Now that we're getting down to the final days of the DIS29500 standards process, it's interesting to see the tactics being used by those who have commercial interests that place them in opposition to this standard. Their tactics have changed quite a bit since the heady days of the DIS ballot period, and the most common tactic I've seen or heard of in recent weeks can be characterized as "changing the subject." It seems that there are people involved in the DIS29500 standards process (many of whom got involved quite late in the process) who want to convince various standards bodies to focus their time and efforts on a long list of proposed distractions, instead of the work at hand.
Whereas the work of evaluating a standard is technical, these proposed distractions tend to be emotional topics that are easy to convey quickly but don't shed any light on the core issues. And as the clock winds down on the DIS29500 process, some of the people who have vested interests in the outcome are really turning up the heat on the emotional topics.
A couple of supporting tactics are also used to add a multiplier effect to these efforts to derail the process. One is the tactic of dragging non-combatants into the debate without their permission. Another tactic is the longstanding Groklaw tradition of deleting comments that disagree with their statements, to reduce the risk of their claims being debunked publicly.
My colleagues Oliver Bell and Eric White have posted recently about the tactics of the anti-Open XML lobbyists, and I'd like to add a few to that list from my own experiences. Here are some examples of the sorts of things that various people are trying to convince standards bodies to think about these days, instead of the actual DIS29500 spec:
Process issues. A recurring piece of advice from some sectors is that standards bodies should change their vote to Disapprove as a statement on the Fast-Track process. Don't like the rules? Great, you can switch your vote to Disapprove without bothering to read any of the spec!
To state the obvious, each country's vote is on the DIS29500 specification and nothing more. It's not a vote on whether a BRM should allow visitors, or how the voting should be conducted, or anything else: it's a vote on whether DIS29500 should become an ISO/IEC standard. And if a country changes its vote, it should do so based on changes that have been made to the DIS29500 specification, and nothing else.
The final specification. Speaking of the final spec, another thing some people want to talk about these days is the question of whether there's a final spec available with every change already made. The anti-Open XML crowd has been trying to sell the concept that if there isn't a final spec available with every approved change already made, then countries "can't decide how to vote" and should therefore (decide to) vote Disapprove.
This one was explicitly addressed in the BRM, and it's pretty simple: the national bodies make their reconsideration decisions based on the documents that came out of the BRM.
As an ISO/IEC official explained to everyone in the BRM, there are two reasons for this approach. The first reason is that ITTF is responsible for verifying the accuracy of every change, and they don't have the resources to do this quickly. The second reason is that the process needs to be fair to all countries, and it would be unfair to have different documents available at different times during the 30-day reconsideration period. That might penalize those whose schedules required making a decision earlier in March, for example.
All national bodies have access to all of the documents describing all of the changes to be made, and that's what should form the the basis of voting decisions. If your national body has heard otherwise and needs verification of the ISO/IEC policy on this matter, they can contact ITTF directly to confirm the details. Communications directly from a national body to ISO/IEC get high priority, so that's the way to go.
Raising new technical objections. Many national bodies are being asked to consider brand-new technical objections to the DIS29500 standard, even though the 5-month period for submitting such comments concluded long ago in September. Then, when somebody points out that there is no process for resolving such comments until the future maintenance period, the lobbyists say "see, the process is broken!"
It's an easy tactic to try, because it's always possible to find a few more things that need correction in any large standard. Japan, for example, recently found a list of issues with the ISO ODF spec that has been out for a couple of years, and Brian Jones has a blog post today in which he takes a look at some of the ways common criticisms of Open XML apply equally to ODF.
The rules are pretty simple on this one: comments were submitted with the ballots (last September in this case), and any further technical concerns are addressed in maintenance. This is the way the process has always worked.
Talking about other standards, or non-standards. This one really takes the cake for pure chutzpah. Some vendors (Microsoft competitors, frankly) are going to national bodies and telling them to consider alleged problems with other standards instead of DIS29500. Sounds crazy, but it's really happening.
For example, one big US-based vendor is shopping around a list of complaints about an RFC that Microsoft has submitted to IETF as a courtesy, to make the Pack URI portion of OPC more broadly available. This isn't even a normative document, and isn't referenced in the DIS29500 specification at all, but for some reason this vendor thinks national bodies should be spending their time this week studying a Microsoft competitor's reaction to it.
Extending the reconsideration period. This is another creative tactic: telling national bodies that they should ask to have the reconsideration period extended from 30 days to some longer period of time. The advice is never a straightforward "ask ISO/IEC if there's a way to do this," but rather a more roundabout "vote Disapprove and say you might change your mind if you had more time."
This topic was discussed a year ago, and ISO/IEC have been consistently clear that the decision on DIS29500 would be reached at the end of this month. This was explicitly said in the DIS29500 session held at the JTC 1 Plenary last fall in Australia, and there is no defined procedure for ISO/IEC to extend the reconsideration period. So this advice is essentially "ask for something we know they can't do, then vote Disapprove to indicate your unhappiness about it."
Casting this as a "new vote." This is a subtle one: the claim that countries must vote again. That's not accurate: this isn't a "vote," but rather an opportunity for reconsideration of a country's position from last September based on changes that have been made to the spec, or information that the national body has received which they didn't have last September. So, for example, if a country voted Disapprove last September but many of their comments were addressed in a satisfactory way, they could now change that vote to Approve.
One thing that can cause confusion on this point is the difference between ISO/IEC and JTC 1 Fast-Track processes. DIS29500 is going through a JTC 1 Fast-Track process, and in that process there is not a final vote, only a reconsideration period during the 30 days after the BRM. But in the ISO/IEC Fast-Track process, there is another final vote, as described in the ISO/IEC Directives Part 1, Annex F.
It's quite rare for a country to shift their vote in a negative direction at the end of a JTC 1 Fast-Track process, by the way. (I think only one country has ever done that -- anyone know for sure?) The reason is obvious: if you have a BRM and make a bunch of changes or improvements that countries asked for, then the spec is probably better than before, or at the very least no worse than before.
Re-raising contradiction-period comments. This is one that's come up very often: vendors telling national bodies that they should consider the comments raised during the contradiction period (January of last year), such as the claim that DIS29500 isn't appropriate for a Fast-Track process.
These comments were raised during the contradiction period, Ecma responded as required, and ISO/IEC agreed with Ecma's responses and decided to start the 5-month DIS ballot period in early April. That's all ancient history now, but some of those working to defeat DIS29500 have gotten involved since then, and apparently don't know that.
What should a standards body do?
Some of those topics are interesting, and some are even relevant to standards work in general. But none of them can inform a voting decision on DIS29500: they're other topics that one might ponder in other contexts.
So how can standards bodies best inform their decisions on DIS29500? I think most people would agree that the best approach doesn't start with studying whatever random topic opponents of DIS29500 claim is important.
A good place to start would be to study the spec itself, and the other documents that will determine the final specification. If you're on a standards body involved in the process, you have access to all of these documents and should study them carefully:
And that's it: everything you need to study to reach a well-informed conclusion about DIS29500. You don't need to study documents prepared by big US-based vendors, web pages on lobbying sites, blog posts, IETF RFCs, or anything else. Just read and study the documents above, and you'll be among the best-informed participants in this debate.
Armed with that informed perspective, you'll be in a good position to protect your country's interests and take a long-term view of issues like interoperability, global competitiveness, job creation in the tech sector, retention and archiving considerations, and protection of existing investments. Your vote on DIS29500 will determine who will control the ongoing evolution of the standard, and whether your country has a say in that evolution.
Study the issues closely, avoid the distractions, and reach your own conclusions. This should be a rational process, not an emotional one.
Some of the opponents of Open XML have stated that because a final draft of the specification with all
Word 2007 and its successors will continue to exist.
Because of Microsoft's market share Word (in its various versions) will continue at least for a while to be the de facto standard.
It is therefore a good thing that Microsoft has made the file format available. How useful it will be will depend on Microsoft's licence and patent promises, and better minds than mine do not trust those.
However trying to force it to be ratified as an international standard without thoroughly checking *and* correcting it first is reprehensible.
Word 2007 will have to be updated (perhaps as Word 2008 or 2009) to comply with the final version of DIS29500.
DIS29500 should go through the normal channel at ISO and be turned into a well-engineered, respected and fully implementable specification. Of course logic also indicates that in this process it will probably become merged with ODF (as there is no point in having two standards for the same thing), which would be good for everyone.
Except of course, Microsoft.
Thanks guys for the attacks against Yoon Kit!
Do you feel Microsoft is losing the approval vote? It sounds very scary to me, the latest communication.
I think it is pretty good that the controversial debate opened up the dialogue in a more frank way.
We all know that the standard is highly political. You can of cause use the Nuremberg defense.
I know that Yoon Kit is technically skilled. He has a family. He is Malaysian. Doug met him at the BRM, I met him for a beer. You quickly recognize if someone is smart and worth to talk to. He is.
Last time he was accused here of writing the astonishing Kenya response. Now someone questions his technical abilities. Tut tut.
Also you cannot pretend that this was unfunny:
We are having a good time with the standardization theater. Yoon Kit is also a real entertainer.
But let me answer:
OOXML is published as an ECMA standard. Regardless what ISO says it would remain an ECMA standard. Unfortunately the specification was not ready when introduced to the fast-track. This is what someone from ECMA confirmed to me and no real news given 2300+ comments. ECMA tried to address these issues, the BRM discussed 40+ in the given time frame and bloc approved the ECMA disposition which were not that good when I gave it a closer read. However, many technical issues remain unresolved despite the great effort.
The best thing would be another BRM in 3 month or a new fast-track. Otherwise the maintenance regime would become very nasty. What is the use of approving an international standard if the spec is buggy.
Third party implementers from the Microsoft partner family do not require an ISO standard, they can go with ECMA-376. In fact a prolongation of the ISO process will be beneficial for them as it requires Microsoft to stay committed to get the ISO standard and support these partners. Note that I am here not following the fundamental rejection approach.
I know what I wrote in January. We warned: Please don't go fast-track, the spec is not ready.
As Microsoft just wants the ISO stamp we can expect them to walk away if they get it now. There is precedence for broken post-adoption promises.
One year more and we can be sure that Office will indeed implement a (fixed) version of OOXML, the spec issues and the conversion issues (cmp. our DIN committee work) can be debated and fixed.
I always saw DIS29500 as a simple negotiation process.
Hi Rob (Brown)... I am sorry if I have misinterpreted what you said; however, I am glad to hear that we agree :)
Hi Benbow… There is a common misconception that the purpose of an IS is to force people into 1 (one) standard and way of doing things. However, that is not at all the case; otherwise we would not have .jpg and .gif, etc… However, the purpose of an IS is rather to allow two entities who choose to use a specific format to agree how THAT format will/should be read and written. There is no need to merge ODF and OOXML; the reality is that businesses will continue to choose whether they create documents in ODF and/or OOXML format; it is NOT the responsibility of the ISO to force people into one standard format, but rather help regulate the formats these companies choose to adopt. Regulation by choice, not by force; I hope that we can all look back at history and see that forcing entities (or people) into something only leads to revolution, not coexistence.
Talk about mission creep!
Rob Brown has the audacity to wonder whether a standards body should
"protect your country's interests and take a long-term view of issues like interoperability, global competitiveness, job creation in the tech sector, retention and archiving considerations, and protection of existing investments"?
"determine who will control the ongoing evolution of the standard, and whether your country has a say in that evolution"
He claims they are not techy things, which is absolutely true about ALL of those except for exactly two: "interoperability" and "retention and archiving considerations", which Mr Peront rightly points out *are* a "techy" things.
Unfortunately, neither Mr. Peront nor Mr. Mahugh has really clarified how the rest crept into the SOP for a standards body. I mean, i can see how corporate members of those bodies might use those metrics to push their agendas; both politically, in the case of "creating jobs" and economically, in the case of "protection of existing investments".
For the rest of us watching from the sidelines, i'd rather you folks would focus on "interoperability".
Politically, the only other thing you should be doing is "determine who will control the ongoing evolution of the standard", but not because of the implied (and utterly ridiculous) threat of "OMG, a non-American will determine the standard", but rather, whether vendors will abuse that evolution to insure lockin, especially vendors with a long track record of that kind of abuse.
Hi Ben and all
This bit about MS blogs being free from censorship is absolute garbage.
example? The OFFICIAL MSDN SUBSCRIBER BLOG
MS recently decided that us Multi thousand dollar subscribers to MSDN were not worthy of downloading MS Home Server.
Because of the outcry, it was not long before they closed off replies, and my post did not make it.
When I made a reference to that in another post.. It was deleted as well.
In these posts the language was clean, and it was a more moderate tone than this post.
As a MS developer, the actions of the corporate body of MS repulse me (Regarding DIS29500). I seriously have to reconsider why I have hitched my horse to them.
I noticed that Google has been joining some standards committees in both Denmark and Norway as well as IBM has in Norway.
Interesting timing there...
"Another tactic is the longstanding Groklaw tradition of deleting comments that disagree with their statements, to reduce the risk of their claims being debunked publicly."
I could not find anything about Groklaw in the link you gave. Perhaps you might have had Groklaw in mind for another reason? In any case I've left a query in Groklaw asking whether anyone there has evidence of posts being suppressed.
This is important to me because I have followed Groklaw closely for five years and have not seen any lack of open debate there. I want to know that I can trust it. It is also important because the Groklaw blog is owned by a journalist who aspires to high standards. If indeed you have proof that PJ has deliberately deleted acceptable posts that disagree with her then I would like to know.
I hope also that if you have no such proof or you mistakenly referred to Groklaw you will offer an apology.
Enough is enough guys. Stop making comparisons to anything having to do with Nazism. There is absolutely no comparison between a discussion about IT, whether acrimonious or not, and the systematic murder of millions of people due to an ideology. You do a disservice not only to this debate, but to the memories of the victims who were slaughtered by the Nazis.
Knock it off, grow up, and act mature.
@Ben, can you explain what you mean by "I think Microsoft has engaged in more dubious practices" with some specific verifiable examples. I've seen the flood of vague innuendo on this, but in terms of actual actions I've seen with my own eyes, I strongly disagree with that statement.
@ Pete Raaise, can you provide specific links to where you're saying you were censored by Microsoft? Your lack of specificity makes your claim impossible to respond to. And in any event, you make it clear your example is far removed from the DIS29500 debate, then talk of how our actions repulse you regarding DIS29500. Not very convincing -- you seem to be acknowledging that there has been no censorship by Microsoft in this debate, and therefore you need to drag something else into the discussion. (See title above.)
@Benbow, Groklaw deleted the first two comments I posted there, and I've heard the same complaints from many others. No, I will not offer them an apology, because what I said is true: they delete comments, and have deleted my own.
"Enough is enough guys. Stop making comparisons to anything having to do with Nazism. There is absolutely no comparison..."
Of course it is. It is the lack of "personal responsibility" for the actions you perform or to say it is "just IT" and complies with rules. I think the nazi comparison is bad because indeed a small group can perform these kinds of actions. When you participate in action because you believe to do a service for the coming generations you need at least take the responsibility.
In a democratic environment you need to apply even higher standards on personal grounds than in a dictatorship. Of course it is perfectly fine to win a standard with p-member Cote d'Ivoire, according to the rules. But if the rules permitt immoral action, so is the rule abiding action. Don't hide behind the rules. Get real.
There are perhaps more important structures than ISO to consider when attacking rules and discussing personal responsibility.
Consider criminal law and the courts. These rules favour all equally, and sometimes, the application of the rules lead to unwanted outcomes.
For example, a murderer gets off on a technicality.
If you are so keen on rules being infallible, I suggest you focus your time and talents on something with a higher value outcome, such as the justice system in your country.
Wouldn't changing those rules and letting 1 innocent man go free, or ensuring 1 murderer was brought to justice be more important than this issue?
Come on, get your lobbying hat on and do something to benefit humanity in a more useful way.
Us lowly developers have to limit ourselves with more mundane matters, lacking the gifts of lobbying experts such as yourself.
If your issue is with personal responsibility, go and find all lawyers that defend someone who is proved guilty and berate them publicly.
That should keep you busy for a while.
ODF was submitted and processed according to the ISO rules and so was Open XML.
Nazi? really? Please don't bother commenting on my blog any more, I won't entertain the discussion of anyone who would trivialize that part of history.
Are you representing the European Software Market Association with these views? or just your own personal opinion?
About the Nazi reference: Andre originally mentioned "the Nuremburg defence". While this does of course originate with the trials of Nazi war criminals after WWII, it has made it into mainline speech to describe people who were only following orders even if they knew their actions were wrong. Modern use doesn't necessarily have a Nazi connotation, and I think Standards Junkie overreacted a bit there.
Of course, some people will always link it to Nazism and so it should be avoided as having a high chance of causing distraction or offence. I think in a lot of discussions, mentioning Nuremburg is a close precursor to invocation of Godwin's Law!
I suspect that Andre's first language isn't English (please accept my apologies if I'm wrong) and he may not realise that his reply to Standards Junkie actually dug his hole deeper.
Andre's posts do contain some valid points, although his tone is a little too confrontational for my tastes; it's a pity that valid points get destroyed by side-issues like this.
In your reply to Ben Langhinrichs you ask him to substantiate that he thinks Microsoft has been involved in dubious practices! I also think that about Microsoft, but how can I substantiate that I think it?
I know I'm being pedantic about semantics (there's gotta be a limerick in there somewhere) but I just read his comment as a statement of opinion, nothing more.
In any case, you want specifics: well, why would Bill Gates be contacting the President of Mexico to discuss OOXML (http://www.nuevoexcelsior.com.mx/XStatic/excelsior/template/content.aspx?se=columna&id=1655, via groklaw)? That appears to me to be a dubious act. You've ignored my question to you about the New Zealand slur e-mail issue. And I know that Microsoft likes to brush off the Sweden vote-buying incident as the unsanctioned actions of a single employee, but I personally think it is very significant indeed.