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South Africa Appeals OOXML Adoption

OpenDocument and OOXML

SABS, the National Body member of ISO/IEC JTC1 for South Africa, has filed a formal appeal with both ISO and IEC, challenging the Fast Track adoption of OOXML.  With the filing of this formal appeal, DIS 29500 is now formally in limbo (i.e., cannot become an approved standard) until the appeal has been addressed.

The cited basis for South Africa's appeal is found in the following text of Clause 11.1.2 of the applicable Directives:

A P Member of JTC1 or an SC may appeal against any action or inaction, on the part of JTC 1 or an SC when the P member considers that in such action or inaction:

- questions of principle are involved;
- the contents of a draft may be detrimental to the reputation of IEC or ISO; or
- the point giving rise to objection was not known to JTC 1 or SC during earlier discussions.

 

The identical three page letters, signed by Mr. M. Kuscus, Chief Executive Officer of SABS, include other concerns not directly based upon the language of the Directives, as follows:

In addition, South Africa wishes to register its deep concern over the increasing tendency of international organizations to use the JTC 1 processes to circumvent the consensus-building process that is the cornerstone to the success and international acceptance of ISO and IEC standards.  The ability of large multi-national organizations to influence many national bodies, with the resultant block-voting over-riding legitimate issues raised by other countries, is also of concern.

The letter then gives detailed arguments supporting its appeal under each of the subclauses (discussed below in greater detail), and gives the following summary in closing:

In conclusion, South Africa challenges the validity of a final vote that we contend was based upon inadequate information resulting from a poorly conducted BRM.  Moreover, we challenge the validity of a process that, from beginning to end, required all parties involved to analyze far too much information in far too little time, involved a BRM that did not remotely provide enough time to perform the appointed purpose of that procedure, and for which an arbitrary time limitation was imposed to discuss and resolve a significant number of substantial responses, despite the
Directives not requiring any such limitation as to duration.

It is our opinion that the process followed during all stages of the fast track has harmed the reputations of both ISO and IEC and brought the processes enshrined in the Directives into disrepute, and that this negative publicity has, in turn, also harmed the reputations of all member bodies of ISO and the IEC.

The closing of the letter is both telling as well as ironic, coming just after Microsoft's announcement that it would support ODF in Office 2007, but not DIS 29500, the ISO/IEC JTC 1 version of OOXML, until the as yet unscheduled shipping of Office 14.  As a result, the business basis for fast tracking OOXML to begin with - to benefit the enormous installed base of Office users - will be rewarded, at the earliest, in 2010.  The Fast Track thus would appear to be a lose-lose all around: a huge imposition on all involved, a lower quality specification at the end than a more deliberative process would have proven, and a damaged reputation for ISO/IEC as well.

The primary bases given for the appeal are as follows:

A failure of the Contradictions process to be run in accordance with the Directives.  The one month Contradictions period that begins a fast track process garnered of issues submitted by a number of National Bodies.  However, no meeting was called to address these contradictions.  The Directives do not require, but do provide for such a meeting when warranted.  SABS notes that the Contradictions were not addressed to the satisfaction of the National Bodies, which continued to raise them during the following five-month comment period, indicating to SABS that a meeting was needed to give due consideration to the issues raised.

A failure to achieve consensus on most of the issues that were to be addressed by the BRM.  SABS notes that more than three quarters of the issues raised prior to the BRM ("responses") were tabled, and ultimately dispensed with by "blanket voting."  SABS calls this decision "procedurally flawed," concluding:

Effectively, this required the national bodies to write a blank checque approving the proposals of the authors of the proposed standard, which is inappropriate for any standard, never mind one that has generated considerable controversy.

The letter also challenges the voting procedure utilized at the meeting, which allowed all attendees, and not just P members, to vote, a controversy that has previously been aired an a variety of blogs, including that of Convenor Alex Brown.

ISO/IEC has failed to release a final version of DIS 29500 and the Meeting Report within 30 days of the close of the BRM: 
Clause 13.12 of the Directives provides as follows:

In not more than one month after the ballot resolution group meeting the SC Secretariat shall distribute the final report of the meeting and final DIS text in case of acceptance.

The BRM ended on February 29, and although Ecma delivered a revised draft based on the BRM to ISO on March 29 (at the very end of the period during which National Bodies could change their vote), that draft has still not been released, even to the National Bodies.  SABS concludes this point with this observation:

Given the magnitude of the specification and the number of identified edits required it was clear that the directive could not have been met.  This is the clearest possible indiation that DIS 29500 as submitted by Ecma and as modified by the BRM is not ready for fast track processing.  It was not incumbent on the participants of the BRM to modify this clearly stated requirement.

And so, with the implementation of DIS 29500 in Office now postponed for the indefinite future (and therefore, presumably, its implementation by any other vendor as well), the formal post mortem on the process that hatched this orphan standard begins.

The full text of the letter, titled, 
Appeal from the South African national body regarding the outcome of the fast-track processing of DIS 29500 Office open XML can be found here.

For further blog entries on ODF and OOXML, click here

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South Africa Appeals OOXML Adoption
Authored by: Anonymous on Friday, May 23 2008 @ 08:43 AM CDT
What next?

Who decides what action to take on the appeal?  How long do they have to decide?  When will we hear the results?
[ # ]
South Africa Appeals OOXML Adoption
Authored by: Anonymous on Friday, May 23 2008 @ 11:20 AM CDT

The quotation of clause 13.12 of the Directive is wrong!  It should read:

13.12  The time period for post ballot activities by the respective responsible parties shall be as follows:
[...]
  • In not more than one month after the ballot resolution group meeting the SC Secretariat shall distribute the final report of the meeting and final DIS text in case of acceptance.
Otherwise it does not make sense.

This is where I found the correct version.

13 Preparation and Adoption of International Standards - Fast-Track Processing

Other than that I enjoyed the article and, being a South African, am pleased that the SABS is doing the right thing.
[ # ]
Well, you asked
Authored by: overshoot on Friday, May 23 2008 @ 11:50 AM CDT
Andy, you asked why Microsoft announced ODF support this week.

Does this help answer that question?
[ # ]
  • Well, you asked - Authored by: Anonymous on Friday, May 23 2008 @ 03:47 PM CDT
South Africa Appeals OOXML Adoption
Authored by: Anonymous on Monday, May 26 2008 @ 01:29 AM CDT
It is hard to see how this appeal could succeed.  In all ISO procedures, you have to get any idea of a "court" out of your mind: there is no winning or losing on a technicality: the process is skewed towards getting a draft into a state where a more-than-absolute majority of voting national bodies can stomach it, and then moving it to maintenance.  If you don't believe me, read Steve Pepper's comments on likely outcomes. Even if there is found to be substance in the claim, the result is more likely to be "How can we improve things and do better next time".   JTC1 at plenary already looked at and dismissed various procedural issues raised by various parties about DIS29500; when they look at any other issues it will be with the knowledge that more-than-absolute majority found the draft with editing instructions acceptable.

The UK was also not happy how the contradictions claims (which are spurious and ignore precedent IMHO, but that is not the issue here) but they accede that a judgment was made. Readers should be aware of how the contradiction between ISO POSIX ABI and the new ISO Linux was handled: the Linux standard was allowed despite the (minor) contradiction on a couple of technical issues (let alone the total overlap of subject matter, which was *not* a contradiction in the ISO sense.)

For the BRM giving the editor a blank cheque, this won't fly at all. JTC1 invented and approved the fast-track process, and it is unthinkable that they will retrospectively alter the rules to add some size-based criteria.  National Bodies were told that delegates should be aware of their NB's view on issues (which may be based on case-by-case consideration, block voting like abstain, or any other reasonable criteria.)  Alex Brown had even raised the possibility of a paper ballot on the editor's disposition of comments, and I consider that any delegation which did not bother to follow the discussions on the BRM before the BRM was ill-prepared: they shouldn't blame JTC1 for their own shortcomings.  If they selected unprepared people as delegates, after more than a year of discussion, that is their lot.

This leaves the issue of the timeframe for producing the final version by ITTF.  The ISO directives use the strongest term "shall".  However, as I said, to think in terms of "winning or losing on technicalities" sets expectations that can only be dashed.  The purpose of the ITTF review is to make sure that the standard has text that accords with the editor's instructions from the BRM.  That is the big picture purpose.   I think it is unreasonable to expect that the big picture purpose would be thwarted by a small picture provision: it is putting the cart before the horse to think that a provision aimed at making sure a document is processed in a timely fashion can be used to prevent the document being released even if a little late.

Now I have absolutely no idea what the hold-up is: I hope ITTF will issue some statement to say what the hold-up is.  They are just inviting speculation.

I think the same expectations have to be brought to mind when thinking about how contradictory editing instructions might be handled: major ones could be a showstopper (I don't see any allegations of these), minor ones could be left line-ball call to the editor and become fodder for maintenance (the editor has a lot of leeway on minor issues and you need a sense of proportion); but any mid-level ones are a little trickier to foresee the result of.

So my *default* expectation is that delays caused by ITTF (especially where merely caused by fine-toothed comb verification of editing instructions) are not in themselves anything that could override the will of the National Bodies *for* having a standard.   When the BRM voted for detailed changes such as adopting ISO terminology for conformance (shall, should, etc) it was clearly a thing that could potentially blow out the editing process and the checking process: if ITTF does not have the resources to meet the Directive's time constraints, it is an issue for ITTF resourcing not a cause for hopes that the standard can be blocked on a technicality, as far as I can see. 

Cheers
Rick Jelliffe
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  • Cordial behavior - Authored by: Anonymous on Monday, June 02 2008 @ 11:28 PM CDT
  • Cordial behavior - Authored by: Anonymous on Tuesday, June 03 2008 @ 12:35 AM CDT
  • Cordial behavior - Authored by: Anonymous on Tuesday, June 03 2008 @ 01:43 AM CDT
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South Africa Appeals OOXML Adoption
Authored by: Anonymous on Thursday, May 29 2008 @ 05:11 AM CDT

This is either a newbieish question or rather a profound one: is the statement “the ISO is functioning properly” empirically testable? If so, how?

The W3C is a Berners-Leeocracy, so you can test whether it's functioning properly by asking Sir Tim. Google is a publicly traded company, so you can test whether it's functioning properly by looking at its share price. Is there a similar metric for how well the ISO is doing? Andy mentioned uptake of ISO standards, but there are plenty of cases where that's not appropriate. Rick has hinted at satisfaction amongst NBs, but it seems odd to suggest that the ISO is just there to keep standards experts off the streets.

If the measure of the ISO's quality is simply whether it continues to get funding from member countries, then what are some of the common themes? Obviously America will have a different measure to China, which will have a different measure again to Brazil, but there must be some common ground or else you'd never be able to get anything done. Promoting free trade seems like one commonly agreed goal, but Digistan's lukewarm reception suggests that promoting social equality isn't. One of my personal interests is accessibility to the general public, which seems to be viewed as a worthy goal that the organisation should really get round to one day.

So how, if at all, does one tell whether the ISO is working the way that it should?

- Andrew Sayers

[ # ]
South Africa Appeals OOXML Adoption
Authored by: Andy Updegrove on Wednesday, June 04 2008 @ 11:09 AM CDT
Alex and Rick,

First, thanks for continuing to visit here and for sharing your comments.  I'm very pleased with the degree of communication that has gone on here, and it's been heartening to see that happen.

That said, I feel that I have to try and hit the reset button on some of the discussion and go back to the high level issues.  These comments take into account all of the thread so far, but were sparked by Alex's comments that read in part as follows:
Whether the process is good is a different question from whether the BRM was orderly, or whether the DIS should become an IS....However, if I might presume to summarise the consensus view of The World, I would say the majority belief was that the broken process is a separate problem to the desirability of the IS. That is evident in the voting. Some countries (among those who disapproved the DIS) see the process faults as inseparable, and are appealing, but I completely agree with Rick that this lawyerly approach based on "technicalities" is a non-starter.
I wasn't at the BRM, but I talked to a lot of people who were in the room, and have read the various post-BRM accounts of those who participated.  It's my understanding that few or none of those that attended had any say in the decision to hold a BRM that was only a week long.

It's clear that many people who attended were extremely unhappy about many aspects of the week - items that couldn't be discussed, the block voting, and so on.  It seems unfair to me to say that the current appeals are based purely on "technicalities" simply because the process continued and achieved a conclusion of sorts.  And I can't think of a better word than "lawyerly"  to describe many of your and Rick's explanations of why things should be accepted

The way I see your argument applying, this was a "lose/lose" proposition for those that were at the BRM.  They traveled great distances at significant cost to attend a BRM, and were good enough sports to see it through, only to be told then that because they saw it through that their objections could be dispensed with as technicalities.

Does the fact that a majority approved the block voting mean that the minority should be deprived of the right to appeal that judgment?  This was an extraordinary level of comments to be disposed of this way.  People could not discuss all of the comments they wished to.  Some issues that were taken away in small groups were denied the right to be brought back.

This raises the question then what an NB that objected to the process could do.  Should they have walked out in order to be able to register an appeal without having it disposed of as a technicality?  Or would that not have made any difference?

 I personally am not at all sure that you could find a majority of the NBs that were there who would agree with the consensus view that you offer.  It just seems like another way to take advantage of those that attended to use their presence to reach that conclusion.

I think that what frustrates so many people with many of your and Rick's responses are the ongoing answers and statements made to the following effect: 

-  because the powers that be interpret the rules _this way_ , then that's it - no matter how difficult that interpretation may be (I am recalling a recent blog entry where you talked about how much work it was to parse through a rules situation).  If it took that much work, how certain is it that the interpretation is correct?  And can it be said that any interpretation is "correct" if it takes that much effort, or is it simply a fog that people are groping around in? 

-  why _should_ process reform be independent of the result of the BRM, if so many people are unhappy with that process?  If this many NBs are filing an unprecedented number of appeals, why should your conclusion be taken as accurate? 

- that even though the rules allow appeals based on  reputation and integrity, accepting them is still subject to the judgment of  those with knowledge of the arcane process involved.  Reputation and integrity are in the eyes of the beholder, not the interpreter.  If there is a perception issue, then _it_is_an_issue - and one not to be lighlty dispensed with through process reform only - otherwise, the damage is no only already done., but worsened by a body that does not recognize appeals of integrity issues unless it agrees that there is a basis for the perception.

To me, these discussions have seemed like a step through the looking glass, where all of the normal rules of democratic process are suspended, and where the only things that matter are that the process was completed, and that those who had control of the rules came to conclusions. 

I always feel like there is some strange inability of those on the inside to grasp why those on the outside are reacting as they are.  I sometimes have the eerie feeling that I'm talking to George Bush and Donald Rumsfeld - because an action was taken, it must have been right.

Perceptions _do_ matter.  When four legitimate appeals have been filed (I know of at least one other that would have been filed but for the fact that a higher-up position in government is vacant, leaving no one to give the sign off) are filed by this many standards professionals - and not outside zealots - I don't know how anyone can not be upset about the decisions that were made in how the process in general, and the BRM in particular were run.

I truly do think that it's time for people - with all due respect, Alex, including  you - to say, "We meant well, and we weren't biased.  But I guess these were bad decisions.  Let's talk about what we should do now about OOXML as well as process reform."

The fact that the shroud of silence continues to hang over why the revisions draft remains hidden, exactly what is being discussed, and more simply amplifies what is terribly wrong with this picture.

I can't help feeling truly disheartened at what I've seen.  Speaking for myself, it will take quite a bit for me to have any faith in the ISO/IEC system unless it becomes much more open and much less sure of its own rectitude. 

I'm not feeling optimistic.

Andy
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