The Standards Blog

Showdown in Geneva: Majority of Proposed Dispositions Fail to be Approved by a Majority

OpenDocument and OOXML
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.

For further blog entries on ODF and OOXML, click here

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Just as I thought... Couldn't follow your own agenda... 

Didn't take a resolution to prepare a new text (should have been the final resolution/vote).   So it looks like you came up with a list of editing instructions but not a revision to the text.   You'd better tell everyone... The votes are over, no new resolved text means no resolution at the BRM, which by the procedure means no additional voting.  Votes should officially stand as they did last fall.   DIS 29500 is not able to be approved on fast track.

You'd better advise those ISO PR people that they are wrong.  Additional voting would be fraud.  I'm certain that's a crime in most places. 

MS is going to be disappointed, but it's a convicted criminal (in the US for antitrust violations) anyhow and I have trouble feeling sorry for criminals especially when it appears they are still committing the same crime elsewhere.

Andy following on from my previous post (with the links to the notes and resolutions) and having now had time to read through the PDFs I get this distinct impression...

NB1:"Gah this is awful... at the very least it should be done like this to start with"
NB2:"Indeed this would be a lot more suitable for a spec"
Rest:"Agreed - the editor is instructed to incorporate resolution X"

Consequently most of the resolutions were to get the text in a state that could possibly be presented at the start of the standardisation process. I understand that all there were professionals and I expect they all felt an obligation to at least produce a text that was improved over that which they had initially been given (and hence a no to keep the text as is would be non-sensical to a certain extent except as a protest) but I believe that is exactly what crippled the process.

There appears to have been so many basic changes to it (that quite frankly should have been sorted in ECMA first) that by the time those were heard and accepted there was little or no time at all for proper polish and technical discussion at the BRM to make it worthy of an ISO stamp.

So yes consequently a lot of changes were accepted.... but if I submitted a thesis or other work and then had 100+ people point out broken XML fragments, random oddities (the date stuff being a great example there) and simple grammar/spelling mistakes would I be proud of those changes and broadcast to the world how great it is that I convinced 100+ other people to do basic correction on it for me? Of course not - any sensible person would be embarrassed by the mistakes.

Do you - or Alex if you are reading this - have any comments on this based on your experiences last week?



First, thanks very much for providing those links; I'll add them to the "update" section at the top of the blog entry so that they're easy to find.

On your other questions, I should read the notes first.  While I've talked to a lot of people who described things over all in general and parts in detail, now that the notes are available I should look at those first and see how the two line up.

  -  Andy

Heh I feel a bit bad your giving my credit for the links at the top... They were on Alex's blog and I got them via Groklaw. Only posted here as a heads up to you.

Indeed take your time to read them - I have plenty of time today as I play with the currently shipping SCO UnixWare (don't ask...) and look forward to an informed response when you have had time to take it all in :)


Andy having read your comments at the top of the blog about the minutes and resolutions you may be interested to hear what Rob Weir has to say about them (given that he was actually there):


James, those appear to be edited versions of the notes which were taken during the meeting. In particular, the "resolutions" document appears to be a list of the resolutions that were approved, stripping out the ones that either positively failed or died for lack of time to bring them to a vote. There were a mix of NB views expressed. I'm not sure the meeting notes give a good flavor of that. For example, some NB's did not raise any points and just said "We are delighted with DIS 29500" when it was their turn. Since they did not propose any text changes, their view was not recorded in the resolutions. Similarly, those NB's who, in the view of the Convenor, had proposals that were not achievable within the time constraints of the BRM, these could not be brought up for discussion. So you won't see them in the meeting notes or resolutions. The net result is the resolutions are a slice of the more moderate opinions in the room. But the atmosphere was far more charged than these notes would suggest.



This is pretty much what I expected was the case; given the length of the meeting and the brevity of the notes, they seem primarily intended to give a modest amount of context for  the resolutions that were formally moved and adopted or failed.  It would have been particularly interesting to have seen more detail on the discussions relating to the final ballot.  i note, for example, that "Option 3" isn't even described.

  -  Andy

Does the 'edited' nature of these notes go far enough to qualify as bias ?  As propaganda ?

Can we take these notes as accurate ?

Can we take these notes as complete ?

Your post suggests that there are some (many?) missing dispositions (both passed and failed) as well as missing resolutions to dispositions (either rejected or denied a hearing) that never made it into these notes.

If any of the above is close to accurate, what is the purpose of Alex Brown's publication of these notes ?  Propaganda to 'appease the masses' ?  Cause delay until it becomes too late to do anything about the end-of-month vote ?

If these public 'minutes' of the BRM are anything like those sent to the NBs, how can we be sure the NBs are getting accurate (and complete) data about the changes to the DIS made by the BRM ?  Are we being fed mis-information or incomplete information ?

-- Ed


Andy, Being an ODF supporter, I had liked your blog.

However, You have completely lost my respect and credibility after seeing ISO Chairman's comment on your BRM blog post.




Better than referring to Jason Matusaws blog you could just use the original pressreleases of the national bodies

Official Stands Norway press release in english.

Official Denamrk press release in English

Official New Zealand press release’s+voice+heard+at+Geneva+OOXML+meeting.htm

Also US vote on Office Open XML stays approval (even despite the voting descisions at the BRM of both Rob Weir and Frank Farance)



I thought it might be useful to have somewhere to post the results of the actual Post-BRM NB votes - whether they change or not.

Looks like the US vote may already have been decided - and not on technical grounds.  From Doug MaHugh's blog:

"I just got off a 3-hour call with my colleagues on the V1 technical committee, in which I and the other members of the US delegation to the BRM presented our thoughts on what happened at the BRM. Then we all voted on what to recommend to the INCITS Executive Board for the final US position on DIS 29500.

The final outcome: we are recommending that the US maintain its Approve position on DIS 29500. The next step will be for the INCITS Executive Board to conduct a letter ballot to approve this result."

This seems to be pretty quick work given the contention that has been discussed here and elsewhere concerning the BRM irregularities.

Looks like Mr Farance was out-numbered (or out-maneuvered) by MS-controlled votes and that the US does not appear that it will at all be supporting standards quality where DIS29500 is concerned.

Why does the INCITS Executive Board need to conduct a letter ballot ?  I thought that only applied if the vote was to change ?

Or is this INCITS conducting an internal US ballot of the V1 committee and others to determine whether the US will change its vote ?

Isn't this a bit early to have already decided that MSOOXML (Post BRM) is satisfactory as an ISO standard ?

I'm wondering how deep into the US standards approval process the corruption of the MSOOXML marketing has penetrated since I'm seeing the damage done to the US economy by MS products on a daily basis.

For those not aware, while MS vendors are working around MS bugs & limitations, companies owned by overseas corporations are moving to Linux en mass and have IT departments that support their business plans instead of business plans that support their IT and Microsoft.

If there ever were a black-and-white decision on standards acceptability, DIS29500 should be that standard and I fear that the US will be influenced by other than technical and usability aspects of this DIS (aspects such as $$$).



I should be connecting with someone later today who will fill me in on the schedule for the US decision between now and March 29.  As has been noted in a few places, the Executive Board of INCITS, so my understanding is that Mahugh's committee's vote is a recommendation to the EB, which would be informed, but not bound, by its recommendation.

  -  Andy

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