a 'mooh' point

clearly an IBM drone

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.


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.


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“


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

Comments (10) -

Hi Jesper, I am posting from a kiosk at the Geneva airport and have been here for nearly 8 hours now.  I hope you are headed for home -- it looks like I may be spending the night in Copenhagen.

I agree with your take on the BRM.  And I hope that over time we'll see enough posts from those who were actually in the room that it will bring some sanity to the discussion.  It's unfortunate about all of the travel delaysaround Europe this weekend, because I think that has caused a limited amount of blog participation from those who were actualy there ... we're all just trying to get home.

According to some unofficial voting results presented by OOXML opponents I have seen, the Danes even voted twice Wink

Nice post Jesper,

As regards the form voting solution we chose, it's worth noting perhaps that NO country disapproved adopting it...

- Alex.

Hi Jesper,

I would really like a straight answer to this question: Please help me out! On the Open Malaysia blog, Yoon Kit says "...if any changes affected current implementations it would certainly be rejected". Was this also your understanding?

My reason for asking is this: (as I understand it) the proposed management plan for ISO29500 pretty much gives Microsoft ownership of the standard, with ECMA in a secretarial role and ISO wielding a rubber stamp. This makes me nervous. Microsoft publicly states that OOXML will be open, collaborative, and inclusive; but if there have already been moves to prevent the standard from deviating from Microsoft's ECMA376 implementation, then I would take it as an indication that inclusiveness will not be a priority for them in future.

I'd really welcome any thoughts you may have on my theory.


As regards the form voting solution we chose, it's worth noting perhaps that NO country disapproved adopting it...

Thanks for your comment. The informatio you provide was actually one of the things I decided not to disclose as I thought I'd cross the line.

I am happy though, that you did instead.

As Rob(Weir) pointed out on his blog, I support his view on you and Gabriel doing a fantastic job at governing the BRM.


According to some unofficial voting results presented by OOXML opponents I have seen, the Danes even voted twice
Yeah - well, we didn't even see it coming. The Danes are a bunch of subtle, clever sons of bitches.



On the Open Malaysia blog, Yoon Kit says "...if any changes affected current implementations it would certainly be rejected". Was this also your understanding?
I do not agree with Yoon Kits statement as covering the whole BRM and that everything has to be checked according to ECMA-376. But is it true that on two occasions (that I can think of) a decision was made to leave an attribute in the transitional schema ('deprecated' is now called 'transitional'). The aim was not to please existing implementations but to avoid making existing documents non-conformant.

Yes, Rob, I agree with what Jesper said there.  There were times when we were discussing a change that might render existing documents non-conformant, and there was opposition to such changes from a variety of people in the room.

Ironically, I can remember at least one occasion where I, a Microsoft employee, argued within my delegation for breaking conformance, and another delegate, employed by a company outside the tech sector, argued against it due to concern about conformance for their existing ECMA-376 documents.

Felix Oxley

Can someone explain why the arrangements for the paper ballot could not have been agreed before the meeting so that 'almost a day' could have been saved and used for  discussing Comments and the delegations could have arrived with their ballots already filled in with responses which would apply to Comments which were not discussed in the meeting?


You should actually ask Alex Brown for this, but I think it is a formality/procedural question. The only ones that could make this decision were the participants at the BRM - and the BRM didn't start until Monday morning.


Comments are closed