The Standards Blog

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

sign up for a free subscription to Standards Today today!


What next?

Who decides what action to take on the appeal?  How long do they have to decide?  When will we hear the results?

There will be a lot of eyes on this decision.

One hopes that if the guy thinks he has a financial stake in the outcome, he will declare his interest and abstain. Then ISO will have to find someone else to decide it.

It might, actually, be difficult to find someone who is qualified but financially-disinterested. IBM Lotus Notes wants ISO26300. Microsoft has an interest; we're not at the moment sure what it is.

“11.2.2 Upon receipt, the JTC 1 Secretariat shall advise all its P-members of the appeal, and take immediate action, by correspondence or at a meeting, to consider and decide on the appeal, consulting the Secretaries-General in the process."

An additional information about how the process should go from the moment ISO receives the appeal.


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.

Andy, you asked why Microsoft announced ODF support this week.

Does this help answer that question?

It's hard to say, but my personal guess is "no." 

I think that the die was probably cast last August 2, when they lost the first round vote.  Had they won then, they wouldn't have needed to do any major redesign work on Office 2007, and they would have been in the catbird seat.  Once they lost, though, they had to give up a lot to get the yes votes to succeed, and somewhere along the way the realization must have started to sink in that while they might win the vote, they had still lost the war. 

It may be that warning of the appeal might have helped choose the exact date of the announcement, but I have to wonder whether the EC investigation might have more to it.  Note how quickly the EC issued a response, indicating that Microsoft had briefed them in advance.  Maybe some day we'll be able to find out for sure.

  -  Andy

Andy, sorry for my english.

Let's me be "crazy".

Year 2012 :
MS-Office support perfectly :
  • ODF (1.2, 2.x)
  • .docx ECMA-372 (not OOXML !)
  • .mso (MSO for MS-Office) a completly new format
    MSO (.mso) is specificaly designed for MS/MS-Office/Windows. Unlike OOXML, it does not try to be fully compatible with legacy formats. It is not an open standard nor an ISO standard. Designed by MS for MS.
OOXML is not supported, it was a mess and finally dead.

Gouvernments use MS-Office and read/write by default using ODF, and are very happy.
Other customers (perhaps the majority) are locked-in with proprietary format as usual.

Is it stupid ?

If not, how MS will get rid of OOXML ?

What I really don't understand is (from the South africa Appeal) :
- "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 less 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."

It's just incredible.
What is the benefit of this irregularity ?
How such thing can happened ?
We are taking about the most monitored standard.
It's a long well know issue : (May 04, 2008)

MS can't take directly the decision to abandon OOXML.
But the ISO, with the South Africa appeal and proof irregularities, can refuse the OOXML ratification.
In this case, MS don't have any reasons to support OOXML any more and can abandon it.

Any thought or I am just plain stupid ?

No, your not.  I think it's too early to be sure what Microsoft's strategy is.  Have they given up on OOXML as a standard in the way that they were pushing it a year ago?  Perhaps they have.  After all, if they can't put a DIS 29500-compliant product on the market till 2010 at the earliest, then what ISVs will bother to build anything to DIS 29500, as compared to Ecma 376.  And by 2010, will they be able to unseat ODF?  That's a pretty long time into the future, if governments begin to require ODF compliance, and if millions of people around the world as individuals and in SMEs start using OpenOffice.

The next few months and then the next couple of years will be interesting indeed.


I don't think the timing of MS odf announcement has much to do with the SA appeal.  At least not directly.

My own sense is that MS is a large company which, like governments, we tend to view mistakenly as homogenous.  Just as in the wider world there are tendencies within the company which cheer or boo with the ebbs and flows.  I gather, for example,  that the strategic move to an xml based file format from doc, etc, must have been quite a turf war in itself back in 2002 or so.  I am going to be really charitable and believe there is a voice within MS pushing the odf support (it's what our customers are telling us ...) and I'd like to really encourage that voice.  Caught between falling OOXML stars and binary format dinosaurs ("we made this company what is today with these formats") they can and should represent the best hope of a voice of business reason in the company.  So I'm going to keep applauding the move as long and as loud as I can.

It is qualitatively different to the mega interoperability announcement back in March which was (a) flag waving for the ISO vote and the EU, and (b) the clearest announcement yet of how MS can and will use its patent portfolio aggressively in the market.  I don't know if it is just me, but I found it all quite chilling.  I believe this is different.  The fact that MS plans to join the OASIS odf TC will in itself represent a historic gathering round the table.  And that's all good.

The SA appeal is as much about rescuing ISO as it is about document formats.  I don't belleve the CEO of SABS knows or cares too much about OOXML.  That is not the point.  The point is that ISO can and must follow its own rules if it is maintain its relevance in the world.  The precedent set by DIS29500 is a dangerous one which should not be allowed to go unchallenged and potentially repeated in the future.

Bob Jolliffe

You may well be right that SA's appeal could have the effect of saving ISO from itself / Microsoft / irrelevancy / whatever.

If ISO can be saved, it will not be without cost.

By it's appeal, SA challenges ISO to enforce its own written standards and procedures (which is as it should be) and to admit that the passage of DIS29500 using the fast track process was improper and violated the written and established ISO policies and procedures.  The implication should ISO enforce its own procedures, is that DIS29500 must fail and (by extension) ECMA's access to fast track must be discredited or even revoked.  This is an admission that ISO procedures are (or at least were) for sale to any corporation with a big enough interest in standards and that wants an ISO stamp of approval on an undeserving standard.  This admission then potentially calls other ISO standards into question as to their neutrality and validity.

On the other hand, if ISO / ECMA are not discredited for failing to follow their own rules, they are discredited for apparently 'selling out' to the Microsoft agenda by passing (and then upholding against world-wide opposition and their own written procedures), a standard that many say (with justification) should never have been passed in the first place as it is not worthy of ISO certification.

The only long-term hope for ISO is to admit their failure to follow their own procedures and to reverse the approval of DIS29500.

Failure to do so will result in increasing irrelevance of ISO within the growing open-source community (and possibly parts of the commercial world as well) that will turn to other standards bodies for interoperability standards rather than to ISO.  There will also be a growing impression that ISO standards are for the purpose of promoting the marketshare of large corporations rather than for the benefit and safety of consumers.

You wish. I suspect that what will happen is that ISO will find the most improbable excuses for the claims in the South Africa appeal and move on ignoring the thousands and thousands of citizens completely frustrated with ISO's attitude.

Whether the SA appeal can be brushed aside or not will probably depend on whether any other countries step up to the plate in support of this appeal or not.  And (sadly) who those countries are ...

Ah, but you forget the difference between ISO and the real world.

In ISO (and in MIcrosoft's dreams), ODF 1.1 is the 'latest and greatest' and is the latest standard to be used for development.  Development will take 2-3 years (+ patch releases to get the code right).  Office may be able to halve that development time, but given the frequency of Office releases, that's doubtful and still to be proven.

In the real world, has moved on to supporting ODF spec 1.2 and has a VERY high refresh rate - much higher than Microsoft's.  KDE and others are at 1.1 and already writing code against the not-yet-sent-to-ISO 1.2 spec from OASIS.  Due to additional interoperability features, look for everyone *except* Microsoft will be implementing the OASIS spec starting as soon as each feature is nailed down in the OASIS committee for finalization as soon as OASIS approves the next spec version.

ISO approval will come well after OASIS confirmation and after ISO 'chews' on the spec for a while, but in the real world, by the time ISO gets around to 'approving' the spec (such that Microsoft feels compelled to implement the changes), the rest of the world (and OASIS) will be well along the road to standardizing the next set of interoperable changes / features for the next ODF specification.

Think about this trend that is already occurring.  OASIS is driving development in the open-source world - not ISO.  This is shown by, KDE Office, and others already writing code for ODF 1.2 that is not even finished yet in OASIS and won't be sent to ISO for some time to come.

Look for MS to make big noises in the marketplace that ODF does not comply with standards, then use ISO-approved standards (which significantly trail OASIS development) to prove that the added tags in ODF that everyone either supports or successfully ignores (but that are fully defined nonetheless) constitute 'non-compliance' on the part of ODF.

MS wants to join OASIS.  Do you think they've realized that ISO is the wrong place to go for ODF standardization work if they want to be relevant in the market ?

MS took over SC34 WG1 and the open-source response is to encourage OASIS to not cede control of the ODF spec to ISO.

This tactic appears that it will be non-successful because Microsoft's ability to hold up ISO approval will mean nothing to open-source office development and interoperability.

It is only by interfering with OASIS that Microsoft will be able to affect ODF development and forward progress.  Without ODF support in their product, they have no feasible reason to join OASIS for the purpose of interfering wth ODF development.

The timeframe of 1H 2009 seems too short to do a proper implementation of ODF in MSOffice.

Could MS be claiming support for ODF simply as a ruse to get into OASIS where they can do real damage to ODF, then drop ODF support later this year once they are in OASIS in favor of their proprietary format ?  Is there really any intention to ever support ODF (or ISO OOXML for that matter) in Microsoft Office ?

The time-frame for this action plan actually works with the advertised dates from Microsoft (join OASIS by 1H 2009 while continuing the pretense of ODF support until June of next year, then attempt to poison the true ODF standards body from the inside while claiming 'slipped delivery' until they can drop ODF entirely because of the 'defects' added by Microsoft).

True and honest development cycles do not fit the Microsoft-announced time-frames - addition of ODF to MSOffice is way too hard to do in a year due to the massive re-design / re-write required to MSOffice -  if it can be done at all.  Microsoft has said so on many occasions.


Reactos is a open source Win32/NT System and need c+ and ASM
programmers , can you help it ?! to catch hers whater and get
more honor back to the peoples ! "HTP" in pease and Honor

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. 

Rick Jelliffe

"major ones could be a showstopper (I don't see any allegations of these)"

Ok.. so, NB's don't have the final version of the text. If editing instructions were not followed that would count as a major showstopper, right? So... As soon as they release the final text, they should also state clearly if a NB has the possibility to file an appeal. Or will they tell you that the deadline for that is over even given the fact that you don't have the final textt?

"- questions of principle are involved;" Check!
"- the contents of a draft may be detrimental to the reputation of IEC or ISO;" Check!

While I agree with you regarding the prediction of the final outcome of this process, one thing is certain: ISO stamp will become a joke for many many informed people around the world.

"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:" So, do I understand correctly ECMA provided a DIS for Fast-Tracking, knowing full well it didn't conform to standard ISO terminology? Doesn't that sound a little.... odd to you, offering a (sub-)standard riddled with ambiguities? Or do you try to argue the standard ISO terminology is needlessly restrictive, trying to dot all is and cross all ts?

No, it is explicitly not a requirement for a fast-tracked standard like IS29500 (including PAS standards like ODF IS26300)  to conform in the directives. The idea of the fast-track procedures is that there is some external standard which is being transposed into ISO, and that hard technical details not editorial issues should be the focus of attention at the initial stage, to encourage more national review of industry consortia standards.

However, subsequent maintained versions do need to accord. OASIS lucked in by having Patrick Durusau as an editor: because of his experience he kept it pretty much on track with terminology (which has many flow on effects for interpretation: it is a surprising useful discipline). 

So even though DIS29500 did not need it, many of us felt it would be a real barrier to maintenance that would in effect mean that maintenance at ISO would be impossible, and leaving resubmission of the next version through fast-tracking (i.e. the ODF route) as the foreseeable outcome. Now personally I can see that re-submission has many benefits, most especially that it reduces the need for bureaucratic interaction between standards bodies to a minimum: however, ODF-like resubmission is too much like rubber-stamping, even though for some reason the blinkers were on so that many people only raised the issue or danger for OOXML.

However, even though I do understand that the Directives had a reasonable justification for not making it a requirement, it was something that I (and the various NBs which adopted or supported it) felt too important in DIS29500's case to let slip. So important that even if it meant that OOXML failed to meet deadlines which would give ammunitions to its enemies, it was the right thing to do in order to get an acceptable, maintainable standard.

Rick Jelliffe


I think that the first question is to define "success" or "failure" (a point that the appeal does not address, by not stating clearly what is the relief it seeks, which is a potential technical issue in the appeal itself).   To me, "success" has less to do with whether the Fast Track approval of OOXML stands or is diverted into some other result, such as being returned for more consideration, than whether ISO/IEC takes a hard look  at what happened and states publicly what it will do to prevent it happening again.  Stating that it isn't to pleased with the process, including some of its own judgments along the way, would be a big help, too (unlikely though such an outcome might be).

In that respect, I think that the important part of both the rules and the appeal are the parts that focus on whether there are problems of "principal" and "reputation" involved.  Those issues do not go to the points you mention at all - improving technical quality.  You don't restore principal or reputation with small technical fixes. 

In fact, it's difficult to restore reputation at all, which again comes back to the question of "relief desired."   That might be restored, to my mind, by doing a public, rather than the current private review, which no one knows the details about.  It would also involve how the decisions were made on the vague Directives that were applied, and how a one week BRM was decided upon, and so on.

If ISO focuses, as you suggest on precedent, on minor technical decisions, then I think that ISO will  lose most of all.  Why use words like "principle" and "reputation" at all, if the appeal results only in a retrospective justifying minor technical terms.  To my mind, ISO should take a hard look in the mirror and decide not to duck the bigger issues and forthrightly address them, not behind closed doors, but publicly.

  -  Andy

But Andy, where the loss of reputation is due to palpable lies or reckless libels with a manifest lack of evidence, ISO/IEC JTC1 cannot possibly take that "loss" into consideration, without betraying everyone who works on its tens of thousands of standards and its integrity.  Honi soit.   The trouble is that the extreme anti-OOXML side has made itself into a laughing stock with standard makers and bureaucrats: basically every time anyone who is involved has their name released, they get accused accused of corruption and bribery by one nasty moron or another, dozens of people in dozens of countries all with no evidence; how on earth does anyone expect officials who know that they and their collegues are not corrupt to take seriously talk of loss of reputation that spring out of these same allegations and poisonous campaigns? 

I don't know why you talk of OOXML being "diverted" to some other result. There is no other result in the Directives: the standard will be overturned or allowed, as far as I can see.  JTC1 will look at the complaint and consider "Does this complaint produce hard evidence that would cause us to overturn the absolute majority vote of the participating NBs?"    For JTC1 to overturn National Body votes and invalidate a standard might be possible in the case of a standard which had few NBs voting, and which had little attention, and which there was hard evidence for general dodginess, or some showstopper had crept in unnoticed, I suppose, but the very high participation rate, and the high degree of scrutiny makes it difficult for me to give the appeal any chance of success. 

I wouldn't be surprised if the JTC1 people ultimately say "This says no more than was said during the review period: SA had its vote and now is attempting to steamroll its position through regardless of the support of the absolute majority of other National Bodies."     Of course, they will be in a fluster about bad PR, but that does not mean they will compromise the integrity of standards because of a noisy minority which failed to get the vote.

Issues such as why a one-week BRM was chosen seem to be furphies. If there was more than a week, there would have been more discussion and possibly more abstains turned to accepts. So in what way does having a one-week BRM rather than a longer one somehow favour OOXML (and therefore lead to a reduction in reputation)?  

I certainly think that technical issues are the focus of standards and procedures at ISO/IEC JTC1, so I don't apologize if I focus on them. I think it is a mistake to see the ISO process (and appeal mechanisms)  as political rather than being essentially technical: it will baffle people whose blinkers only allow them to see the political.

And the principles that I expect ISO/IEC JTC1 to uphold are: National Bodies decide what becomes a standard not gnomes in Zurich, the provenance of a technology is not considered when determining what can be a candidate for a standard, allegations without hard evidence cannot be used as the basis for challenges, that Directives cannot be overridden or reinterpreted retrospectively, that the process is a consensus one which not a legalistic one (or, at least, it belongs more to the mediation kind of laws rather than adversarial laws), and most of all that the primary purpose of standards making is to get agreed texts with as much consensus from the National Bodies as possible without fear or favour.

Where there was a loss of reputation when some standard had been adopted without scrutiny, or where it was clear that some cartelizing was going on so that one gang was *preventing* the legitimate addressing of technical issues of another group, then these reputation and principle ideas could have applicability. 

We have known for months now that the extreme anti-OOXML side would, having lost its technical arguments, and having failed to intimidate National Body committee members, resort to trying to attack ISO.  I am disappointed that SA has taken this course, and that its argument for it is so weak and unfocused. When looking at it, the first thing is to look for evidence: is the loss of reputation due to founded allegations or unfounded largely stops there. 

The issue of not following procedures at the BRM has a bit more meat on its bones. However, again it is an utter mistake for people to take a legalistic view of the process, as if it were a court. That there was a favourable NB vote really puts the kibbosh on any attempt to claim that the BRM (no matter how defectively run, not that I think it was) did not produce an acceptable result against its limited goals of an improved draft.  I think the only way that an appeal on procedure could work would be if there was some proof that there was some miscount or whatever at the re-vote stage (*not* the BRM).

You write
"To my mind, ISO should take a hard look in the mirror and decide not to duck the bigger issues and forthrightly address them, not behind closed doors, but publicly."

+1, though I expect the outcome you want and the outcome I expect are different.

I would like clearer text in the Directives on the best practice role of abstention and the primacy of technical issues for voting, in particular. There was a lot of confusion on this issue, and I think the Norway and several of the "Reject"-voting NBs voted the wrong way by not abstaining.  Currently the NBs have too much discretion: of course, it is not ISO/IEC JTC1's position to tell any NB how it should be organized, but at least some best practise in this area would help. But that won't come out of this appeal. (The Directives for JTC1 and for ISO are under perpetual revision, but as our Australian NB representatives mentioned recently, it is really hard to find people of the calibre, staying power and interest to participate at that level: it is phenomenally boring, I am told.)

It will be interesting to see what happens. I think as more people see that (as I have said repeatedly) the adoption of IS29500 as an ISO standard will not hurt but actually help OASIS/ISO ODF development and will not alter the drivers for ODF adoption (e.g. by governments), they will see how silly and quixotic the vitriol against OOXML has been.

Rick Jelliffe


On the side of ODF, we see scientists and engineers whose time is valuable for spending in university research departments and commercial research outfits. They are judged on the quality of their research; i.e. not on how long they sit in ISO at meetings.

On the side of OOXML, we see businessmen (or their representatives), who have infinite time to sit for however long it takes to achieve their result.

The businessmen also have infinite supplies of money; we do not know what the terms of reference for its deployment are.

All concerned are well advised to ensure they only take money from their employers, as salary and whatever other payments are proper.

We shall in due course see what's happened.

But taking the advice of the scientists and engineers is the way forward for the businesses. Not ignoring and overriding them.


In the spirit of a long hard look in the mirror, it seems like you're assuming that lay people are able to understand the way the ISO works, they just choose not to. The fact that people often try to fit the ISO into a system they already understand - like a democracy or a court of law - suggests to me that the ISO's very nature is hard for people to understand. It's hardly surprising then that the only lay people willing to speak up are those angry enough to vent their frustration without a complete grasp of the details. The solution to libel and lying is therefore to find ways to grow understanding about the ISO among the lay community's cooler heads, so that they have the confidence to speak up when a voice is needed which can't be accused of having any interest in the outcome.

- Andrew Sayers


I rather despair of getting somewhere, but I'll take a crack at it anyway.  From my point of view, the reputation part for JTC 1 goes primarily to two points:

- my points of principal and reputation could be boiled down to going the distance with a standard this size under the Fast Track process regardless of the obvious fact that what came in the one end was so big and poorly prepared that what came out the other end couldn't meet minimum standards - compounded by scheduling a one week BRM.  The best explanation I've heard for this from the inside (i.e., JTC 1) was that Microsoft would have to live with the result if OOXML failed to pass, so Microsoft was the one at risk.  But OOXML did pass, IMHO, due primarily to pressure applied on enough NBs to secure that result, rather than because the BRM was successful.  Yes, a relative happy ending occurred (if one agrees that OOXML was still not ready for prime time after the BRM, on which I know you disagree), in that Microsoft realized that its victory turned out to be Pyrrhic, but that wasn't a result those involved could have relied upon.

-  the Directives do appear to be so poorly drafted that all along the way - and now even as regards the appeals process - that there is much for many to disagree upon in good faith.  When people can't even agree on what the rules are, that hardly reflects well on the process.  And the vagueness of the Directives is one thing upon which everyone actually does agree on.

Before you reply at length, let me add this:  I think the discussion has been so polarized for so long that I don't think those involved are likely to really ever resolve anything.  As examples, I'd take (on one side) Patrick Durusau's calling the standards war "fictitious" solely because Microsoft never opposed ODF in OASIS or ISO/IEC JTC 1, but ignoring all of the rather incredible things it did in Massachusetts (to which I can attest from first hand accounts told to me, and documentation I have seen), and on the other side, the willingness to accept any counter-charge as true once made, regardless of proof, or assuming bringing many open source proponents to a NB committee is any different than Microsoft bringing a bunch of business partners.  All are symptoms of being too close and too passionate about deeply held beliefs to be objective.

As another example, I'd give the discussion above.  You are one of the most deeply knowledgeable people that I've seen weighing in on the ISO/IEC process and on the subject matter of both ODF and OOXML.  And yet some people slam you to the wall no matter what you say.  And on the other hand, you regard all OOXML opponents as simply "anti Microsoft," and do not seem to give anyone credit for having any other belief, opinion or principle at stake.   I submit to you that the latter is as untrue as the former.  Neither side is willing or able to appreciate the fact that the other side may actually have something to say  that is worth listening to (in a quieter moment, you suggested that we both have "opinions" and not "biases."  Why is all opposition now simply "anti Microsoft?")

My honest opinion is that what would be a very good resolution - although sadly not in the cards - would be for ISO to invite in a non-partisan, non-involved _non-IT_ third party commission to  look at the whole process, beginning to end (OOXML Fast Track and ODF PASS submission as well, to be fair) and suggest what could be changed to make a better, stronger system.  I'd be delighted to see that happen, with the final opinion stipulated to have no impact on DIS 29500 at all, but just to have a better system going forward.

  -  Andy

Thanks for the kind words, Andy.

One of the constraints on ISO is that the diversity of National Bodies, from non-profit NGOs in liberal democracies to government departments of plutocratic and totalitarian states. You have been to China, for example: I think the Chinese would certainly admit that transparency of decision-making by government agencies is not high in their list of priorities, and that they are very adverse to outside interference. Similarly, the Mahathir/Lee style talk about "Asian values" in South East Asia has quite a bit of currency. ISO is a service for its member bodies, not an organization that can dictate to them. Is the idea of ICT rights particularly resonant in non-Southern Africa at the moment, for example?

It may be that there should be some version of ISO in which only democracies with open processes can participate, which means disenfranchising most poor nations. I would not care to participate in such an organisation: even though normally P members for any ISO SC are indeed a rich country's club, it is not exclusive. The biggest improvement I would like to see in ISO/IEC JTC1 is more sponsorship by corporations and governments of its activities, in particular towards national funds administered by NBs openly to allow the development and utilization of delegates and experts and editors. To see the biggest deficiency at ISO/IEC JTC1, don't follow the money trail, follow the lack-of-money trail!

The Directives have evolved over the last 60 in response to the challenges of development of tens of thousands of standards, most boring, many contested, some controversial.  (ISO, JTC! etc have a very characteristic mix of quite definite workflows and voting systems and editorial requirements with quite a bit of discretion for conduct of  meetings outside plenary votes, and a strong awareness that ultimately procedure is subservient to the goals of the organization and the process: technocrats have a quite strong aversion to loopholery. ) The rise of consortia in the 1990s was one of those challenges: clearly the public was willing to accept as standards documents which had not had scrutiny from any national perspectives. Often of course consortia are preferred by large companies because they can usually dominate them quite easily whereas ISO/IEC JTC1 voting is almost impossible to dominate.  (I dispute that MS "applied pressure" as if there was not active lobbying from all sides, and as if pressure from MS is somehow unendurable. I also think that bringing in Mass. into this brings in an irrelevant issue: the issue of what standards should be supplied by ISO and what standards should be adopted by a user are utterly, utterly, utterly distinct, and ISO information eg its website has always made this abundantly clear. To confuse supply and demand is just as muddying as confusing standards-making with regulating or legeslating.)

I don't think enough mention has been made that there has been a substantive, if subterranean, debate over the last two years on the desirability of three in-tension qualities of office systems: fidelity, interchange and substitutability.  Concentrating on the details of  debate on the particular merits of ODF and OOXML and ISO processes should not hide the progress that has been made in this area. A couple of years ago, I think a lot of people came into this debate with the starry idea that somehow there was a format on-hand which could provide complete fidelity for any system that used it (round-tripability), perfect data interchange, and all MS Office to be replaced with Open Office (or whatever.)  These people were irritated when reality intruded: when application tests were disappointing, or when anyone pointed out that their emperor had no clothes though he might well be on the way to the tailor. I think a lot of the early fans of ODF had a religious belief that it was so: even the salesmen started to believe their own spiel.   But ODF 1.0 (as it was then, and even now with ODF 1.1) did not have the features to support the claims people made for it; they were jumping the gun.

Now I think there is much more awareness that there is a tradeoff by the market, and as the market makes a decision about which way to go, you get a split in the market: you get people who want interchange even at the expense of perfect fidelity (i.e. governments for public documents), you get people who will want substitutability even at the expense of perfect fidelity (e.g. free/open software advocates), you want people who want interchange but not substitutability (e.g. vendors of closed source systems which are losing market share, perhaps Lotus) and so on.  I expect that if MS' ODF 1.1 is not able to provide adequate fidelity, users will adopt a format that does (presumably OOXML). That only now the ODF people are getting serious about schema validation shows it is getting towards a level of maturity where  wooly thinking about conformance is being replaced by objective testing.

And all this leads to a much stronger awareness that we are not nearly as advanced as many people assumed. ODF 1.2 looks good, but even it was largely free of input from the MS tradition.  IS29500 has been accepted as an ISO standard and what is the result: the death of ODF?  No, ODF is stronger now than it has ever been. As I have said many times before, the drivers for ODF are different for the drivers for OOXML. Some of that is surely due to misinformation and innuendo, but I think most of it is the positive reason that people are smart enough to realize that being an ISO standard does not mean a technology *has* to be used: ISO is really clear that it is the adopter's responsibility to choose the appropriate standard for their application, and though many people may grumble about being empowered in this way (yes, life would be simpler if someone else made all the choices and we had no responsibilities)  it is clear that people get it.  They understand that one of the central planks of the FUD campaign that if there was an ISO standard for OOXML people would be *forced* to use it was bogus.  And I predict we will see more of this: adoption of HTML, PDF and ODF as required formats, and allowance of IS29500 (at some stage in the harmless future) as an alternative.   The trouble was that people were trying to fight a demand battle (what should be adopted) at the supply forum (what should be available): futile.  

Rick Jelliffe


Thanks for the long and detailed thoughts.  There's a lot here that I'd like to trade viewpoints on, but I expect that it would be longer than people would want to read.  So here's a selection rather than the full boat.

>>One of the constraints on ISO is that the diversity of National Bodies, from non-profit NGOs in liberal democracies to government departments of plutocratic and totalitarian states....It may be that there should be some version of ISO in which only democracies with open processes can participate, which means disenfranchising most poor nations.

This isn't really where I was going, but it's an interesting point that's worth talking about.  I've proposed a few ideas on this, most thoroughly in a feature article in Standards Today titled A Proposal for a New Type of Global Standards Certification.  The basic concept was to have a new organization that would create standards for standard setting.  If the market associated value with those standards (for openness, FOSS compatibility, "greenness," and so on, then presumably market competition would lead consortia (first) and SDOs (eventually) to adopt those standards.  I question,  by the way, whether poor nations would necessarily be disenfranchised by good rules requirements.  It may be that such rules would again provide incentives for countries to become more open, perhaps, than the US is right now when it comes to JTC 1 voting.  Nor is this without precedent.  Accession to the WTO requires quite a bit from countries such as those you mention, with China coming on board to policing IPR rules in a way that it presumably would not have otherwise.  So I think that at minimum it's an open question on which firm conclusions would be premature. 

You mentioned my concept of Civil ICT standards in there as well.  Here, in this small subset of all standards, I think that there is an even stronger case to be made.  I think that any poor country that would be disenfranchised would be one where its people had already been disenfranchised - by their own governments.  So requiring some opening up in order to get a seat at the table would be a good, rather than a bad thing.

>>The biggest improvement I would like to see in ISO/IEC JTC1 is more sponsorship by corporations and governments of its activities, in particular towards national funds administered by NBs openly to allow the development and utilization of delegates and experts and editors. To see the biggest deficiency at ISO/IEC JTC1, don't follow the money trail, follow the lack-of-money trail!

With proper safeguards to prevent money from buying influence, I would very much agree.

>>(I dispute that MS "applied pressure" as if there was not active lobbying from all sides, and as if pressure from MS is somehow unendurable.

No question that there was lobbying from all sides.  It's just a question of whether you believe that the pressure was qualitatively different on one side rather than the other.  It's my impression that it was, but of course no independent investigation has been conducted, so this will remain a subject of dispute.

>>I also think that bringing in Mass. into this brings in an irrelevant issue: the issue of what standards should be supplied by ISO and what standards should be adopted by a user are utterly, utterly, utterly distinct, and ISO information eg its website has always made this abundantly clear. To confuse supply and demand is just as muddying as confusing standards-making with regulating or legislating.)

There's an important point to be made here, I think, that goes back to the first one above.  But let me dispose of the superficial answer first, which is that I was responding to Patrick's point (endorsed in one of your columns) that the format war was a fiction - as if what happened in the technical committee was all that mattered.  Let's remember that a specification is simply a piece of paper until it's implemented, so to pretend that the commercial war that was just waged around the world, and the popular emotion that accompanied it, are irrelevant and just the paper specification matters is rather absurd, at least to me.  Which is, of course, my second point as well.  Yes, ISO is clear about what it's all about, but that doesn't mean that what it says it is about will necessarily be what it ends up being used for in the marketplace.  Just as genetics provides the raw data that be twisted by eugenics, ISO certification can be abused in the marketplace in the sales cycle.  No, not many governments absolutely require ISO certification.  But it is a factor in many places - why else do vendors push for it?

In this case, ISO/IEC, the home of much pedestrian standards activity of little interest to anyone else is caught in the middle.  Bigger things are afoot, and ISO/IEC just happens to be caught in the middle.  So the real issue is what happens next?  How does the system adapt?  Does ISO stay as it was, and something new is added, or does ISO choose to adapt?

That's really up to ISO and IEC, but I think that it's very likely that something is going to happen, either with ISO and IEC or without it.  If ISO and IEC wish to think that supply and demand have no relevance to it, then the marketplace will certainly shop elsewhere, because after all,  standards are simply products, just like anything else.  If they are not market-relevant, then they won't find a buyer.

>>I don't think enough mention has been made that there has been a substantive, if subterranean, debate over the last two years on the desirability of three in-tension qualities of office systems: fidelity, interchange and substitutability. 

You make excellent points in these paragraphs.  This is the sort of thing that I was referring to that people should pay more attention to when you drop by here.  But think how much better off everyone would be (at least IMHO) if Microsoft had joined the ODF working groups in 2003 rather than 2008?  The gaps between the three qualities that you mention could have been much narrower, and much good work built upon the results.

>>The trouble was that people were trying to fight a demand battle (what should be adopted) at the supply forum (what should be available): futile. 

As noted above, I think that at minimum this is an open question.  In a perfect world, I would agree with you.  And in 99% of the standards in this world, I would as well.  In this case, though, I think that it has been a useful exercise, without which I think that the outcomes would be very different.  You don't always have the luxury of picking your battlefields.  But if you refuse to take the field, you know who will win.

Thanks for your ongoing comments.

  -  Andy

Patrick's point as I understand it is not that there was *no* war, and especially not a sales war or reputation war (if the things are actually different).  But the standards war that some people thought they were fighting had MS pitted against the rest of the world, relentless pushing OOXML down everyone's throats in a naked attempt to thwart ODF was, as far as its application to the ISO process, a war against a shadow: this was in utter contrast to everything I saw and heard from MS who were much more concerned that whichever way things went, they should be positioned well, and that they could not afford to be stopped from getting their house in order as far as opening up their documentation and formats.  I don't think you should see Mass. as the central explicatory event for understanding MS' position on OOXML and ODF; the European requirements for openness and things like the SAMBA court case are just as strong or stronger.

Now obviously I disagree with Patrick on many things. For example, he was one of the strongest insisters that DIS29500 was incomplete without mappings from the actual binary formats, and I think his strong views (with others) on this eventually moved MS to release them.  I, on the other hand, think mappings to binaries are completely irrelevant to an adequate description of the schemas of the file formats for OOXML: merely historical interest but certainly valuable to implementers.  But on the phony war issue I think he has an good point that should not be dismissed out of hand.

Of course, in Fantasyland he is some kind of MS stooge, which probably amuses his Sun employers who often say similar things to him, and ignores his history for example his efforts at OASIS to prevent MS and IBM (they were buddies in that case) from getting the royalty-bearing ContentGuard technology adopted as an OASIS standard.

Rick Jelliffe


I think that this illustrates a bit where I entered this thread, talking about polarization.  I read Patrick's piece, and I think like most of what gets written, it doesn't "honor" the other guy's point of view, but instead tries to negate it.  It doesn't always work, but in principle it's better to say, "You know, I realize that there's all this stuff going on over there that you see this way, but you know, you might be interested in knowing what's going on in this room over here.  You might be surprised."  That's a lot more likely to get people to take you seriously.

Too often, those on both sides, I think, are getting more pleasure out of poking sticks in the other side's eye than in trying to actually build bridges and communicate.  Patrick's writing, as I read it, takes the position that there really isn't another valid point of view.  And with all due respect, I pretty much get that feel from a lot of what you (and Alex) write as well - that if people just "got it" they'd see that this is just a standard - get over it.  In fact, people see other dimensions to this that are very valid to them that don't automatically equate to anti-Microsoft goals.  Denying that what they believe has any foundation isn't likely to endear them (and, of course, vice versa - the rhetoric that some have used  in the other direction has been a lot ruder, to be sure).

I think that we'd all be likely to make a lot more progress if each side took the other at it's word, and then tried to work within that context.  Otherwise, it's not likely that progress will be as easy, quick and effective as it could otherwise be.

  -  Andy

A couple of week's ago, Patrick was satirically connecting the extremists on one side with Beavis and the extremists on the other side with Butthead (his writing makes it clear that he does not consider these "sides" to be the only possible positions, see his comments on the importance that "real' ODF supporters need to be knucking down to improve ODF not getting sidetracked on OOXML.  What would you expect a good editor to be asking? "Please don't get involved, we don't want to make progress!" )  Equal opportunity.

Butthead responded in a way that makes the correct first steps in addressing Patrick's complaints; should he give up on Beavis just because it is more his own side?

I guess I have a different perspective of Patrick than many people, having received large numbers of emails from him last year with him venting his frustration with MS, and trying to get them into a position which could strengthen ODF.  His positive contributions are worth 10,000 angry ipods repeating gossip as fact.

If asking that *all* parties adopt a civil, non-childish, disciplined and unhysterical attitude is taken as as an insult and an affront,  that shows a touchiness out-of-proportion to his comment. And it only confirms that he is correct.

There is a great difference between using colorful language and analogies, and hating (or using the language of hate) and encouraging prejudice. 

I think Hazlett's amazing essay "One the Pleasure of Hatred"   is worth reading.

Rick Jelliffe


Not sure if you intended it this way, but give this a read:

>>If asking that *all* parties adopt a civil, non-childish, disciplined and unhysterical attitude is taken as as an insult and an affront,  that shows a touchiness out-of-proportion to his comment. And it only confirms that he is correct.

Isn't that precisely what my last comment asked for (for everyone to adopt a civil, non-childish, disciplined and unhysterical attitude?)  The problem is that you are recharacterizing some of what Patrick says as if it hadn't appeared, and focusing instead on other parts.

Patrick hasn't always been too kind with those with another viewpoint, or acknowledged that their viewpoint could have validity.  And of course, no reasonable person has ever taken a request for people to be civil as "an insult and an affront."  This is simply tarring thousands of people with the same beliefs and opinions of the few that leave strong messages at blogs.  And I'm sure that you don't really mean that.

Anyway, I think we're more or less in agreement, so that' seems to be a good place to stop.


Andy wrote: "Patrick hasn't always been too kind with those with another viewpoint, or acknowledged that their viewpoint could have validity. "

Patrick is indeed sometimes scathing, but he is most scathing towards those people whose opinion he actually shares (on the desirability of ODF, on the need for DIS29500 to be fixed, etc) when they go beyond the bounds into libel or obstructionism or vexatiousness or mischievous fantasy-mongering and conspiracy theorizing or hidden agendas.  That is just even-handedness, and not living in a glass house.   He decries Beavis *and* Butthead: the extremes not the view. 

I don't know anyone who has, in practice, acknowledged that people with different views than him are allowed to have their view: so much so that mad people see him (editor of ODF, historical opponent of MS at OASIS, contracted to Sun) as being somehow a fellow traveller with MS of all people, when he is staunchly associated with promoting ODF.  His sin is that he dares say what he thinks outside its value in marketing wars between corporations and partisans, as far as I can see. (Contrast this with some other people who make really good reasoned arguments on limited access technical lists which absolutely contradict the alarmist positions they take on their public blogs or interviews, as if they had an evil twin, or a split persona where they put on their marketeering hat.)  His basic view (as I understand it anyway) is that, at the end of the day, each and every standard has to be as good as it can be, and this requires diligence and lack of partisanship.

He has been extremely reticent to put his views in public: it is perhaps a dozen open letters in two years, only on issues where there is a lot of heat and he thinks there is some significant angle that is important to be in the mix of public debate but which no-one else has said and which he is in the best position to make, as far as I can see. Significantly, he takes these open letters off his site when they are no longer relevant or after he has made his point or changed his POV: they are corrective comments at a point of time not immutable stances.   And the dominant theme of his open letters is to encourage the work on OASIS ODF and IS26300, that a lot of the opposition to IS29500 was diverting effort and causing unnecessary bad blood, to the extent that the ODF effort was being hijacked by anti-MS partisans who exhibited little practical resolve to improve ODF: what I think of as blockers rather than enablers.

But if you are saying (I am sure you are not) that we should allow that casual and mischievous libelers with no evidence have validity, I completely reject that.  (For example, on my blog whenever I have discovered I went to far or got something wrong -- which happens to everyone-- that the facts could not support, I always take correct it or remove it when it comes to my attention. It is irresponsible to have a website with articles or comments that are libellous: if people want to see archives they can see use the Wayback Machine. The owner of a blog with comments must consider themselves as the publisher of comments, after they have read them, and take responsibility for their continued publication. I consider gossip sites where any noxious claptrap and libelous conspiracy theories will be published in the name of openness or freedom regardless of evidence without moderation or without subsequent warnings added to be immoral and anti-social: sometimes comments on NOOXML and Groklaw verge into this slashdottery, though I think you maintain a much tighter discipline.)

Rick Jelliffe


Andy wrote: "Patrick hasn't always been too kind with those with another viewpoint, or acknowledged that their viewpoint could have validity. "
<Rick's long explanation>

Is your post a long way to say the original quote of Andy was correct?

Or do you want to say that Patrick was right to be unkind?

And does the libel and defamation you mention include the smear campaigns organized by MS?
The ones were MS employees forged letters in at least 3 countries (which is normally called fraud).


(Just to comment, to prevent further misinformation, that on another thread in this article, it came out that forgery and fraud were not involved in those cases.)

Rick Jelliffe

People sometimes say to me "There will be a loss of confidence in ISO standards as being necessarily the best" and similar remarks.

And I say "Good!"  (And I think that ISO etc itself would agree.) An increase in realism and the acceptance of responsibility by adopting decision-makers can only be  positive thing.

Not that ISO etc and its committees are not geared towards excellence in their  particular and sometimes eccentric-seeming way, or that they do not hope that their standards are the best they can be, and maintained in a timely fashion. But that the idea that an ISO standard is necessarily the best suited for any particular purpose is an idea that people need to be disabused of. And this awareness that standards come out of traditions and involve tradeoffs and sometimes politicking needs to make people just as hard-nosed about standards from any boutique or industry consortia too. Take the standard I edit, ISO Schematron: I don't make any claims that it is technically appropriate for any use merely because it is an ISO standard: what the standardization process gives a formalized review and at least minimal sorting out of many editorial, technical and IP issues (and sometimes it is maximal, if there is interest or criticality.)

What the ISO process does is provide a meaningful level of quality assurance, certain kinds of reviews and disciplines for a document, and that the underlying technology convinces the international reviewers that it is  at least adequate for its purpose and desirable for meeting the requirements of some market.  There are plenty of standards which turn out to be stepping stones: ISO DSSSL is a formatting standard for example: it never got much use (the Linux documentation uses it) but it made the development of the hugely successful XSLT (at W3C, but by the same people who made DSSSL at ISO) , but you can never know the lifecycle or flow-on effects of a standard from the outset.

Rick Jelliffe

> What the ISO process does is provide a meaningful level of quality assurance, certain kinds of reviews and disciplines for a document, and that the underlying technology convinces the international reviewers that it is  at least adequate for its purpose and desirable for meeting the requirements of some market.

So this is what you think ISO accomplished with DIS29500 ?  (I say this because you obviously felt the BRM was successful and you apparently feel that ISO has succeeded in its dealing with DIS29500.  If both are true, then by your own words, you should be prepared to defend the above statment wrg to DIS29500.

I (and many others in the open-source & standards worlds) maintain that the BRM failed to achieve the above 'meaningful level of quality assurance' and that the entire ISO review of DIS29500 failed to properly and completely "review" DIS29500 to insure that it is 'adequate for its purpose and desirable for meeting the requirements of some market' other than as a Microsoft sales tool that only Microsoft can implement (Remember the OSP specifically excludes all commercial purposes and implicitly excludes competition by any GPL product).  Note also that because of Microsoft's past intimidation policies, there are no commercial office packages currently availabe to compete with MSOffice and that MS has been particularly effective at running for-profit competitors bankrupt through court-recognized product dumping and illegal bundling.

Could you perhaps point out in which markets DIS29500 is 'adequate' (or preferably above adequate) to use as a standard and what the requirements of that market are such that DIS29500 is uniquely suited to the needs of that market ?  Given that Microsoft has public announced (and you fully endorse) their intent not to support DIS29500 for the next two years (minimum), I'm curious how you believe that DIS29500 has accomplished the purpose (any purpose) that brings honor to the ISO standardization process.

The only market I can see for DIS29500 is the market of a single monopoly user that wishes to use a not-really-open-ISO-standard to sidestep procurement rules that are designed to insure fair competition and interoperable, archivable document storage - rules designed to prevent vendor lock-in and higher prices due to lack of competition, and to preserve long-term document accessibility of crucial government records.  For this market, the technologies embodied in DIS29500 seem ideal:
   1. GPL products are barred from competing due to the OSP legal protections not being extended to GPL-licensed products
   2. All commercial products are required to get a license from the monopoly that controls the standard and the dominant product in the marketplace
   3. All implementations (commercial or FOSS) are at legal risk for incompletely or improperly implementing the non-documented (or 'merely-referenced') components of the standard.  By the terms of the OSP, any 'non-conforming implementation' is not covered by the OSP at all, leaving them subject to lawsuits from the monopoly vendor.
   4. Because the input to DIS29500 described what had already been implemented by the monopoly vendor, any commercial competitor faces the additional market disadvantage of not being 'first-to-market'.  Note that the input to the ISO fast-track process was a description of what had already been implemented by the monopoly vendor - not even an attempt at a proper standards document.  Thus it is not surprising that 'standards discipline' (ie: language and interoperability language) was completely missing from the document.  What *IS* surprising is the surprise of the monopoly vendor that an international body may want to object to clauses that provide special handling for monopoly browsers over competitors and that international review might object to references to non-documented or undocumented references in the international standard.  These references still exist in the document approved by the BRM.
   5. The large number of monopoly business parters that have joined national bodies and SC34 recently can be expected to vote the ISO standard in ways that benefit the monopoly over any competitor (commercial or FOSS).  The playing field is no longer level within ISO maintenance due to the prevalence of so many monopoly business partners.

Perhaps my review of the document market is skewed and you have a different market in mind where DIS29500 is uniquely adequate-to-purpose and more desirable than ODF for the stated purpose of office document storage.

Please enlighten all of us dumb laymen and reationary zealots and pulp-fiction no-ooxml fans as to precisely what that market is and why DIS29500 is more suitable to that market than is ODF.

> The trouble was that people were trying to fight a demand battle (what should be adopted) at the supply forum (what should be available): futile. This argument borders on the ridiculous -- not that I can speak for the noooxml crowd, but like most other representatives from academia, I have been fighting for a technically sound standard. After all, it is *not* the stated purpose of ISO to say: "Hey we have a number of standards, some crappy, some not (it is not our job to discriminate) just pick and choose and have fun." This is essentially what most arguments in favour of OOXML boil down to. Also I am not at all opposed to a "second" document standard if it has a certain minimum quality, but to deserve the name, a standard must be polished and forward-looking: OOXML is essentially "backwards": tons of ill-understood legacy stuff just rammed in ("autoSpaceLikeWord95") without any attempt to conceptualize the problems (why couldn't this be made into a more general formatting directive?) to clean up the mess. If society didn't do some housekeeping from time to time, we'd still be calculating in Roman numerals... Getting ISO-certified is all about prestige (don't tell me you didn't know that), it seems there is some severe difference of opinion how prestige is to be earned. You would sound more honest if you would plainly admit that in your mind technical excellence is not one of the requirements.

Given their past performance, MS' OOXML effort has been hit hard by the fact that NO-one in the FLOSS world an NO competitor is willing to give them any "benefit of the doubt".

This is a company that has been found guilty of the worst of business practices time and again. Whose internal memos talk about large scale bribing of "independent" specialists and analists and "embrace, extend, extinguish" of standards. There is a whole library full of detailed court evidence that would support even the wildest conspiracy theory against MS. The story of Peter Quinn itself is horrifying. His counterpart in France has been fired recently. Tim Bray's account of the attacks he and his family endured over his involvement with Netscape is also widely known.

So, I think there is no reason to label those who suspect the worst from MS anything than realistic.

Furthermore, I have seen no evidence that the complete chaos that resulted from fast tracking OOXML was not a calculated risk that MS and Ecma were willing to take just to get OOXML passed. The whole effort yelled "Apres nous, la deluge" for standardization. The complaint from SA is simply a recount of this willful carelessness.

When Rick Jelliffe speaks about IS26300 and IS29500 being a ten year effort, he talks about a common standard being in active use by several groups, and one that cannot even be suported in a meaningful way by its sole author. How OOXML can help ODF implementing MS documents formats (as he claims) is unclear. I really hope Rick can help the ODF committees in this. There is a lot of talk about OOXML being able to convert legacy documents better. But I still have to see why ODF should not be able to do that, with a little help from MS (read the comments from Stephane Rodrigues). The only difference is that OOXML simply refers to the internal code of Office 2007, instead of actually describing the structure (maybe the new annexes handle soem of that). That could have been done in ODF too.

But again, this would be a history first: MS helping competitors with implementing their native formats. Why should we believe that OOXML is more than a new Kerberos, Javascript, Java, RTF, CSS, or HTML trick of MS? And we can extend this list with pages of more examples.


I meant ten year effort from now, not ten years culminating in now.  We are at the start, not the end: the long-term issue is not how to represent "bold"  but how to represent what the user thought of when wanting "bold": semantic/rhetorical markup. The current WP generation of software is primitive, and documents format will need to progressively lessen the gap between mind and page as they evolve: this is something that ODF and OOXML only have the slightest capabilities in and where they need to go. ODF and OOXML bring document formats kicking and screaming into the late 1980s with a coating of creamy angle-bracket goodness: certainly OOXML is an experiment in trying to maneuver a non-structured system towards allowing structure, but structure (as the term is used in the markup community) is not first-class in OOXML or ODF: ODF has better hierarchies but the structures themselves are uninteresting.

It is irrational to block MS from doing the right thing in the name of old grievances.  And to say that everything that MS does is always evil, or that they are the most evil corporation around, is religious and not my religion. Manufacturers of depleted uranium weapons and so on are in a different league than MS or IBM or any of the hyper-competitive suit-ridden high tech companies. Also, I think very often the corporation is blackened because of the actions of employees, and all these large corporations seem to attract sociopaths of one kind or another.

Rick Jelliffe

>It is irrational to block MS from doing the right thing in the name of old grievances. 

People are not calling for a block of MS doing the right right, but rather that MS should be blocked from doing something different when the claim they are doing the right thing. Eveyone see it except the ISO people that busy bending and ignoring their own directives because they think it would be unfair if they didn't put absolute trust in every word MS says.

>And to say that everything that MS does is always evil, or that they are the most evil corporation around, is religious and not my religion.

What is it that stop you from admitting that everything speaks for that MS in the OOXML disaster deployed all the dirty tricks they like Winter mentioned have been proven to used earlier?

What?  I shouldn't point out that there is absolutely no evidence here because in some other cases elsewhere in the world at other times involving different people there has been malfeasance?

Truth is no defense?   Is that really what you are suggesting? 

Steven Colbert is right: people prefer being "truthy" rather than "facty".

Rick Jelliffe

Rick, please open your eyes and look around, then take a deep breath and smell the coffee.

Expecting Microsoft to benefit the general IT industry by truly supporting ODF at this point in its history is like expecting a leopard to change its spots on demand or like expecting a skunk to NOT make a stink when it is challenged.  There is no obvious gain for Microsoft in supporting ODf and there is much that Microsoft would gain by destroying ODF.  Since it appears unlikely that control of ODF will be ceded to ISO by OASIS, Microsoft has to now join OASIS in order to destroy the ODF specification.  Just controlling ISO is not enough.

You say that every big organization gathers some sociopaths.  Why is it that with Microsoft, the sociopaths are running the corporation ?

For that past 10 years, Microsoft has been making promises to behave, then breaking those promises after the industry has spent significant time and money implementing their part of the 'deal-du-jure'.  Now you want that same industry to trust Microsoft on another 10-year deal and hold all comments for the full 10 years to see if Microsoft delivers ?  Not. Gonna. Happen.

Most of those that currently distrust or dislike Microsoft are previous users of Microsoft products that have grown tired of broken promises, poor implementations, customer lock-in, partner lock-out, EEE, etc.  These people have generally seen the true innovations in IT that are no more because of Microsoft's unethical behavior.  These people are usually somewhat anti-Microsoft because their sense of ethics is offended by Microsoft's actions.  These people simply no longer trust Microsoft to do anything in an above-board manner.

If asked, these people will likely readily agree that Microsoft is responsible for holding back the pace of IT innovation for approximately the past 15-20 years through various unethical and illegal means.

No quantity of analysts or standards experts that claim "there is no factual basis to distrust Microsoft" will change that history or those expectations.  No chance. None. Zip. Nada.

This is because the facts of Microsoft's unethical behavior are out in the public view.  Fully documented in court case after court case.  Multiple sites.  Microsoft can no longer conceal their unetical intent in past dealings even if they can (temporarily) conceal their (suspected) unethical intent in current dealings.

Microsoft has succeeded in its hostile take-over of ISO and SC34 WG1.  From all appearances, they apparently control SC34 as well.  For sure they control Alex Brown's activities and decisions which explains a lot about the outcome of the BRM.  (It has not escaped my notice that the British Library book-scanning project has been closed by Microsoft now that their OOXML standard has been ram-rodded to approval by Alex Brown whose company deals heavily with the British Library.)

Perhaps you cannot recognize cause and effect in the real world because you do live in the real world (the world of industry and of the application of IT ethics, principles and products).  If that is the case, please refrain from the name-calling and insults that seem to pepper your posts when referring to the noooxml website or the those of us in the real world that are ethically offended by Microsoft and their supporters and that have been burnt time and again by the Microsoft mis-representations.  Many of us have learned the hard way how to read Microsoft press releases (hint: look for what is not being said and assume that Microsoft will always either have fine print that contradicts the apparent intent of their positive announcements or that Microsoft will add such print when questioned.  There is a reason that Microsoft keeps all it's legal contracts on an internet web page.  It makes the agreements easier to unilaterally change without notice.

The truth to many is that Microsoft simply cannot be trusted.  Not. Any. More.  Not. After. The. Last. Twenty. Years.

"It is irrational to block MS from doing the right thing in the name of old grievances.  And to say that everything that MS does is always evil, or that they are the most evil corporation around, is religious and not my religion."

Your reponse does not say why we should not expect MS pulling a "Kerberos" on us. Btw, this also seems to be the religion of the EU commission, who are at pains to tell us they believe MS when they see the results. And not a minute earlier.

You misunderstood my earlier comment. I was just saying that MS have a history of ALWAYS betraying those who have to deal with them. Foxes, henhouses etc.

And wrt sociopaths running MS. Name one (1) MS CEO who has NOT been shown lying in front of a US federal judge, under oath, and you showed me a CEO that hasn't been in court. And that has been amply documented.


But I am not telling you what you should expect.  Indeed, I have frequently said that I think we need clear standards explaining what goes on in MS (and other market dominators') products because we *don't * trust MS not because we *do* trust them.

I am saying that forums which do not have an anti-trust function cannot take on that function.  It is not ISO's role to say "USA, you bombed and killed hundreds of thousands of defenseless people over the last few years, you are not suitable for membership".  It is not ISO's role to say "Google, you collaborate with the Chinese government on tracking down dissidents, technologies that come from you are poisoned at their source."   This is the postman argument: a postman should deliver mail even to someone he doesn't like, even to a mass murderer.  So the ISO process has to take the same constructive approach with EMCA standards that it does with anyone else's standards.

Now I don't think this is the NB's role either: I think the more that votes are non-technical the less sound and justifiable the standards process is.

Rick Jelliffe

It is ISO's role to say: the standard can not be accepted because it has not been given proper technical evaluation, or, better than that, the standard can not be accepted because the procedures followed do not guarantee that the technical defects found will actually be corrected. Simple.

Also, it is also ISO's role to say:

* look, that proposed standard (electricity, health, etc.) may cause a lot of deaths... why did you not give it proper revision?

ISO is all about quality and standards reputation.

If anyone can submit whatever their likes are, and influence the decision... I see no point on having ISO.

I don't see any of these problems coming out in other standardization organizations, such as W3C for example.

JTC1, whose process we are discussing, does not deal with electrical standards or health/safety as such. Don't be hysterical.

It is strictly "voluntary" standards. You can see the list of committees at

You can read the business plans of the various SC at

The 2006 business plan for SC34 is here (I expect the new Japanese secretariat will make a new one reflecting the new WG organization this year)

Rick Jelliffe


But - if one then accepts this judgment, then we need to start thinking about how these other concerns do get addressed.  That can be done by having another organization that certifies the process, or it can be done by ISO changing its own rules to make the process work better (e.g., by making it harder for vendors to induce outcomes).  And this is _not_ something that ISO can say "isn't ISO's job," because it uses that same reason to justify some of its current rules.  So either it's within the ISO remit, or it's not.

I think that this is one reason that a lot of your answers are frustrating people: you keep saying "it's not ISO's job," without suggesting how to make very real problems get solved, or, as noted above, explaining why ISO can be selective in when it decides it needs a rule.  I think a lot of people find it pretty unsatisfying when you say "we're just the postman" when there is no Fedex alternative. 

And some arguments - such as "it's hard to believe that an appeal will succeed, because a majority of the NBs voted in favor," sounds silly on it's face.  When would you ever need to appeal a decision, except when something had been approved?  In concluding as you do, you eliminate any reason for their to be an appeal process at all.  I think people are entitled to conclude (a) that there would not be an appeal procedure unless it was intended to be meaningful, (b) that it would apply in the face of a majority vote, and (c) that if the Directives speak of reputation, then reputation should be (among other named issues) a viable basis for an appeal - again regardless of how the vote went.

  -  Andy


I understand your comment, but I think it doesn't apply to the postman argument: Fedex should be as neutral as the post office. 

I support improvement of ISO/IEC JTC1, whether it is considered reform or maintenance. That is motherhood.  I don't have particular thoughts on mechanisms for this, I don't like going beyond the technical/editorial issues that I think are my expertise.

But the topic of my interest in these threads is more on what are reasonable expectations about what kinds of appeals could succeed. I just don't see that any appeal based on supposed misconduct of the BRM could override an accept vote on the approved text from the BRM: a Ballot vote is not an endorsement of the process but of the text.  Problems with the BRM stage of the process, whether significant or sour grapes,  cannot invalidate the vote: problems with the conduct of the Ballot could. The convenor of a BRM has a lot of leeway and discretion to choose how to conduct the meeting, and the goals of the meeting are merely to  produce a better text, which may certainly not necessarily be the text that any particular NB would prefer.  The convenor has a duty to make sure that the meeting is not sidetracked or monopolized by black-hole issues, as much as possible: that is part of their job. Towards the end of the BRM, it is also their job to make sure that as much outstanding business can be finalized as possible. That this will disaffect people with black-hole issues is par for the course.

As for Brazil's complaint on binary mappings, I would imagine the JTC1 response would be "Is this about an issue that can be dealt with by the maintenance process?" If it is (and binary mappings certainly are in that camp) then the response would be "BRM had finite time; convenor had discretion to run the meeting as best possible; final text was approved;  take it to maintenance and we will oversee that  it gets full hearing in SC34."     I think it is important to be realistic about what the BRM would or could vote in favour of: the outcome of the BRM is highly specific editor's instructions, usually the exact wording: vague instructions such as "provide binary mappings" had no chance of succeeding at ballot in the BRM even if allowed and large amounts of new normative text  (e.g. hundreds or housands of pages) had absolutely no chance of succeeding at ballot in the BRM. The exact text would have had to have been prepared much earlier, in time for other NB's committees to have considered it: even if it were non-normative it is extremely dubious. Maybe the Brazilian proposal had some clever way of overcoming these, but  the convenor of a BRM is not bound to prioritize issues that seem doomed over issues that seem to have widespread support.

Rick Jelliffe