The Standards Blog

OOXML End Game: Things Start to Become Interesting

OpenDocument and OOXML
The progress of a technical specification from development to adoption has a certain, often-lamented glacial quality to it, due to the consensus process involved. But while that process may be slow, it is not inexorable, and that which starts does not always finish.   It was over a year and a half ago that Microsoft first announced that it would offer its Office Open XML specification to Ecma, and it has been pushing the process of adoption as hard as possible ever since. It pursued that plan first through it's choice of Ecma as a vehicle, due to its ability to move OOXML through that organization at the maximum speed possible, and with the minimum risk of change. Once OOXML became Ecma 376, it has been pushed through ISO/IEC as quickly as possible, as witnessed by JTC1's decision to move directly from the one month contradictions phase directly to the five month full review phase without addressing, through changes, any comments received during the contradictions phase. In the United States committee, INCITS V1, Microsoft was even successful in blocking the inclusion of any comments at all.  

Now we are reaching the end of the five month full review period, and things are getting interesting as reports begin to trickle in from one National Body around the world after the other about how the national votes are going. Here are a few examples.

As already reported by Rob Weir (my comments are here), the working group in INCITS V1 charged with recommending a vote to the INCITS Executive Committee was unable to achieve consensus. The game isn't over on the US vote, but the end game is reaching its final crucial moves, and the mobility of the remaining pieces in play (for both sides) is becoming ever more restricted.   Meanwhile, in Europe, I have seen blog reports on two countries in the last two days. The first is from Italy, and is titled OOXML does not buy its way in Italy, and is by Carlo Piana, who states that he attended the meetings in question. His blog entry reads in part as follows: 
Also in Italy we are discussing if the Office Open XML format…The voting in Italy was scheduled to end the 13 of July, for members enrolled on or before 8th July. Strange things started to happen, not unlike other member bodies' situations abroad.  Up and until mid-may the members of the relevant Uninfo committee (JTC1) were five: IBM, Microsoft, CEDEO (Leonardo Chiariglione), the PLIO organization (Openoffice.org in Italy) and HP. Then new members started flocking. At the last count, voters were 83 [0]   Wow! a great number, indeed! If one considers that admission to JTC1 costs in excess of EUR 2000 (more than 2700 USD), it shows a great deal of interest in the standardization process (is the irony sufficiently evident?)….The vote has now taken place, the qualified majority was not reached (2/3rds).     Actually it is quite impressing seeing how the voting panel was formed. Particularly noteworthy is the fact that among those favouring the adoption of the standard without  reservation a large majority is made of business partners of the proposing entity, a law firm retained by the latter, the official certified business partners association of the proposing entity [1]. "Money can't buy me love" Beatles used to sing: perhaps neither a standard.     Perhaps!     [0] I know it because I am one of them, beyond, honestly, being also counsel to PLIO.     [1]I cannot publish the list of voters/members, but it is available for cross checking in case anybody doubted my word.  
Continuing the theme of committee composition, someone posting a comment (anonymously) to my last blog entry pointed me to this blog entry from Portugal. According to that post, the composition of the committee formed in that country to review OOXML is not to everyone's liking, with Sun Microsystems being denied a seat, and Microsoft holding the chair (President) position on the committee. At least one comment to the blog post is from someone that says they attended a committee meeting, and had difficulty being heard. 

I'll continue to composite news from the various National Bodies as I hear of it, so do let me know if you have anything to bring to the attention of others.   

Updated 5:45 PM:  Pamela Jones followed up directly with Rui Seabra, the person I referred to above who attended the Portugese OOXML meeting, and just posted this report - which includes Seabra's fuil notes of the meeting.  They make for very interesting reading indeed.

For further blog entries on ODF and OOXML, click here

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Comments

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If you read Czech (probably not :-(  ), this is the first proposed answer from the CNI (Czech normalisation institute):

http://www.cni.cz/diskuse/isoiec29500.nsf/962aed651cd6e2e1482570a4000da184/4b805b24e243f72bc125730c00726bce?OpenDocument

and this is the offcial Czech Microsoft answer (mostly refusing the comments):

http://www.cni.cz/diskuse/isoiec29500.nsf/962aed651cd6e2e1482570a4000da184/8716b12668045e53c125731a001c8aa2?OpenDocument

Have a nice day.

Rick,<br /> For someone who was paid for only technically editing wikipedia for &ldquo;misconceptions&rdquo; about OOXML, why do you feel it necessary to comment on articles such as these?<br /> Certainly with your XML hat on, you should care more, but I see this as you with your &ldquo;concerned citizen&rdquo; hat on, so you&rsquo;re just being a prat.

I need to defend Rick on that point.  I don't agree with everything Rick writes, but Rick did not accept Microsoft's offer to pay him to edit the Wikipedia.  Instead, he publicly disclosed that Microsoft had offered to pay him to edit the Wikipedia ODF entry, when he could have just quietly refused, and spared himself a lot of notoriety - as well as the risk that people would get the story wrong and think he was paid - a risk that appears to have been realized.  To his additional credit, he logged in here using his name, rather than anonymously.

  -  Andy

Sorry Andy,

I agree about the wiki case, where Rick got criticized for something he didn't do.

But I did understand that Rick is currently touring Microsoft hosted pro-OOXML meetings to speak in favor of OOXML.
http://www.bangkokpost.net/130607_Database/13Jun2007_data04.php

This is off course his right. But I am not sure he still is in the "no conflicting interest" group.

Winter

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It does seem a bit lacking in subtlety to hire a law firm to add to your Committee representation.

On the other hand, it's relatively cheap and effective.  If one's not enough, there are plenty of other law firms whose business is, after all, to represent their principals' interests.  Perhaps before too long these meetings will be dominated by representatives-for-hire, with "victory" going to whoever is willing to hire the most votes.

All things considered, I'm rather glad to have left JEDEC before having to deal with that prospect.

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Now that the EU is taking a closer look at the Microsoft situation, Do you think they might be inclined to look at a sort of "Amicus brief" from someone like yourself of the desperate measures they are taking to try to keep their strangle hold on the office market which is as Bill Gates pointed out the leverage to keep Windows an essential component?

Regards

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If I understand well, the national bodies are not obligated to follow the advice of the technical committees in their votes.

If this is true, I expect some surprises, both in favor and against OOXML. Given the large political influence of MS, more surprises in favor than against MS.

Winter