This week found me in Austin, Texas for the Linux Foundation Collaboration Summit (which was, incidentally, excellent), and therefore able to spend Wednesday morning in a hearing room at the State Capitol. That morning, the Government Reform Committee of the Texas House of Representatives, chaired by representative William "Bill" Callegari, was scheduled to hear testimony on electronic document issues, and I had been asked to be one of the invited experts to help put them in the picture.
Texas, as you may recall, is one of six states in 2007 that considered whether to take legislative action in connection with open document standards. After hearings on the topic, the decision was to commission further study rather than to act on the bill that had been introduced. More specifically, the Government Reform Committee was directed to:
Research, investigate, and make recommendations on how electronic documents can be created, maintained, exchanged, and preserved by the state in a manner that encourages appropriate government control, access, choice, interoperability, and vendor neutrality. The committee shall consider, but not be limited to, public access to information, expected storage life of electronic documents, costs of implementation, and savings.
Not so very long ago, most standards were set in a largely collegial atmosphere by career professionals who met in face to face meetings over a period of years. Along the way, they came to know each other as individuals, and established relationships that helped the process move forward and allowed for productive give and take.
While this process was not without its back scratching and game playing, at least the impact on interests other than those directly involved tended to be limited. After all, if performance standards for light bulbs had settled out at 45, 65 and 95 watts rather than 40, 60 and 90, no end user’s ox would have been gored on the desktop, when it came to lighting.
Yesterday, I sent out the latest issue of my eJournal, Standards Today. Not surprisingly, it focused on the OOXML process, and what can be learned from it. Below is the Editorial, and you can find the complete issue here. You can sign up for a free subscription here.
Updated: ISO has now issued its confirmatory press release. The full text (less biolerplate) is appended at the end of this entry. I note with some interest that the press release includes the following language:
Subject to there being no formal appeals from ISO/IEC national bodies in the next two months, the International Standard will accordingly proceed to publication.
The last issue of Standards Today was titled, ODF vs. OOXML on the Eve of the BRM. That issue focused on the Ballot Resolution Meeting (BRM) about to be held in Geneva, Switzerland as the penultimate act in the Fast Track approval process of DIS 29500, the specification submitted by Ecma and based upon Microsoft's OfficeOpen XML document formats (OOXML).
My editorial in that issue was prophetically titled The Overwhelming of ISO/IEC JTC1, due to the fact that only one week had been allocated to resolving more than 1,100 separate comments (some 900 of them substantive) that had been registered by National Bodies from around the world during the voting period that failed to approve OOXML during the initial balloting period in mid-2007.
Without exception, every fear that I raised in that editorial was realized, and worse. Here is a sampling:
Updated 4/1: A press release has been issued by Standards Norge defending its decision. An English translation of that press release is posted at Steve McGibbon's blog, and can be found here. Geir Isene has posted a partial response here.
One of the things that most of us learn at our mother's knee is that you shouldn't rush things. If you do, you'll make silly mistakes. Mothers also tend to tell their children to play by the rules, but some apparently listen better than others to that advice as well.
The wisdom of the first truism was demonstrated most clearly during the Ballot Resolution Meeting in Geneva, although its effects had been evident throughout the entire Fast Track process. In the latest evidence of the other truism, the first formal protest has been filed with ISO over a National Body vote. The National Body in question is Norway, and the protest has been filed by...(wait for it)...Norway itself.
How can all of this be true in a country like Norway? Elections this flawed usually only occur in Florida.
The complete story has been developing at the blog of Geir Isene, who left a comment at my blog yesterday, pointing tohis account of what had transpired on Friday at a meeting of Standards Norge, the Norwegian Standards Intitute. That entry read in part as follows:
Updated: (8:45 AM EDT 4/1): OOXML has been adopted
Updated: (1:45 OM EDT 3/31): Reuters has just reported that ISO will not announce the results of the OOXML vote until Wednesday April 2
Updated (3:30 PM EDT 3/29): Unless thus-far unannounced votes that were formerly "approve" or "abstain" switch to "disapprove," it appears that OOXML will be approved. See details in the cumulative "updates" section below
Like many I'm sure, I'm trying to keep track of the votes on OOXML as they become known. I've set up a spreadsheet where I'm recording votes as they become known, whether they are formal and confirmed, or coming to light from other sources, and therefore to a greater or lesser extent possibly not accurate, what the sources are, and any associated comments (mostly from Pamela's articles at Groklaw, the most recent of which is being updated with new votes as news comes in to her). You'll find the most information about specific country voting there, and at several of her prior blog posts, including this one, this one, this one, and this one.
For the benefit of those that want to get a quick look throughout the weekend, I'll post the running tally here of which votes have switched, what the net change has been, now many votes have come to light, and how many remain to be announced. It is likely that it will not be possible to know the final vote until all votes are in, due to the complicated, double test way in which the vote is counted, which is complicated by the fact that the final number of abstentions, and whether they move from "yes" or "no" votes, can decrease the number of votes that need to switch to "yes" votes. For that reason, I also include an explanation of how the omplicated two-part test for approval will be calculated.
You may also want to read my last blog entry, which discusses the impact (or non-impact) of a vote to approve OOXML, called The Future of ODF and OOXML.
Tomorrow is the last day that a National Body (NB) can change its vote on OOXML. Only a few NBs have announced what they have decided, and of those, not enough have changed their votes to reverse the outcome of last summer, in which DIS 29500 (a/k/a OOXML) failed to gain approval. It will not be until Monday that the final vote will be announced by ISO/IEC JTC1 (or become public through disclosure by an NB committee member, as the case may be).
Many journalists and others have asked me whether I have a prediction on what the outcome will be, and also what I think it will mean if OOXML is approved. I don’t have an answer to the first question, as there are too many countries involved, and too much may change until the last minute. But I do have an answer to the second question, and that answer is the same one that I have given every time that a new decision point has loomed in the ongoing quest for a useful format standard that can bring competition and innovation back to the desktop, as well as ensure that the history and creativity of today will remain accessible far into the future.
That answer is this: if anyone had asked me to predict in August of 2005 (the date of the initial Massachusetts decision that set the ODF ball rolling) how far ODF might go and what impact it might have, I would never have guessed that it would have gone so far, and had such impact, in so short a period of time. I think it’s safe to say that whatever happens with the OOXML vote is likely to have little true impact at all on the future success of ODF compliant products.
Here are ten reasons why I believe this prediction will be borne out.
With fewer than 48 hours to go throughout most of the world, only a small percentage of the 87 countries that voted last summer on OOXML have announced whether they will stand by, or change, the votes that they cast during the original six month voting period. To my knowledge, only one National Body (NB) has formally announced a change of vote thus far (Czechia has changed from "disapprove" to "approve"). Pamela Jones earlier today posted an informal report that Kenya, a P member, has switched its vote from "approve" to "abstain." And Pamela also reported that Cuba has not only announced a "disapproval" vote, but that it's earlier vote to approve was incorrectly registered, placing it in a unique category of its own. In yet another category can be found reports that a committee has recommended one action or another, but is not itself the committee that is able to make the final decision for the NB (the United Kingdom is an example).
All other reports, official and informal, of which I am aware are to the effect that the prior vote will stand, including the United States (approve), Brazil and India (both disapprove). And I've now learned that Germany can be added to the "no change" category as well, although the vote was not only very close, but, as has become almost more the expected rather than the unusual, was also unique to the circumstances and decisions made within the NB committee about what options would be permitted in the vote. The following is the message that I received a few hours ago from a German expert that I know personally who sits on the relevant DIN (the German standards body) committee:
As regular readers will have noticed, I haven’t blogged in awhile. This is in part because I’m on the road for most of six weeks, but also because the news about OOXML continues to be both more predictable as well as more intense. At some point, the single events of the day become less individually meaningful, because they are simply part of the same fractal pattern that has replicated itself over and over since September of 2005, when Massachusetts adopted ODF, putting document standards on many powerful companies’ strategic maps. Since then, that pattern has spread dramatically, engulfing more companies, affecting more National Bodies in more countries, and invoking more campaigning on both sides. Only rarely is something now written or said that cuts through this fog of war. A few days ago in South Africa, someone did just that, and that’s what I’ve written about today.