As I said in my last post, Open XML did not get approved. Frankly I was going to leave the topic alone for a while given that the process now moves to the ballot resolution process, but someone pointed me to a posting by Rob Weir of IBM that raises questions about the BRM. It is important that we clarify this point as it is really important.

To make things really complicated, some may be confused as to which rules govern the process being discussed. There are ISO/IEC rules for Technical Committees that fall under ISO or IEC control…and then there are ISO/IEC Joint Technical Committee 1 (JTC 1) rules for technical areas which are jointly under ISO and IEC control. To be very clear – Open XML (DIS 29500) falls under the jurisdiction of the JTC 1 Fast-Track rules, which differ from the ISO/IEC Fast-Track rules in significant ways.

Rather than quoting a whole bunch of legalese at you – I’ll be brief. During the balloting phase of the JTC 1 Fast-Track process, the JTC 1 Subcommittee that has responsibility for the draft international standard (DIS) establishes the time/location of the ballot resolution meeting. This is done before the close of voting and the rules clearly state that the final approval status of the DIS is not determined until after the close of the ballot resolution process.

Rob rightly points out that there are instances where a vote took place and no BRM was held. That is a decision taken by JTC 1 and the contributing body. Like, for example, ODF 1.0 - it received a unanimous vote in favor of the specification and thus the decision was made to not hold a BRM. It is important to recognize that this did not affect the final outcome. I have been told by more than a few folks that this annoyed several national bodies as it meant that their comments (submitted with their “Approve” votes) were not ever directly addressed. This fact contributed to the issues around "Yes with comments" votes, thus my blog posting earlier. Another example was C++/CLI – where the vote was negative and considering that the comments were not going to be addressed by the submitter, the decision was made to cancel the BRM – not affecting the final outcome

Open XML is different in that the BRM may well affect the final outcome, and thus is very important to hold. ODF 1.0 went through JTC 1 easily not because it was a superior specification (here are some comments I made on this point), but arguably because there was very little interest in the spec at the time. Open XML is clearly a different story. There is HUGE interest in this specification and the implications of the spec on the industry as a whole. OK, it is being held to a higher bar (I have no problem with that provided the rules remain consistent), but that also means it would be out of the question to cancel the BRM.

There will be a ballot resolution meeting at the end of February and this has already been announced on the JTC 1 SC34 web site. Between now and then ALL of the comments will be taken into consideration. I totally agree with the comments others have been making on my previous posting that transparency into this aspect of the Open XML journey is important.

Oh, one more thing from elsewhere in Rob's blog. If I were the head of a National Standards body and being told that my choice to participate in this vote as a P-Member was to be scorned – I would be insulted. While I was not surprised by Rob’s insinuation about the Transparency Index due to the unfortunate situation in Sweden, I am saddened to see that turn into a means for him to insult the integrity of those national bodies. People seem fond of talking about respect in the process, but that only works if you show some yourself. I have a great deal of respect for the work Rob has put into something about which he clearly feels very strongly. I don’t have respect for the line of logic that says the mistake made in Sweden shows that the MS teams and National Body members are acting unethically elsewhere categorically. (Caution, snarky comment - but by Rob's logic, IBM's activities in Argentina in the mid 1990's would suggest a pattern of behavior unacceptable to most. I don't see it that way, individuals who do improper things do not necessarily represent the company as a whole.) I think we could all wish for this entire process to have been less messy.

At this point, I’d like to see things move towards more constructive dialogue. Open XML is being widely adopted, it has significant independent implementations, and now stands to benefit from the hard work put into the comments submitted through the JTC 1 process.