a 'mooh' point

clearly an IBM drone

Crucial days in Denmark - behind the curtains

Wow - this week has been truly 1800-UNBELIEVABLE (to use the phrasing of Andrew Dice Clay). Almost a week ago we sat down in the Danish National Comittee to try to reach consensus about a guidance to Dansk Standard to help them decide the Danish vote of DIS 29500. As reported by Dansk Standard in their press-release, we failed to do so.

Dansk Standard: After the Ballot Resolution Group meeting the committee was unable to reach consensus as to whether it was decided to incorporate all Danish comments into the final standard. Another point of disagreement was the state of maturity of ISO/IEC DIS 29500 OOXML as an ISO/IEC standard.

The meeting took the better part of 8 hours and was, at least to me, extremely tough and exhausting. I am sure we all know the feeling and energy-level after pulling an all-nighter at work, and as the sun rises in the morning, the team decides to go home, catch a few hours of sleep and meet again for lunch. The feeling you have when you step out of the building in the cold morning air - this was exactly how I felt when the meeting was done. Add to this the sensation that "I'm not sure we're gonna make it after all". It was not good. This was Wednesday evening. On Thursday evening the mood was remarkably better since during the day, we had come to the conclusion that is was not that bad after all and that we had done everything we could - given the circumstances at the meeting.

The only thing regarding consensus we could agree on was this (my translation):

The committee requests that Dansk Standard, as best as they possibly can, honors the technical work that the committee has done. The committee asks that Dansk Standard takes note of the fact that the committee did not reach a consensus regarding if Denmark should change its vote on March 29th 2008.

Friday - damn! I had actually expected the anti-OOXML-mob to perform a DOS-attack on the process during the last 14 days before the ISO/IEC deadline. Surprisingly, this did not happen. Well, in Denmark it happened on Friday morning. Dansk Standard had promised to notify the committee by email before making their decision public - but they had said nothing about when. So Friday was quite an anxitious day. It began with an interview with Morten Messerschmidt (Dansk Folkeparti), where he basically told Dansk Standard to maintain the original "Dissaprove"-vote if no consensus could be reached. The debate on the two primary IT-websites in Denmark increased during the morning hours and information from the meeting began to leak to the media. Countless emails were exchanged between delegates from the BRM to figure out what was happening on a global scale. At 12.10 the email arrived in my mailbox.

The rest, you could say, is history.

Almost immediately the conspiracy-theories started to flow and the influx of leaked (and sometimes false information) information increased. Even before the announcement it was obvious to me, that the anti-OOXML-lobby, in case they lost, would attack the process and I was sadly correct. Within minutes after the announcement, they started attacking Dansk Standard. Friday afternoon the vice director of Dansk Standard, Jesper Jerlang, was interviewed and he denied any allegations that the process was not carried out in a proper manner. He commented on a couple of things in the interview. First he commented on the basis of changing the Danish vote:

Background-inf: Denmark had 168 comments that we went to Geneva to fight for. All these comments were approved (with one, small, outstanding issue) and will become part of the IS 29500, if it is accepted.

Jesper Jerlang: So even though there is no consensus as to whether the 168 suggestions have been fully implemented, we believe that we are so well on the way that the demands for an approval have been met

He also commented on the process, saying that (my translation):

Jesper Jerlang: So even though there is no consensus that all 168 comments have been fully implemented, we believe that we have come so far, that the conditions for an approval has been met

One of the flanks of criticisme has been whether undue influence by major companies had taken place, and he had the following to say about this (my translation)

Jesper Jerlang: There has been a lot of political focus on the process, but the process was carried out completely by the rules, so there has been no deviations. Vi have naturally taken care of that the discussion was focused on the content and not the process, but it is clear, that there is commercial politics in this matter, and it is also the reason that the committee, at the final hour, does not reach consensus - but we knew this from the beginning: That at this point, there would be to sides that would each one fight for their views. This is why we have made a great effort to manage the process by the rules, so that we have been complety comfortable saying, that on the basis of the process we have been through, we have been able to decide how we best take care of the Danish interests, as they are written in the list of comments from the committee

So what do we do now? Well, first we await the final tally from ISO/IEC and then, regardless of the out-come, we all get back to work. In Dansk Standard we continue with the next subjects at hand, most prominently ODF v1.2, should OASIS decide to do this in ISO.

Oooh - and the blame-game will likely continue for a couple of weeks.

Smile

Post-decision after-math

Today the Danish NSB (Dansk Standard) changed their vote from ”Disagree” to ”Approve”. I will be honest and note that I did not see that coming. The process and the debate in Denmark have been extremely complicated and tough and especially after the final meeting in the Danish sub-committee, where we failed to reach a consensus on a recommendation to Dansk Standard, I was very pessimistic. Luckily I was proved wrong when I got the email with the new vote of Denmark.

It is difficult to conclude much without breaking the confidentiality rules of the committee work, but let me share a couple thoughts and feelings running my brain right now.

I think that we can conclude nothing but that our strategy proved to be the right one. We have consistently focused on the technicalities of the debates and we have insisted that the discussions taken place should be about the technical merits and basis of OOXML – not the commercial- nor software-political angle that some wanted to impose on us. We have insistently argued that claims about “lack of interoperability” and “impossible to implement by anyone other than Microsoft” should be backed by technical arguments. We have insistently demanded that the technical work in the Danish mirror-committee should be – technical – and not a discussion of who has the bigger one.

So not alone am I glad that Dansk Standard listened to us and changed their vote and I am proud to have been a part of the process. I am also proud that Denmark has confirmed, that “yes”, it is important to us that Denmark has a formal influence on the development and maintenance of the file format of the Microsoft Office productivity suite; a productivity suite that handles most of the electronic documents in the Danish public sector. We have that influence in ISO – it would be gone in ECMA (and OASIS for that matters). This is to me not a small thing.

Let me close by thanking all the companies and organizations that took part in the work in Denmark. It has been a pleasure to work with all of them (well, some more than others), and I would like to especially thank IBM for all their hard work on improving the specification. I sincerely believe that we all owe them a great amount of thanks for the state and quality of OOXML today. I would also like to thank Dansk Standard for their work. Much like Alex Brown they were faced with an impossible task at hand – but they managed to make sure that the opinion of everyone at the table was heard and accounted for. They really stepped up to the task.

(and now I hear the music start to play …)

I’ll see you all in the blog-sphere … and keep your fingers crossed that Denmark was not the only country to change its vote. It’s not over ‘till the fat lady sings …

This just in: Denmark votes Yes!

I will update shortly, but the press release is available at http://www.ds.dk/4225 .

OOXML "T minus 14 dage"

Slutspillet omkring OOXML er i disse dage virkeligt gået ind i sin sidste fase og det er tydeligt, at nerverne begynder at sidde lidt udenpå tøjet. Det er næsten som de sidste 10 minutter af dette års SuperBowl imellem New England Patriots og New York Giants, hvor spændingen også næsten var uudholdelig. Udtrykket "May you live in interesting times" kommer virkeligt til sin ret.

Det er måske derfor passende at lave en opsummering af, hvad der er sket i det sidste års tid:

I december 2006 godkendte ECMA dokumentformatet OOXML som ECMA-standard (376) og indsendte den et par uger senere til ISO via den såkaldte Fast-Track procedure. Der var herefter en 30-dages "contradiction period" hvor de enkelte lande kunne fx redegøre for, om OOXML var i modstrid med andre ISO-standarder og om der var andre ting, der kunne diskvalificere OOXML og dens anvendelse af FT-proceduren. ISOs JTC1-sekretariat afgjorde i april 2007, at det ikke var tilfældet. Omkring dette tidspunkt udlagde Dansk Standard (DS) OOXML til offentlig høring og bad om branchens input til den. Dette resulterede i omkring 500 indvendinger i alt.

Herefter var der en 5-måneders afstemningsperiode, hvori debatten om OOXML fandt sted. Der kom en masse indvendinger imod standarden - både tekniske og politiske argumenter og disse lagde i store træk grundlaget for beslutningerne i de lande, der ønskede at stemme om OOXML i september 2007. I den periode deltog jeg via min arbejdsgiver CIBER i arbejdet i DS med at behandle alle indvendingerne. Det har været et hårdt - men også utroligt interessant arbejde at deltage i. Afstemingsperioden sluttede med, at hvert land valgte den stemme, som passede dem bedst. Danmark valgte "Dissaprove, with comments" og understregede, at skulle de danske kommentarer blive adresseret på passende vis, ville Danmark ændre sin stemme til et "Approve". Jeg støtter fuldt, at Danmark stemte "Dissaprove, with comments" i september 2007. Danmark ledsagede sin stemme med 168 kommentarer til standarden.

Det samlede resultat af afstemningen var, at OOXML ikke blev godkendt i ISO.

Hvis en afstemning om en standard falder i ISO, er ISO sådan indrettet, at der planlægges et "Ballot Resolution Meeting" (BRM), hvor man vil tale om, hvorvidt man kan rette nogle ting i standarden for at få nogle lande til at skifte deres stemme til et "Approve" eller "Abstain". Efter afstemingen begyndte ISO/IEC så at gennemgå de samlede kommentarer - der var 3522 i alt. Disse blev "kogt ned" til 1027 dispositioner, der udgjorde forslagsstillers (ECMAs) svar på det konkrete spørgsmål. I løbet af efteråret 2007 er disse dispositioner blevet sendt til de enkelte nationale råd og de er her blevet behandlet. I Dansk Standard har vi løbende fra oktober 2007 til februar 2008 behandlet disse svar og har været i dialog med ECMA omkring de svar, som vi ikke mente var gode nok.

I sidste uge af februar 2008 blev BRM-mødet afholdt i Geneve og Dansk Standard deltog i mødet for at varetage de danske interesser bedst muligt. Det var en meget hård uge, og de fleste af os var ret udmattede fredag eftermiddag, hvor mødet sluttede. Mødets formål var at tage stilling til konkrete ændringer til den oprindelige tekst og det var altså ikke et møde, hvor der direkte eller indirekte blev taget stilling til standarden i sig selv. Dette blev understreget af, at de enkelte landes delegationer arbejdede konstruktivt sammen omkring de enkelte emner - uanset om de var imod- eller for OOXML. Udfaldet af mødet blev, at godt og vel 98% af samtlige 1027 dispositioner blev godkendt - herunder alle de danske. Der var i ugen efter BRM heftig kritik og debat om udfaldet, men heldigvis er det nu faldet til ro, og der er efterhånden konsensus om, at alle regler blev overholdt. Der er i skrivende stund ikke indgivet nogen klager over selve processen.

Men hvad så nu?

I Dansk Standard er næste møde berammet til 26. marts, og her skal vi tale om, hvorvidt vi skal ændre vores stemme fra "Dissaprove" til noget andet. Det bliver et spændende møde, og jeg ser frem til nogle gode diskussioner til mødet. Målet er, som Dansk Standard skriver, at opnå en eller anden form for konsensus om, hvad Dansk Standard anbefales at gøre.

Indtil da sker der ikke så meget på formelt plan i Dansk Standard, så vi kan jo følge med i, hvad Morten Messerschmidt og Helge Sander finder ud af med konkurrencestyrelsens undersøgelse af konsekvensen af beslutningsforslaget B103 fra marts 2006.

Smile 

Why ISO-approval of OOXML is not an option

Now that the BRM has been done for about a week, I can't help but think back on what has happened in the past 9 months - the BRM was a pretty big mile-stone. It has been a crazy time and a crazy process to be a part of ... especially since the way the world usually works has been turned upside-down. On one side we have Microsoft making the file format of their Microsoft Office Suite publically available, thus being "open", and on the other side we have the OSS-community yelling "We don't want it, since it is too much like the internal format of your Microsoft Office Suite".

One of the first major mile-stones was when the EU-Commission in 2004 asked Microsoft to submit the file format of the Microsoft Office product line to an international standards body. Now, when the EU-Commission asks you for something, it is generally really just a polite way to say: "You must" ... much like when a police officer wakes you up outside of a bar and says: "You really should go home now".

IDABC: Microsoft should consider the merits of submitting XML formats to an international standards body of their choice;

So Microsoft did what they were told - they submitted their file format to first ECMA and then ISO. They didn't start from scratch and make the mother of all generic file formats - they took the file format of their Microsoft Office Suite and made it publically available for everyone to use. Essentially they said: "This is what we use - now you can use it too".

I have often been accused of being too gullable by those opposing OOXML - especially those that don't trust Microsoft as far as they can throw them. Sadly, they just don't get it

I'm not advocating ISO-approval of OOXML because I trust Microsoft to do the right thing -  I am advocating ISO-approval of OOXML because we as society cannot afford the possibility of Microsoft not doing the right thing

Microsoft opponents should actually be the ones screaming "Microsoft, put OOXML in ISO - we don't trust you". Instead they say "Microsoft. we don't trust you - kep your file format to yourself". I'm sorry, but I don't understand this. Rick Jellife has advocated that all protocols, APIs and document formats of major players in a given industry should be made part of the public domain (Rick, I have been trying to find the blog-entry where you mentioned this, but unsuccessful. If you (or anyone selse) have it, please send it to me and I'll update this article) (update: I found it myself). I agressively second this notion. We should not only encourage ISO-approval OOXML (and other important file formats) - we should demand it. This is what the EU-Commission wisely did.  In contrast to the American way of letting the marked decide what to do (my American friends, please take note of this) - the EU-Commission said that it is totally unacceptable that the file format of the Office Suite with a 95% install base is out of reach of governments, NGOs, competing companies etc. I totally agree. We want it to be defined and maintained in a forum, where we have a say - and that forum is the ISO. Rob Weir is correct when he on Tim Bray's blog said "IMHO, this really isn't a question of whether OOXML should exist or not. OOXML is here, just like the binary formats before". But he shows a slight lack of understanding of the big picture in his next sentense where he says: "The question is whether OOXML should be given ISO standard status in addition to being an Ecma standard.".

Rob seems to be under the impression that ISO-approval is some kind of quality badge of honor that you can proudly carry around. First of all, I think we can all agree that ODF itself is a clear example that ISO-approval not necessarily implies quality, interoperability and clearness. Secondly, how the specification was made is not the first priority when talking ISO-approval. The first priority should be:

We need to take control of OOXML out of the hands of Microsoft and back into society as a whole

This was imho the focal point of Patrick Durusau's support of DIS 29500 approval. Amongst other things he said that

Patrick Durusau: The cost of rejection is that ordinary users, governments, smaller interests, all lose a seat at the table where the next version of the Office standard is being written

This is my point!

Let's talk ISO-approval first - then quality. This is a whole new approach of ISO-usage (at least within IT), where we as society demand proprietary formats, APIs and protocols to be put in ISO - because the costs to society of not doing so are simply too big. We should use ISO as a tool to gain greater insight and control of important parts of the IT infrastructure. We need it in ISO, since IS's members are countries and not companies. This is our turf!

Some might say "hey, Microsoft will never abide by the format put in ISO - they'll simply extend it". Well, we should demand something else of them. We should do as the Danish Government wisely chose last year: A procurement requirement saying that new software must support, in our case, ODF and OOXML. Stop talking about applications - start talking about file formats! The bottom line of the Danish decision is that if Microsoft Office doesn't follow the rules of OOXML, it will either not be bought or not upgraded to. Microsoft Office being Microsoft's #1 revenue stream - they will not be able to ignore this. So to enhance competition we need to do two things:

  1. Demand that e.g. a file format is put in ISO
  2. Demand that the applications conform to this format

 

That should be our focus - and not trashing and badmouthing the competing format. In his latest article, Patrick Durusau tells a story of an angry Russian pessant.

One evening, through a cold miserable rain, a hungry Russian peasant was walking home. A luminous being appeared in their path. "Please! If you will make one wish, it will free me from my prison!" The genie pointed to an oddly shaped lamp on the side of the path. "Wish for anything you want, food, power, wealth, ..., anything!" The peasant grunted, "I wish my neighbor's cow would die," as he pushed past the genie to continue home.

The strategy behind NOOXML strikes me as being quite similar to that of the Russian peasant. It seeks nothing that would benefit itself, no new product to sell to customers, no new service to serve as a revenue stream. It is simply a wish that "...my neighbors cow would die."

Come on, guys ... let's move on! Let's stop bitching about the file formats and their differences and let's start doing what we all love the most - building applications on top of them.

Smile

... which brings me back to the headline of this article:

ISO-approval of OOXML is not just an option - it really should be a requirement. 

BRM resolution documents now available

The BRM resolution documents are now publically available from the JTC1-SC34 website.

Take a look at them on

http://www.itscj.ipsj.or.jp/sc34/open/0989.pdf

http://www.itscj.ipsj.or.jp/sc34/open/0990.pdf 

Smile

Patrick Durusau supports approval of DIS 29500

Now, this is one of the times where I realize that all of us supporting OOXML in ISO are not complete morons ... even though it is the point of view of many of the participants. Patrick Durusau has now openly stated his position on OOXML in ISO, which is: Welcome to the party!

I am sure everyone supporting OOXML in ISO will run around in the next days chearing their heads of ... and that the anti-OOXML-wolf-pack will do the same ... but more in the way of "chicken without a head".

Please read the statement from Patrick Durusau yourself - let me just make this small quote:

That point of agreement is that everyone at the table was heard. That may not seem like a lot to an Oracle or IBM, but name the last time Microsoft was listening to everyone in a public and international forum? At a table where a standard for a future product was being debated by non-Microsoft groups?

Smile

BRM aftermath

Sitting in the airport in Geneva waiting for my home-bound fight I finally have a couple of hours to do nothing but reflect on what happened through last week.

It truly has been a magnificent week. About 120 people from a bit more than 35 countries from around the world participated in the technical discussion in improving the OOXML-spec (DIS 25000). It was a monstrous task and I think we all felt a bit nervous on the first day – at least I can see Tim Bray was as nervous as I. The task at hand – to reach consensus on the 1000 odd responses from ECMA – was an impossible task given the 5 working days we had, so I was anxious to find out what the convener Alex Brown had up his sleeve. We, the delegates at the BRM, have naturally been talking a great deal in the corridors between sessions, in the hotel lobbies and everywhere else we got together about how to solve this “Gordian knot” and countless emails have been exchanged between us about this very subject. We have also talked a lot about this afterwards and have tried to do some evaluations on the process chosen by the BRM. It is always nice to do this – hind-sight is 20/20-vision.

Smile

Let me also note that I was deeply impressed about the technical level of the delegates. We had some really good and in-depth discussions during the week. Countries that particularly impressed me were Canada, UK, USA, Germany, Israel and The Czech Republic. I appologize to those I forgot.

I think the process chosen was the best process given the circumstances. All alternatives were in my opinion worse than the one chosen – and I think it is important to emphasize that the process was chosen by the BRM and not chosen for the BRM. The way the BRM works is normally this: When a DIS fails it is evaluated if the countries voting had a desire to approve the specification – but that they didn’t feel the specification was good enough. If this is the case a BRM is scheduled and the purpose of the BRM is to improve the specification so that the countries can change their vote from “No” to “Yes” (or any other way). The result of the BRM is a list of improvements or changes to the DIS. These improvements have to be presented and approved (preferably by consensus) by the BRM itself. So the rules governing the BRM essentially meant this: If a piece of text is not presented to the BRM, it cannot get approved and hence incorporated into the failed DIS. A side note is that at the BRM the member-status of SC34 does not count, so O-members are not treated differently than P-members (at least that was my understanding).

When talking to the other delegates we more or less agreed that the number of Responses not dealt with would be something in the area of 800-850 in total. So we basically had two choices:

  • Do nothing
  • Do something

The BRM chose to do something. We didn’t all agree to what to do and as it has been reported all over the blog-sphere, most parts of a whole day was spent discussing what to do. I think most of the delegates disliked the position we were put in – but regardless of this we were in this situation whether we liked it or not. We had to do something.

That “something” was to do a vote on each of the remaining responses from ECMA. It was not a bulk-vote as reported on various sites – it was a vote on each and every single response.

I will not comment on what individual countries (including my own) voted and their reasons for it, but it seemed to be from discussing this, that the various reasons given for a specific vote fell into these categories:

  • We think the responses from ECMA are generally an improvement to the DIS and therefore we approve all responses not dealt with during the BRM
  • As a principle we cannot do anything but disapprove responses that have not been dealt with
  • We think the BRM is about reaching consensus and this vote bypasses this process and we therefore disapprove  all responses we haven’t dealt with
  • We will vote “yes” or “no” to those responses we have a qualified opinion about and we will abstain on the rest. This effectively means that the “fate” of these responses is left to those countries that actually have an opinion on them
  • We don’t want to participate in this vote at all

… and the rest, as they say, is history.

Smile

Within minutes of after Friday 29th of February at 17:00 rumors started to flow that “The BRM failed” or “ISO failed”. I honestly disagree to this. We were facing an impossible task but we dealt with it according to the purpose of the BRM: To change and improve the DIS. There is really nothing more to say about it. Now the national bodies can sit down and look at the result of the BRM and see if the DIS is now in a position to be approved. That process has always been aside to the BRM itself and whatever was voted on and how the votes were distributed is really not relevant in terms of approving the DIS. The DIS is now what it is and that is what is to be decided 29 days from now.

And now for a few quotes from inside the BRM:

“We need a precise definition of inaccuracy”

“The <country omitted> would like to note that there are actually ‘normal’ people that don’t speak English natively”

“Convener: <country omitted>, you had a comment?
Country: I have absolutely no idea“

Smile

(and now my plane is delayed for at least two hours)

Namedropping in Geneva

So - that was it ... it really was. The BRM ended a bit less than an hour ago and I am now back at my hotel. I have previously been accused of name-dropping too much, but I'm glad to be able to say, that I have now been name-dropped. At least Dough Mahugh was kind enough to mention me yesterday before rambling about burning his suit. It has been a pleasure to work with all these 120 people frm 37 countries in the last week and it has been great to finally get to meet Rob Weir, Tim Bray, Charlez H. Schultz (who attended the OFE-meetings down-stairs) and of course Alex Brown.

I will be back with more info lter this weekend ... when I am no longer as sleep-deprived as now.

Smile

I love BRM

 

 

Thanks to the Portugeese delegation Smile