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A Tale of Two Debates

A Tale of Two Debates

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So I've been in this job for nearly three months.  Seems much longer than that.  I've been feeling the need to blog about the nature of the debates around Open XML and the ISO process.

There are two separate and distinct debates running.

 

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One of them is a reasoned, fairly dispassionate discussion about the technical issues, IPR issues, process issues and the like.  Contributors to this debate are people such as Patrick Durusau, Jan van den Beld, Rick Jelliffe, and Alex Brown.

 

The other is a weird debate by people at the fringes.  And these people are pursuing a policy of "Defeat Open XML at *ALL* costs, regardless of the consequences for the future regarding their relationship to ISO or the National Bodies of the 'O' countries.  Rob Weir, Bob Sutor and Andy Updegrove seem to make the majority of the noise in this debate, although there are others.

 

It's simply my hope and belief that the obstructionist elements will not prevail, and that this standard will pass, and allow the world to get on with the fun and challenging tasks of building good tools and good office suites based on the standard.  I just can't wait until I get to help some large companies implement some powerful tools using Open XML that revolutionize the way that they create, edit, search, and store documents.

 

Anyway, just to illustrate, here are some links that I think epitomize the nature of the two debates.

 

IBM disenfranchises 'O' member countries when convenient.   How do all these 'O' member countries feel about how they were welcomed by Rob and IBM UNTIL it becomes convenient for IBM to try to marginalize the 'O' members?  And I have another question:  How do the people at ISO feel having Rob and IBM attack their very integrity, when the BRM was run according to the ISO rules? I simply have to think that upper management at IBM isn't aware exactly of what Rob is doing, otherwise cooler heads would have prevailed.

 

There are certain 'O' member countries that have important standards people who are also employees of IBM; nothing wrong with that, but it sure puts these people in an awkward situation.  Their own employer is marginalizing the influence of their own country, whose interests they are supposed to represent as a standards body participant.

 

From the ISO/IEC DIS 29500 Ballot Resolution Meeting (BRM) Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ):

 

http://www.jtc1sc34.org/repository/0932.htm#q6-8

 

6.8  If votes are taken during the BRM, who votes?

Those present.

 

And what about basically calling Patrick Durusau a corrupt person, with no evidence presented whatsoever?  I honestly don't know how the accuser lives with himself.

 

Gray Knowlton makes an interesting point about the intimidation of National Bodies by Bob Sutor.

 

But fortunately the other debate continues.  Of course, not everyone in the debate agrees with Ecma, or with Microsoft.  But the discourse is basically a civil one.

 

I appreciate Patrick Durusau's letter on the openness of Open XML.

 

Jan van den Beld, former Secretary General of ECMA International, and his challenge to ISO/BRM critics to create a better process.

 

And on Mr. van den Beld's blog, he presents his view of the BRM proceedings.

 

Rick Jelliffe has contributed to the conversation.  I know that some people attempt to paint him with the Microsoft colors, but if you actually *read* what Rick has written and contributed to the process, you can see the technical quality of his comments.  And you will see the evidence that he questions decisions made on the standard.  You can see that his goal is to improve the quality of the resulting standard.  And he certainly feels free to apply pressure to Microsoft.

 

There are many, many more examples of participants in the two debates, and their messages.  I am just struck by the disparity of the differences in quality between the two.

 

There has been a vast amount of important work accomplished during this process.  I believe that the world will see the value of an open, comprehensive, *complete* standard for word processing documents, spreadsheets, and presentations.  I sincerely encourage national standards bodies to see that the best conclusion is to place the maintenance of this standard in the hands of ISO.  Let's not waste this work.

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  • You are kidding us.

    "It's simply my hope and belief that the obstructionist elements will not prevail, and that this standard will pass, and allow the world to get on with the fun and challenging tasks of building good tools and good office suites based on the standard.  I just can't wait until I get to help some large companies implement some powerful tools using Open XML that revolutionize the way that they create, edit, search, and store documents."

    So, these persons are totally free to take the ECMA version. And ECMA can take the BRM output, resolve the remaining bugs and start with a fresh spec at ISO again.

    Your "independent experts" as Rick have no value because no one believes in their independence and they did show undue bias during the process. You smell the difference between a hired gun and an independent expert. And hiring an ECMA official to the CompTIA lobby is an a denigration of his professional status.

    When national commitees vote PRO the OOXML spec then these committees are stuffed. This is not the exeption. This was what we experienced. And every vote you get by dirty tricks makes you fresh enemies.

    "is to place the maintenance of this standard in the hands of ISO" - the maintanance will be done by the project editor. Who is project editor for ECMA? Rex, totally independent from Microsoft as we all know

    It stinks!

  • A) I am not kidding you.

    B) You didn't respond with factual information regarding correctness or incorrectness of Rick's participation.  Have you actually read any of the comments and commentary that Rick contributed to Austrailia's comments and process?  Even more to the point, have you actually read any of the DIS 29500 specification?

    C) Rex Jaeschke is an extremely competent person, both technically and from a standards perspective.

    Instead of attacking people with insinuations and insults, how about supplying some actual technical substance to your comments?

  • A) I hope you do, for you should know better.

    B) I got acid reactions from members of the national committee. Rick Jelliffe was seen as biased by the committee and he was sent around throughout Asia to lobby national bodies. The national committee decided to let standard body technocrats go to Geneva. A wise decision. But instead the standard body decided to sent Rick as a replacement for one delegate. Rick openly admitted that it was controversial. After the BRM he worked as the format propagandist.

    C) I won't want to disagree. I also believe that JvB and RJ are highly competent. As are the members of your team.

    You know, your company did not play fair. When you get the raw reports from members from across the world that cannot make their negative experiences public because of ISO silence rules or political considerations you get pissed because it was everywhere the same! The whole technical review process got obstructed.

    Just one example. In Cuba it was a clear disapproval vote, yet the national body submitted an approval vote. It is easy in a nation where officials are severely underpaid. If your company had a stake in this I am curious how US investigators would view that in the lights of the embargo.

    In the Netherlands a Microsoft employee blocked the September disapproval vote as a minority. Members were outraged!

    How do you view a Cote d'Ivoire representative as a P member at the BRM table represented by someone from Microsoft Senegal? Yes, a bit more respect for the South perspective, haha.

    Of course experts need to maintain the impression of beeing impartial.

    I was very sceptical about getting involved in the campaign but I was quickly converted. When I read the DIS 29500 for the first time I thought: Oh, my god it's all true. Even ECMA staff openly admits the format specification was not ready when submitted for the ISO fast-track.

    And then you become aware how the process gets perverted on the national level. It makes you upset.

    As a result of the opposition the format is now much better than it was before. But is it ready for becoming an ISO standard? It would require another open review circle. How will we get the chance to continue the review process, in a less political fashion? By a disapproval.

    I fully agree with Harish:

    http://harishpillay.livejournal.com/90985.html

    I would prefer a sound technical debate but your company did not make it happen. It abused all the procedural weaknesses that the ISO process provides because it was not prepared for ruthless activities.

  • Eric, you should know that Microsoft has cast itself as the villain, not the victim, of the piece.  The audience does not respect a villain who, as he finds himself on the sharp end of honest justice, starts to cry that he was mistreated and misunderstood.  You need to show some humanity earlier on in the story.

    Like many, I started neutral in this issue.  ODF or OOXML, who cares?  But as I watched the incredible antics of Microsoft thugs around the world, I started to get really angry.

    There are rules and laws and these make society a livable place.  People with money and power sometimes think they can ignore the rules and buy off those who try to enforce them.  Well, this may work in some countries.  It does not work everywhere, and in this new digital world such behaviour is really not tolerated.

    I have to thank Microsoft for one thing, though.  Your absolute disregard for the spirit of the process has angered so many people across the world, ordinary people who just want to see a technical standard processed on technical qualities.  It's usually hard to get people interested in technical debates.  You did it.  People really care, and they're willing to sacrifice hugely to stop Microsoft getting its way.

    It's a standards war.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qLgbK5ccRcc

  • Andre,

    Regarding the BRM, the *purpose* of the BRM was to improve the text of the standard.  It was not the purpose to take a position on the standard.  In that sense, it really doesn't matter whether a particular person is a proponent of the standard, or an opponent.  What matters is that each person attending the BRM have the honest intention to contribute to the process, and make the standard better.  I believe that Rick had that intention.  I also believe that a fair number of opponents went to the BRM with the intention of derailing the process.  Just my opinion.

    Regarding the politicization of the process, I know that there were at least two countries where the technical committee voted to approve for the Sep 2 vote, yet the national body submitted a disapprove vote.

    With regards to the quality of the standard, I can only state that I actually *have* read a huge portion of the standard, and I have written a fair amount of code that works with the standard, and the standard is very, very good.  It is not perfect, but given the backward compat design goals, I believe that the standard is good.

    Pieter,

    You speak of the sharp end of honest justice.  How does this relate to unsubstantiated allegations against someone?  How does this relate to Rob Weir and IBM's treatment of 'O' member countries?

  • Note that P-member/O-member status is entirely at the discretion of the NB.  If an NB wants to become a P-member then all it requires is an email to JTC1.  Microsoft knows this very well, since they signed up dozens of new P-members, like Kazakhstan, Malta and Côte-d'Ivoire. There is no cost and no qualifications to be a P-member, other than a commitment to participate fully in JTC1 ballots and plenary meetings.   Every participant at the BRM was participating at a membership level that they themselves voluntarily picked.

    In any case, I think it is a question of how one orients oneself to the JTC1 Directives.  Do you ask, "What do I want?" and then try to twist the rules to justify that interpretation?  Or do you look at the rules and ask what they say, and follow those rules?  I am an adherent of the later practice.

    Personally, I think the O-members were very effective at the BRM, and should be applauded for their participation.  Greece, Israel and Brazil, in particular, did great work.  A number of O-members were quite critical of OOXML.  And the Head of Delegation for Israel works for IBM.  

    So if it were purely up to me and my corporate interest, then I should be arguing for counting the O-member votes, right?  But that is not how I think.  The rules don't bend to my wishes. By my reading of JTC1 Directives it is quite clear that O-members cannot vote at BRM meetings.  

    So regardless of how it impacts friends or co-workers, I'm going to call for the rules to be applied fairly.  In a compromised system we have more to fear from improvised rules than we do from following the written rules to the letter.  You can question my interpretation of the JTC1 Directives, but if you question my integrity or motives in this matter then you show how little you know me, and advertise your own ignorance further than you might imagine.

  • Eric, you're right, there's been "a vast amount of important work accomplished during this process." Unfortunately, it seems that due to quality of the ECMA submission, it is not even nearly enough. You see, for the rest of the world, *adding* a better way to do a thing while *not removing* a broken way to do the thing means just that efforts required from others were just multiplied. 5 ways to represent a date means 5 times more code, 5 times more bugs, 5 times more chances for unexpected incompatibilities, 5 times more costs to develop an application that is able to read all conforming files. So in general, the approach chosen at the BRM doesn't look sane.

    You also seem to appreciate "fairly dispassionate discussion about the technical issues", right? Then when such a good thing is going on, about technical issues, why are non of OOXML supporters participating those when clear mistakes in the spec are being discussed? To see what I mean, just let's look at the last week or so blog entries from one guy you claim to be more or less noise:

    http://www.robweir.com/blog/2008/03/ooxmls-out-of-control-characters.html

    http://www.robweir.com/blog/2008/03/how-many-defects-remain-in-ooxml.html

    http://www.robweir.com/blog/2008/03/disharmony-of-ooxml.html

    http://www.robweir.com/blog/2008/03/implementation-defined-not-really.html

    So, how about writing a blog entry or two and setting the records straight so that us, more or less neutral readers of both sides, would know are all those countless technical defects for real or not? If you don't feel like, please ask some of your technically oriented fellows like Doug to take a shot? I'm sure the world is monitoring your blogs to see if you're up to it.

    Thanks.

  • "Regarding the BRM, the *purpose* of the BRM was to improve the text of the standard.  It was not the purpose to take a position on the standard.  In that sense, it really doesn't matter whether a particular person is a proponent of the standard, or an opponent.  What matters is that each person attending the BRM have the honest intention to contribute to the process, and make the standard better.  I believe that Rick had that intention."

    Yes, it was very civilized.

    "I also believe that a fair number of opponents went to the BRM with the intention of derailing the process.  Just my opinion."

    This impression was not shared among participants.

    But after the BRM the NB would take a final decision on the merits of the standard.

    As I said I would have preferred a technical process where affiliations do not matter. However, under technical considerations no one should have submitted the specification as-is to ISO.

    We can split the issue in 4 aspects:

    1. fair gaming, honest participation

    2. maturity of the specification

    3. multiple standard as such

    4. The wide ecology including converters, patents

    Microsoft played against the rules in all these aspects and politicised the process instead of leaving it to neutral parties. No zen was involved.

    In the beginning I personally only did care about the patents (4). Weaknesses of (2) were not invented by opponents but just exposed. ECMA did not listen to criticism. Many of the technical issues that got finally addressed were already raised in 2006. If you think you can shoot the messenger he will shoot back. And then the more questionable the specification is you lose neutral alliance partners and need to compensate the weakness with playing against the rules(1). This makes your case even worse.

    Yes, the BRM just decides on the specification changes. But the standard bodies need to take everything into account including to preserve their reputation. How nice that the vote is determined by the number of Ye-Sayers, not technical considerations.

    It is not rational for me that a neutral observer approves the format, just because your company believes it can get away with it.

    I will give you a simple reason and here the BRM made things even worse, I don't think it was intentional obstruction:

    The standard as amended says that its goal is to faithfully represent the existing corpus of Microsoft Office 97-2008 documents.

    Product references are against ISO/IEC rules. It is a fundamental breach of formality.

    And of course once you get it applied by a national government we will see competition complaints. And WTO TBT complaints because an ISO standard favours a single and dominant American company (*).

    *) I think it is perfectly fine when you take part in the US committee but should national Microsoft sales departments participate in my national standard committee? I find it offensive.

  • Andre why don't you link to noooxml.org or use "arebenti" when you post on other blogs?

  • ?? Good question. You try to troll me so please here is my response:

    Because I am actually getting rid off this naming tradition. You can still reach me via arebenti ad ffii dot org but the naming is just a habit from the past, originally invented by an administrator for an email account of mine. I don't know why I got used to it. I found it stupid but all accounts there were given 6 letters. I guess phm also then used it as my FFII aktiv account. http://aktiv.ffii.org/

    Additionally we don't need to use blogs as link farms as wikidot already puts your site very high in the google ranks. It looks a bit "for girls" to add a reference to your site. No, I have no facebook or xing profile.

    And finally noooxml.org is just a community site of my good fellow Benjamin and I haven't managed to set up my new own simple site for open standards yet, it is in draft mode for 7 month now. I participate in noooxml.org just for fun, it is not my main project.

    //André

    I saw that Yoon Kit was attacked over at Doug's blog for writing the Kenya response. It is amazing to see these "technical arguments". Why didn't someone just say: "Good work, we will fix the bugs?" or "Yes, you are right, we will rethink it".

  • Hello Eric!

    Independently of the war being waged against OOXML, I wanted to point you to a simple post of mine where I mention that your work would be very useful to spreading OOXML and show people that this is an open standard by releasing the SDK under the Microsoft Permissive License:

    http://tirania.org/blog/archive/2008/Mar-22.html

    Miguel.

  • Rob,

    You wrote:

    So regardless of how it impacts friends or co-workers, I'm going to call for the rules to be applied fairly.  In a compromised system we have more to fear from improvised rules than we do from following the written rules to the letter.  

    Following the written rules to the letter is all that we have.  Alex followed the rules to the letter.  During the BRM, AFAIK, you never objected to 'O' members voting on specific resolutions.  Yet you object *only* in the case of the written vote.  Pretty inconsistent.  To be consistent, you should also insist that all previous votes during the BRM should be re-calculated, discarding the votes of 'O' members.  I conjecture that you did not object until after the BRM because up until that point, you presumed that it would be better for you if the 'O' votes counted.

    But the question begs to be asked: Do you really feel that the text of the specification would be improved if the responses were disapproved?  My conjecture is that you felt that it would  be better publicity if you could point to the BRM disapproving of more comments.

    I think it really rankles you that more people at the BRM voted yes than voted no for a vast, vast majority of the responses.  The numbers speak for themselves.

    You say:

    "You can question my interpretation of the JTC1 Directives, but if you question my integrity or motives in this matter then you show how little you know me, and advertise your own ignorance further than you might imagine."

    You are absolutely right, I don't know you.  I've never met you, and you know that.  So it is kind of silly to draw a conclusion that I am showing how little I know you, and therefore I am advertising my own ignorance.  Furthermore, if you will read my blog post, you will see that I am not specifically questioning your integrity.  I am criticizing you for questioning the integrity of others unfairly using innuendo.

    -Eric

  • Miguel,

    I agree that having more ways to code for Open XML is good.  I also agree that having software released under the Microsoft Permissive License increases usage, and shows openness.  I'm not on the product team, and don't have a say in licensing decisions, but I will forward your request, and the link to your blog post to one of the PMs who works on the SDK.

    -Eric

  • "Independently of the war being waged against OOXML..."

    War is the extention of business with other means.  Miguel's business proposal is not independent from the desperation of Microsoft to get their ISO stamp.

    "I wanted to point you to a simple post of mine where I mention that your work would be very useful to spreading OOXML and show people that this is an open standard by releasing the SDK under the Microsoft Permissive License:"

    Miguel's idea is excellent. We would get that gift for free if the OOXML standard is disapproved and subsequently a longer OOXML standardization process would ermerge. Microsoft has no more carmels left and they would need some more to cheer their partners up.

    It is not difficult to admit that for Microsoft partners a prolongation of the process would be very beneficial. If the standard gets approved - as we all expect - the party would be over.

    -- André

  • Now that we're getting down to the final days of the DIS29500 standards process, it's interesting to

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