft’s Office Open XML formats, has failed to achieve enough yes votes to gain approval at this time.  This, with all due respect to the contrary prediction of The Old Gray Lady and US Paper of Record, the New York Times.

The final vote has been a moving target for some time, and for a variety of reasons.  In most cases, the dynamism in the vote has been as a result of various types of behavior by Microsoft, both alleged as well as, in some cases, admitted.  In one case, that behavior led to the Swedish national vote being thrown out and replaced with an abstention, after it became apparent that one company voted more than once (Microsoft admitted that an employee had sent a memo urging business partners to join the National Body and vote to approve, and assuring them that their related fees would be offset by Microsoft marketing incentives).

These actions have not only undercut the credibility of the system, but appear to have finally resulted in the sort of backlash that I have been predicting for some time.  In at least one National Body, I am told that what had been trending towards  a "yes" vote swung late last week to a "no," largely in reaction to the pressure that was being asserted against the members of the National Body and the widespread reports of similar behavior (and worse) elsewhere.

While I have repeatedly inveighed against the damage done to the standard setting system during this process, I think that the final vote is a sort of validation for the essential integrity and resilience of that system.  Clearly, OOXML is a specification that was not ready for prime time, and in National Body after National Body, whether they voted yes or no, long lists of comments - some hundreds of pages long - were appended. 

Rather than simply voting "no," these National Bodies played by the rules, and did what they are supposed to do: they took the time (a lot of time, given the length of the OOXML specification), during an unfairly brief period, to do what Microsoft and Ecma should have done to begin with, and didn't: properly vetted the specification to make sure that if it is offered to the world with the blessing of ISO/IEC JTC1, that it has met minimum quality standards to be entitled to bear that designation.

One could easily conclude that this amount of scrutin is more than OOXML deserved: a specification that did not utilize existing standards as it should; a specification that was rammed through with a focus only on speed and not quality; a specification that was promoted using every lever and trick in the book; and finally, a specification that was subjected to voting in many countries under circumstances that made a mockery of alll of the diligent work performed by those that had sweated their way through all 6,000 plus pages.  In contast, the admittedly shorter, but still lengthy ODF specification, which was several years in the making in OASIS, resulted in so few comments that a Ballot Resolution Meeting was not even needed.

Microsoft is now trying to put the best face on the changes that will need to be made, speaking as if this is simply business as usual.  As Microsoft's ever-cheerful Stepford architect, Brian Jones, wrote at his blog a few days ago:

I haven't seen any comments so far that should prove too challenging, but I haven't seen the final list yet. With the number of countries participating I wouldn't be surprised if we got somewhere in the neighborhood of 10,000 comments total. Many of these will be duplicates, but either way there will be a lot of comments to work though. I think that once we hit the ballot resolution meeting in February we'll see a significantly improved spec thanks to all the eyeballs reviewing it.

To speak approvingly of 10,000 comments (with duplicates) as if this was a good thing rather than a source for profound embarrassment is, to me, rather astonishing.  How so many comments will be addressed satisfactorily in a mere week of meetings will be something interesting indeed to behold - as long as one is not tasked with the chore of actually resolving them all.

So there we are.  It's been a long hard road, and we are from the end of it yet.  But this was a crucial, "must have" result, and I think that all of those that have labored so hard for so long to prevent a second rubber stamp of the OOXML specification should take a moment to feel good about what they have accomplished.  If OOXML is ever to become an official ISO/IEC standard, it is far more likely now than before that it will be worthy of that name.

Congratulations - and thanks - to all.

For further blog entries on ODF and OOXML, click here

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Forecast: ISO Will Announce on Tuesday that OOXML Approval has Failed | 39 comments | Create New Account
The following comments are owned by whomever posted them. This site is not responsible for what they say.
You kow better, Andy
Authored by: overshoot on Monday, September 03 2007 @ 04:35 PM CDT
How so many comments will be addressed satisfactorily in a mere week of meetings will be something interesting indeed to behold - as long as one is not tasked with the chore of actually resolving them all.

My read is that Microsoft will prepare two separate revisions and take a three-part strategy:
  1. Hardball: cosmetic revisions only, counting on political pressure to swing the vote
  2. Compromise: as much change as MS can live with without changes to any shipping products or risk of alternate implementations.
  3. Declare the conflicts "irresolvable" and drop the whole thing.
MS' handlers on this seem to be keeping very close track of things.  Well before the end of the "ECMA response" phase they should know whether they have the votes to power through the process (perhaps involving airdropping Steve Ballmer into a few select offices,) which will let them decide whether to take Track #1.  If that doesn't work but matters aren't hopeless, expect Track #2.

However, there will be a deadline where they'll have to decide how likely it is that the BRM could actually report out an IS-29500 that Microsoft can't tolerate -- such as one that references a W3C-style conformance suite.  If it looks like the BRM is going rogue, they'll have to pull the plug.
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Forecast: ISO Will Announce on Tuesday that OOXML Approval has Failed
Authored by: htc on Monday, September 03 2007 @ 05:55 PM CDT
ARGH, I just wrote my comment, then switched the 'Post Mode' from HTML to POT, and the whole thing disappeared! That isn't normal, surely?

Anyway, my question is a followup to what overshoot says. Who is responsible for making changes to the spec, prior to the February vote? Is it Microsoft themselves? Does Emca have any role?

My reason for asking, is that if the important comments of the NB's are properly taken into account, then there are likely to be some changes that Microsoft wouldn't be happy with - indeed changes that might negate the whole purpose of OOXML standardization in the beginning. For example, if the backwards-compatibility references are fixed (either by specifying exactly what it means to word wrap in the style of Windows95, or alternatively simply removing all of those weird backwards-compatibility tags), then Microsoft would be left out on a limb. Is this a possible scenario?
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Forecast: ISO Will Announce on Tuesday that OOXML Approval has Failed
Authored by: Anonymous on Monday, September 03 2007 @ 06:48 PM CDT
I thought that I wouldn't get any work done today, expecting lots of posts regarding this flooding my reading capacity. But it seems that the voting process is still ongoing, or strange things might be happening behind closed doors (which I fear). I'm glad you wrote this, even before having the final results.

You always manage to reflect many of the thoughts that I share, and kill many doubts that arise, all in a well worded and concise post. Even then, this one stands out, and I particularly liked the recap of the whole story (sometimes I found myself trying to explain what this is all about, and there are so many faces to it that it gets impossible quickly).

Thanks and lets keep our fingers crossed.

PD: I'm from Argentina, where the IRAM (our NB) stayed away as much as it could, but I'm hoping our neighbors at Uruguay to be much smarter than us and cast the vote that needs to be cast.

nachokb
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How Will This Affect MA?
Authored by: Anonymous on Monday, September 03 2007 @ 07:31 PM CDT
IIRC, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts requires an open document format for government document interchange. OOXML was said to be an option, but I'm not sure if it was because it was made an ECMA standard or because they had submitted it to ISO for approval.

Given the time limits for implementation in MA and the fact that OOXML won't be an approved ISO standard till Feb. 2008, will it get adopted in MA?
--

Richi
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Forecast: ISO Will Announce on Tuesday that OOXML Approval has Failed
Authored by: craig on Monday, September 03 2007 @ 08:54 PM CDT
Thank you Andy, thank you Pamela, thank you everyone who wouldn't let the world close its eyes.
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Forecast: ISO Will Announce on Tuesday that OOXML Approval has Failed
Authored by: Anonymous on Monday, September 03 2007 @ 11:04 PM CDT
Thanks so much for all your ongoing insight, my respect! And finally, reading you with another result than the NY Times is putting a big smile on my face.
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Forecast: ISO Will Announce on Tuesday that OOXML Approval has Failed
Authored by: Anonymous on Monday, September 03 2007 @ 11:08 PM CDT
The Herald Tribune is also carrying the same report that predicts OOXML passing.

Peter Rock
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OOXML won't "fail" here (probably)
Authored by: Alex Brown on Monday, September 03 2007 @ 11:16 PM CDT

Andy,

I'm not sure it's right to see this vote in terms of pass/fail (though it is possible to interpet the Directives this way).

The main purpose of the ballot is to generate comments for the resolution process, and it's that process which will ultimately decide the fate of DIS 29500 with a new text, different voting arithmetic, different voters, and a fresh vote.

- Alex Brown.
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Forecast: ISO Will Announce on Tuesday that OOXML Approval has Failed
Authored by: Anonymous on Monday, September 03 2007 @ 11:19 PM CDT
Microsoft's behavior in pushing OOXML has been nothing short of scandalous. Any attempt to subvert the standards process should be dealt with stringently and organizations that aim to undermine the process should be blacklisted for a few years. Also, organizations like ECMA that submit flawed proposals like OOXML that has wasted so much collective time across the globe should be placed on a watch list. I propose the creation of a "Standards Watch" that monitors the activites of all organizations that seek to contaminate the standards process.

Venkatesh Hariharan
www.osindia.blogspot.com
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A leak from the Finnish national body
Authored by: Ilari Sani on Tuesday, September 04 2007 @ 01:42 AM CDT
SFS, the Finnish NB, has sent out an email notification that the final ISO result is disapproval.

This is, of course, not an official ISO announcement, but I assume they know what they're talking about.
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Forecast: ISO Will Announce on Tuesday that OOXML Approval has Failed
Authored by: Anonymous on Tuesday, September 04 2007 @ 01:42 AM CDT
To speak approvingly of 10,000 comments (with duplicates) as if this was a good thing rather than a source for profound embarrassment is, to me, rather astonishing.

They are of software company. They do have 10k bugs in backlog for more or less every product they have. So they are not surprised nor thrilled. M$ isn't exception. This is happens all the time in software: you cannot achieve perfection - some issues will always remain, some work scenarios will not work as expected, etc.

And the standard developed by software company naturally have all the same issues. Somehow I'm not surprised.

What actually worries me more, is that they plan to fix all this by February. Now we have seen all the dirty ways to play with the system. Till February, M$ has enough time to plant their people in all places, meaning that by then there would be noise - journalists or bloggers - they would silent it all. Next day, we might wake up with news coming out of everywhere that standard was accepted. The possibility really frightens me.
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Forecast: ISO Will Announce on Tuesday that OOXML Approval has Failed
Authored by: Anonymous on Tuesday, September 04 2007 @ 02:48 AM CDT

I'm a bit surprised that it seems Microsoft didn't get its way on this vote.  I thought they had already succeeded in subverting the process.

But this is only mildly good news.  Microsoft will not back off and start playing nice.  Remember, they don't want a real standard.  They will continue to do everything they can think of to get their proprietary specification blessed.  Expect more packing of committees, threats, bribes, dirty tricks, and more.  It might be possible to block them all the way, but I have my doubts.  It will be very hard to keep up enough public attention on this for as long as the subsequent process will take.  They will not let up, and probably are counting on the opposition to fade away from that lack of attention.  They may even find ways to keep the issue out of the limelight (perhaps by mounting a diversionary action in some other area). 

I hope I'm wrong.   Perhaps we will be able to block them, but it will only get harder from here on.  Are we strong enough to keep up effective opposition to subverting the process?  I hope so.

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Press Release from M$ indicates 51 Yes votes.
Authored by: Anonymous on Tuesday, September 04 2007 @ 04:06 AM CDT
http://www.prnewswire.com/cgi-bin/stories.pl?ACCT=104&STORY=/www/story/09-04-2007/0004655552&EDATE=

The Open Sourcerer
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Forecast: ISO Will Announce on Tuesday that OOXML Approval has Failed
Authored by: Anonymous on Tuesday, September 04 2007 @ 06:41 AM CDT

If the comments in the BSI wiki are representative of other NBs, at least 90% of the comments will be typographical errors, or otherwise trivial to rectify. In fact, I would expect a revised draft with such errors removed to be circulated fairly rapidly.

I'm sure you're aware of that fact, but it's worth emphasising when talking to journalists. If you make a big play of the "10,000 comments" issue, it would be very easy for the story to become OOXML gains momentum as Microsoft fixes 90% of bugs overnight. The real issue isn't the 10,000 overall comments, but the 10 that will cause real arguments.

The BSI's big arguments are renaming OOXML to RODDL, dropping or justifying the existence of VML, proving that OOXML truly is backwards-compatible (or improving it such that it is), and rewriting OOXML from scratch based on ODF. Leading with these issues will give journalists a more accurate understanding of the process.

- Andrew

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