Showdown in Geneva: Majority of Proposed Dispositions Fail to be Approved by a Majority
Friday, February 29 2008 @ 05:53 AM CST
Contributed by: Andy Updegrove
I have now created a very extensive, indexed BRM Resource Page to hold the many links, press releases, delegate statements and other material that were originally found here. You can find that extra materials here.
A rather incredible week in Geneva has just ended, bringing to a close the Herculean task assumed by the over 100 delegates from 32 countries that attended the BRM. That challenge, of course, was how to productively resolve the more than 1,100 comments (after elimination of duplicates) registered by the 87 National Bodies that voted last summer with respect to a specification that itself exceeded 6,000 pages.
I have spent the week in Geneva, and have spoken with many delegates from many delegations on a daily basis. Each believed that a body that purports to issue "global open standards" should not impose an obligation of secrecy on how the standards that people must live with are approved on their behalf. It would be fair to say that, notwithstanding all of the charges and counter charges that have been made leading up to the BRM regarding how National Body votes were taken last summer, how delegations have been selected, and how they have been instructed to act and vote at the BRM, there has been a good faith effort by all to try to achieve a successful result. The same appears to have held true within delegations, even those that contained representatives of the most opposed parties.
There are two ways in which you may hear the results of the BRM summarized by those that issue statements and press releases in the days to come. Perhaps inevitably, they are diametrically opposed, as has so often happened in the ODF - OOXML saga to date. Those results are as follows:
98.4% of the OOXML Proposed Dispositions were approved by a three to two majority at the BRM, validating OOXML
The OOXML Proposed Dispositions were overwhelmingly rejected by the delegations in attendance at the BRM, indicating the inability of OOXML to be adequately addressed within the "Fast Track" process
[Paragraph updated] In this blog entry, I will explain why the following is the best characterization, and help you read the various press releases and statements that may be made with the benefit of the appropriate context:
Only a very small percentage of the proposed dispositions were discussed in detail, amended and approved by the delegations in attendance at the BRM, indicating the inability of OOXML to be adequately addressed within the "Fast Track" process
It did not take long for the delegates to conclude that it would be impossible to discuss and resolve all of the proposed dispositions, notwithstanding efforts to streamline the process. After several days, only about 20 to 30 dispositions had been thoroughly discussed and voted upon [updated: the Edited Meeting Notes appear to indicate that a total of 63 resolutions were discussed and individually voted upon]. Approximately 200 dispositions [Updated: the Edited Meeting Notes indicate that the actual number was 126] in the nature of minor editorial corrections (misplaced commas and the like) were also adopted. Discussion increasingly turned as a result to seeking ways to streamline the process in order to reach a conclusion within the five days allowed. Those efforts included instructing interested delegates to go off-line to discuss a resolution and come back with proposed compromise language. However, these efforts proved insufficient to do more than nibble away at the huge number of dispositions remaining.
Acknowledging the impossibility of achieving the stated goal of a BRM (e.g, to carefully review each proposed disposition and reach consensus on an appropriate resolution), a proposal was made on Wednesday to approve all proposed resolutions in a single vote before the end of the BRM, thus nominally "resolving" each remaining proposed disposition without any discussion at all. It was agreed that this was the only available option, and a written ballot with all of the c. 900 proposed dispositions that had never been discussed was accordingly issued on Thursday. Each National Body delegation was requested to complete the ballot and return it on Friday. The alternatives offered were as follows:
1. Indicate "adopt," "disapprove" or "abstain" after each proposed disposition.
2. Indicate such a vote on as many proposed dispositions as desired (or none), and vote "accept," "reject" or "abstain" on all of the rest.
It is significant to note that voting to accept all dispositions that were not discussed is a less obvious choice than might be assumed. In fact, few if any of the dispositions that were individually discussed and voted upon during the week were adopted without change. In other words, adopting a proposed resolution without discussion could result in making OOXML worse, rather than better, because of dependencies.
On Friday, the ballots came back. Some contained votes on a small number of dispositions and some adopted the default option for all of the listed dispositions. The final tally (as recorded by participants, and subject to final confirmation) was as follows with respect to the "default" provision that on each vote covered all, or almost all, of the listed proposed dispositions:
P Countries Only All Votes
Approve 4 6
Disapprove 4 4
Refuse to Register
a Vote 2 4
Abstain 15 18
Total votes cast: 25 32
The appropriate rules to be applied to these results are as follows:
1. Under Directive 9.1.4 under the standing rules of ISO/IEC JTC1, only the votes of "P" members are to be taken into account. However, Alex Brown, the Convenor, decided in advance, notwithstanding the rules, to allow all attending delegations to vote.
2. Only "approve" and "disapprove" votes are counted.
We can now turn to the two contentions that you will hear:
98.4% of the OOXML Proposed Dispositions were approved by a three to two majority at the BRM: The argument is as follows:
- Only "approve" and "disapprove" votes are to be counted. The rules are the rules
- That said, ignore the standing JTC1 rule that only P votes count
- Ignore the protests and abstentions, regardless of the fact that, together with the "disapprove" votes, they represent more than 80% of the delegations
- Ignore the fact that only c. 20 [Updated: 20 - 3o] substitutions out of c. 900 substantive dispositions, were actually discussed
The OOXML Proposed Dispositions were overwhelmingly rejected by the delegations in attendance at the BRM
- The purpose of the adoption process is to ensure that a quality specification is approved
- The purpose of the process is also to achieve consensus on the final result, so that a finally approved specification is regarded as being appropriate, useful and desirable around the world
It is clear to me that the first conclusion is, at best, technically accurate, and even that conclusion assumes that the decision to allow O members to vote was justified. The better conclusion is that despite the good faith efforts of all concerned and their willingness to see this process through to its conclusion, it has proven to be impossible for as large and poorly prepared a specification as this to be properly addressed via the "Fast Track" process.
[Updated: it would be inaccurate to characterize choosing "abstain" as a default position on the last c. 900 dispositions as a rejection of those dispositions upon which the NB in question did not specifically vote. "No opinion" and acquiescence would be a fair characterization. The significant conclusion to take away is that while the National Bodies had a chance to stand up and say what there major concerns were, there was no opportunity for the great majority of the dispositions involved to be discussed in detail, and to be amended as necessary before being approved or disapproved.]
There are a number of conclusions that can be drawn from this result:
1. As many have contended, the Fast Track process was a totally inappropriate process for Microsoft and Ecma to have adopted for OOXML
2. OOXML has not been adequately addressed within that process to be entitled to final adoption
3. It would be inappropriate for the ISO/IEC members to approve the adoption of OOXML in the thirty day voting period ahead
Many, many, people around the world have tried very hard to make the OOXML adoption process work. It is very unfortunate that they were put to this predictably unsuccessful result through the self-interest of a single vendor taking advantage of a permissive process that was never intended to be abused in this fashion. It would be highly inappropriate to compound this error by approving a clearly unfinished specification in the voting period ahead.
To paraphrase a former First Lady, it's time to "Just say No" to OOXML.
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