I was a bit surprised to see the news recently that Open Forum Europe is working with some large US-based technology vendors to put on an event in the same building as the upcoming BRM for DIS 29500, on the same dates as the BRM. An anti-BRM, if you will. This event has absolutely nothing to do with the standards process, and appears to have been hastily thrown together to coincide with the BRM. They've even sent emails to national bodies involved in the BRM, encouraging the BRM delegates to attend their event.
Wow. If this isn't an attempt to exert undue influence on the standards process, it's hard to imagine what is.
Who are these people?
A logical question to ask is "who's putting on this event, and why?" At a glance, it looks like the major participants are Open Forum Europe, IBM and Google. (See here for details.)
I'm not familiar with Open Forum Europe, so I did some looking around. It seems that they've been very active in lobbying for ODF legislative mandates, and have been consistently anti-choice when it comes to document formats.
I also came across a blog post by BRM convenor Alex Brown, in which he noted his concerns about the distraction of the anti-BRM. In the comment thread there, Alan Bell (who writes regularly for anti-Open XML lobbying organizations) said that the members of Open Forum Europe "do indeed have a position on the subject of DIS29500, they don't want it as an international standard."
Later in the same thread, OFE's chief executive Graham Taylor defended the event, saying "We have planned the Briefing so there is no conflict with BRM schedules," but apparently something has changed. The schedule for the OFE event has grown, and it now shows several days of activities including breakfast events, lunch events, evening events, and all-day seminars. To minimize distraction for the BRM delegates, they've even scheduled a free evening cruise on Lake Geneva!
Mr. Taylor goes on to offer this explanation of the goals of the anti-BRM (which he copied word-for-word from OFE's web site):
" ... we have been strong proponents of a single Open Document Exchange Format. We have been supportive of the continuing development of ODF, and we have grave concerns on both OOXML itself, the market need claimed (and the resulting market confusion and costs), and the fast track process undertaken by Ecma/ISO in respect of it. The BRM only covers one aspect of those concerns and we will continue to work to ensure that the full picture is adequately debated and understood at all levels."
So if I'm following him correctly, he's concerned that the BRM has too narrow of a focus (i.e., merely discussing the technical comments and proposed dispositions, as required by the open standards process), and OFE is going to helpfully "work to ensure that the full picture is adequately debated."
Another participant in the anti-BRM is IBM's Bob Sutor, who will have a busy schedule as a panelist and workshop leader in several of the events making up the anti-BRM. IBM's agenda regarding the DIS 29500 standards process is pretty clear, and Sutor himself has said that he believes ISO "needs reform" on his blog recently. In that same post, he offers this stern warning to those attending the BRM:
Delegations need to decide now how they will pay for the costs of traveling to the meeting. Rest assured that this will be tightly scrutinized. That is, I expect the international community will demand a full accounting of who paid for what and exactly what the relationship is to the delegate.
Well, Bob, you can "rest assured" that many people are interested in knowing more about the anti-BRM, too. Who's paying the bills? For example, which of the sponsors of this event are paying for the cruise on Lake Geneva? And what is the position of those sponsors regarding the international standards process that's taking place across the hall? Neutral and disinterested? Or clearly and consistently biased regarding the work of the BRM?
Who's the target audience?
Another logical question to ask is "who do they expect to attend this event?" Let's face it, a quickly thrown together event in Geneva in the winter, during a week when the city is already busy with trade shows and other events, isn't going to attract many attendees from far away. (If you've talked to any of the BRM delegates who are trying to find hotel rooms, you know what I'm talking about.)
The target audience for this event, though, seems to be people who will already be in Geneva: the BRM delegates. They've marketed the event to BRM delegates (via email to national bodies), and they even have a special page of information for BRM delegates, which offers these thoughts:
"National Bodies will need to base their final voting on OOXML not just on the technical outcomes of the BRM, but also on a much wider set of non-technical issues ... BRM delegates are therefore welcome, and indeed encouraged, to take full advantage of the OFE programme ... Throughout Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, OFE is arranging for key experts to be available out of BRM hours (over breakfast, lunch, breaks, evening) for private one-to-one informal meetings."
If I understand that correctly, they're saying, in essence, "if you BRM delegates are confused about how to best represent the needs of your country, we have experts standing by who can tell you what to think."
Is the anti-BRM really an appropriate activity that shows respect for open standards? I'd hate to think that we're entering an age when it will be seen as perfectly normal for vendors opposed to a particular standard to schedule events at the same location where international standards bodies are working, and offer to counsel the participants between working sessions. As I said earlier, if that's not a deliberate attempt to exert undue influence, I can't imagine what is.
Meanwhile, the BRM next door will provide an interesting counterpoint: a true debate, with countries being represented instead of corporations, all points of view included, and discussions focused on technical details instead of rumors and innuendo. There are 87 countries that have taken the DIS 29500 standards process very seriously, and the representatives of dozens of those countries have made plans to attend the BRM in Geneva to represent their needs and work with one another to discuss and decide on technical details of the DIS 29500 specification. In my opinion, OFE's anti-BRM is a demonstration of disrespect for each and every one of those people, as well as ISO/IEC and the whole concept of consensus-based international standards.
After all the FUD that has been spread around suggesting that his process has been hijacked I was amazed when I first discovered this event was being organized in the way that it is, simply amazed.
FYI, I've heard from some people that the link to the programme for the OFE event stopped working since I posted this, so I've uploaded a copy here for everyone's convenience. The link seems live again on their site at the moment but was dead a few minutes ago, so I'm not sure what happened.
Wow, that looks like quite a conference. Unfortunately I'll miss most of it with BRM duties and everything. But it is hard to see anything wrong with it. Free choice is only valuable to the extent it is informed choice, and informed choice requires freedom of speech, and the freedom to associate.
But I do applaud OFE's cleverness. A few weeks ago Microsoft flew journalists from around the world out to Washington for a briefing on OOXML. And now the OFE, well, they manage to benefit from Microsoft flying NB delegates from around the world to a BRM where there just happens to be a conference on standards giving a different view. In all fairness I think OFE should be thanking Microsoft for the travel subsidy they are giving the conference participants!
What is really funny is that the website http://www.openforumeurope.org/geneva tries to load the MSXML ActiveX component.
That has just got to be a bad joke....
yes the server seems to have gone down with all the hits it was getting - respect!
Hey Rob, why do you say Microsoft is "flying delegates from around the world to a BRM?" Do you have evidence that Microsoft is flying any person other than a Microsoft employee to the BRM? Or is that more FUD?
What is even less funny is the subtitle 'open competative choice for IT users', but isn't their program *not* not have any choice and use ODF as the one true ring?
Rob - I fear that you are being disingenuous at best, and ignorant at worse (or vis versa). Given the OFE's composition and the agenda for this event, it appears that IBM is driving the OFE. And in examining your and your company's opposition to OOXML, and the timing, location and agenda of the OFE... well most will easily draw the same conclusion. Moreover equating a unilateral press conference that Microsoft may have had in Seattle with IBM trying to undermine and co-opt a world wide standards event seems inappropriate. Finally, your unfounded allegations that Microsoft is flying NB delegates are eggregious. If you are really Rob Weir from IBM, you may be crossing lines that should not be crossed. Slim
Wow, Slim, you make some pretty serious accusations for someone hiding behind an alias.
I was wondering, as an IBM employee, do you think this OFE event is appropriate?
I was thinking it would be interesting to hear what Sun, Google, and all these other non-IBM vendors have to say, since it makes it very clear this isn't some kind of "IBM thing".
Interesting indeed Ed, but you are evading my question (is giving evasive answers an element of the management training you took part in?).
So again I ask, as an IBM employee, do you think this OFE event is appropriate?
I'm not aware that Sun is involved with the OFE event, but I agree it would be interesting to hear whether Google believes this is an appropriate event, or just something they got involved in for "end justifies the means" reason.
I take it from yours and Rob's non-answers that IBM's position on the ethics of this event is "no comment"?
@Ed, perhaps you can also confirm who pays for the boat-trip. I'd love to take one too, but Microsoft hasn't yet been forthcoming with boat-trips for persuading ISO votes to their favor.
Oops, I typed Sun when I meant Opera in this case. I am used to having to explain in the last few days that this isn't an "IBM" thing. This seems like a multi-vendor-sponsored event, like so many others in our industry.
@Wouter re boat trip -- there are plenty of conferences and events, even free ones, all over the world that vendors such as IBM, Microsoft, whomever sponsor that include a recreational element. I even got to see the B-52s at an MS Exchange conference once.