Updated: The vote did fail. Further details are here.
With the polls now closed and the early results in (some public, some not), think it's time to predict with assurance that ISO will announce tomorrow that ISO/IEC DIS 29500, the draft specification based upon Microsoft’s Office Open XML formats, has failed to achieve enough yes votes to gain approval at this time. This, with all due respect to the contrary prediction of The Old Gray Lady and US Paper of Record, the New York Times.
The final vote has been a moving target for some time, and for a variety of reasons. In most cases, the dynamism in the vote has been as a result of various types of behavior by Microsoft, both alleged as well as, in some cases, admitted. In one case, that behavior led to the Swedish national vote being thrown out and replaced with an abstention, after it became apparent that one company voted more than once (Microsoft admitted that an employee had sent a memo urging business partners to join the National Body and vote to approve, and assuring them that their related fees would be offset by Microsoft marketing incentives).
These actions have not only undercut the credibility of the system, but appear to have finally resulted in the sort of backlash that I have been predicting for some time. In at least one National Body, I am told that what had been trending towards a "yes" vote swung late last week to a "no," largely in reaction to the pressure that was being asserted against the members of the National Body and the widespread reports of similar behavior (and worse) elsewhere.
While I have repeatedly inveighed against the damage done to the standard setting system during this process, I think that the final vote is a sort of validation for the essential integrity and resilience of that system. Clearly, OOXML is a specification that was not ready for prime time, and in National Body after National Body, whether they voted yes or no, long lists of comments – some hundreds of pages long – were appended.
Rather than simply voting "no," these National Bodies played by the rules, and did what they are supposed to do: they took the time (a lot of time, given the length of the OOXML specification), during an unfairly brief period, to do what Microsoft and Ecma should have done to begin with, and didn’t: properly vetted the specification to make sure that if it is offered to the world with the blessing of ISO/IEC JTC1, that it has met minimum quality standards to be entitled to bear that designation.
One could easily conclude that this amount of scrutin is more than OOXML deserved: a specification that did not utilize existing standards as it should; a specification that was rammed through with a focus only on speed and not quality; a specification that was promoted using every lever and trick in the book; and finally, a specification that was subjected to voting in many countries under circumstances that made a mockery of alll of the diligent work performed by those that had sweated their way through all 6,000 plus pages. In contast, the admittedly shorter, but still lengthy ODF specification, which was several years in the making in OASIS, resulted in so few comments that a Ballot Resolution Meeting was not even needed.
Microsoft is now trying to put the best face on the changes that will need to be made, speaking as if this is simply business as usual. As Microsoft’s ever-cheerful Stepford architect, Brian Jones, wrote at his blog a few days ago:
I haven’t seen any comments so far that should prove too challenging, but I haven’t seen the final list yet. With the number of countries participating I wouldn’t be surprised if we got somewhere in the neighborhood of 10,000 comments total. Many of these will be duplicates, but either way there will be a lot of comments to work though. I think that once we hit the ballot resolution meeting in February we’ll see a significantly improved spec thanks to all the eyeballs reviewing it.
To speak approvingly of 10,000 comments (with duplicates) as if this was a good thing rather than a source for profound embarrassment is, to me, rather astonishing. How so many comments will be addressed satisfactorily in a mere week of meetings will be something interesting indeed to behold – as long as one is not tasked with the chore of actually resolving them all.
So there we are. It’s been a long hard road, and we are from the end of it yet. But this was a crucial, "must have" result, and I think that all of those that have labored so hard for so long to prevent a second rubber stamp of the OOXML specification should take a moment to feel good about what they have accomplished. If OOXML is ever to become an official ISO/IEC standard, it is far more likely now than before that it will be worthy of that name.
Congratulations – and thanks – to all.
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