OOXML - When "No" Means "Conditionally, Yes" 
2007-07-14, 19:09
The Foundation for a Free Information Infrastructure (FFII) have been busily running a campaign called noooxml, and encouraging people to sign a petition asking the national members of ISO to vote "NO" to DIS 29500.

The site says “it is urgent that you contact your standardisation body in your country and explain them why OOXML is broken” and warns “OOXML passes if 66% of the voting P-Members vote Approve, and no more than 25% of the total vote (P-Members plus ISO plus IEC) vote Disapprove”.

I don't think this is factually correct, and I don't think the petitioning effort makes too much sense. Here's why...

A Caveat


I should first say that the opinions below represent my own understanding of the onward standardisation process, and that much of this process is new and untested for this kind of standard. That said, I don't know of any better readings than the one I am presenting, which has been reached after a careful reading of the JTC 1 Directives and discussion with ISO national body participants from a number of countries.

Countries Cannot Vote (just) "NO"


At least, not without qualification. The three permitted votes are described in section 9.8 of the Directives:

1. Approval of the technical content of the DIS as presented (editorial or other comments may be appended);

2. Disapproval of the DIS ... for technical reasons to be stated, with proposals for changes that would make the document acceptable (acceptance of these proposals shall be referred to the NB concerned for confirmation that the vote can be changed to approval);

3. Abstention.


Non-technical Comments Are Ignored


[Update, 3 August 2007: The JTC 1 chair, Scott Jameson, has clarified that nobody could hinder national bodies to express any comments they want. This means that non-technical comments may indeed be made!]

The wording above is important. Disapproval shall be “for technical reasons to be stated” This means that a good portion of the comments in the noooxml petition simply cannot figure in a country's voting position, and would be ruled out-of-order if they did.

Also, a disapproving vote has to be accompanied by technical reasons with “proposals for changes that would make the document acceptable”. Thus there is really no kind of absolute “no” only a conditional “yes”. The period for absolute objections was the one month review period at the beginning of the Fast Track process ... we have moved on from that.

It's the BRM, Stupid!


The noooxml site claims that OOXML will pass if the JTC 1 voting criteria are met in the upcoming ballot, but this is not necessarily the case. It's not even clear from the JTC 1 Directives whether the votes from this ballot are even counted. Instead what happens is explained in section 13.6 (abbreviations: SC = standards commitee; NB = national body):

Upon receipt of the ballot results, and any comments, the SC Secretariat shall distribute this material to the SC NBs, to any NBs having voted that are not members of the SC and to the proposer. The NBs shall be requested to consider the comments and to form opinions on their acceptability.

No mention is made of the success or failure of the standard here — the only time this is alluded to is back in section 9.8 which states “if these [JTC 1 voting] criteria are not met initially, but are subsequently met at the conclusion of ballot resolution [meeting] ... the DIS ... is approved”.

So what's happening is that all national comments are combined to form an international pool, and the countries are asked to consider them in their totality. It is these combined comments which form the basis for discussion at a ballot resolution meeting (BRM) which the SC34 secretariat may, at its discretion, call. Note that the secretariat's power of discretion here is absolute. It may take the view (as was taken with Ecma 372) that the comments are “not resolvable”, in which case the process stops and the Fast Track process fails.

Thus it is the ballot resolution meeting, likely to happen early in 2008, which will be the forum in which it is likely DIS 29500's fate will eventually be decided.

Who Attends The BRM?


Now, the arithmetic of this meeting is involved.

First off we have the National Body members of SC34 (a constituency which is growing fast):

NBs of the relevant SC shall appoint to the ballot resolution group one or more representatives who are well aware of the NB’s position. (13.7)


Next, there are the nay-sayers:

NBs having voted negatively, whether or not a NB of the relevant SC, have a duty to delegate a representative to the ballot resolution meeting. (13.7)


and ... that's it. These are the only participants who have to attend. It's quite likely this group of attendees will be preponderantly skeptical about DIS 29500 – the “nay-sayers” are, after all, those whose objections must be overcome for their vote to become a “yes”.

What isn't clear is how many of the “yes” voting countries will attend the BRM. They don't have to. Yet if, during the meeting, consensus breaks down and a vote needs to be taken, then their presence becomes arithmetically important. With approx 150 coutries potentially involved in the vote, the meeting could become quite large ...

And the Lesson Is?


Ultimately, it is likely technical questions which will decide the fate of DIS 29500, and - specifically - whether they will be resolvable by the nations participating in the standardisation process. To influence this process constructively, people need to have submitted good technical comments through the channels their national body will have made available. I am confident, in the UK at least, this has been done.

Hand-waving, lobbying and publicity stunts, in contrast, have little impact on the ISO standardisation process, which is designed to be proof against such things. Campaigns like noooxml generate a lot of excitement but ultimately, I think, don't serve the best interests even of those who, for quite legitimate reasons, want to influence OOXML's progress.

carlos 
2007-07-14, 20:15
Thank you Alex, i'm from Argentina and i didn't know all the intrinsics of the process

I would like to ask you a question: if a NB has agreed about some technical comments, could they vote "yes with this technical comments stated" ? or they are "obligated" to cast a "no with this technical comments stated" vote ?

This question is motivated because i don't understand the scope of the word "other" in the following item of JTC1 directives that you cited:

"1. Approval of the technical content of the DIS as presented (editorial or other comments may be appended);"


Thank you

carlos



Alex Brown 
2007-07-15, 08:53
@Carlos

Comments may accompany a "yes" vote, as you note, but my reading of this is that "editorial or other" comments excludes "technical" comments; hence the qualification that yes means "approval of the technical content".

This reading (which I have not discussed with anybody else) would mean that if a NB had any technical comments then it would have to vote "no".

- Alex.

gabriel merletti 
2007-07-15, 16:29
Hello, Mr. Brown


Ultimately, it is likely technical questions which will decide the fate of DIS 29500, and - specifically - whether they will be resolvable by the nations participating in the standardisation process. [...] Hand-waving, lobbying and publicity stunts, in contrast, have little impact on the ISO standardisation process, which is designed to be proof against such things.


I understand that the main objective of the ISO fast-track process is to analyze the proposed document ( i.e DIS 29500 ) to decide if it has the technical merits to be "promulgated" as an ISO standard. I mean, it seems to be very important that the different NBs assure, as far as they can, a full technical analysis of DIS 29500.

Having said that, let me ask you the following question: is there any provision within the JTC1 directives to avoid that, by means of lobbying, many NBs become members of a SC with the unique and inmediate goal of accumulate votes at the BRM?

In the same manner, let me ask you one more question: for this process in particular, will JTC1 SC34 evaluate new P and O SC34 member's credentials and background in the field of "Document Description and Processing Languages" and will consider the quality of the review of OOXML made by this NBs during the 5 months ballot ?

To clarify my question, let me describe an hypothetical case: some NB, say XX, ask to be acepted as new member of JTC1 SC34 two months before the end of the 5 months ballot period. So, then XX attends the BRM and cast a vote ( say: approve ). But it turns out that during the 5 month ballot period XX only had just 1(one) technical meeting that lasted just 2(two) hours and the result of this meeting was "approve the text as is". Besides that, it turns out that XX lacks any background/records in reviewing and studying "Document Description and Processing Languages" or participating in standardization nor technical committes in this field.

In that case, will JTC1 SC34 consider XX's vote at the BRM? or his opinion will be considered just a "suggestion" without vote rights?

Sorry to ask so many questions and to the long post. I just wanted to know what are the ISO provisions for "special" and "appasionated" cases like this ( the DIS29500 fast-track standardization ), where economical interests seems to be interfering with the mere technical issues.


Gabriel Merletti


Andre 
2007-07-15, 16:41
You are right. Technical objections need to be put forward and submitted to the National Committees, and get accepted. All this can be found on the ooxml.org campaign site- We are quite experienced with campaigns and know how important it is that *operational* input is made. Existing technical submissions (some are published) can be an inspiration for others.

The main problem of OOXML are its patent licensing conditions, but that's not part of the specification in the strict sense.

OOXML makes it easy to object it and the community support is great. I am sure Microsoft can win this but they will have to pay a prize that is to compromise ISO which is no open standards body anyway and further undermine its reputation. OOXML will be the new Microsoft Java. Public outrage is all it gets. ;-)

And you should not forget that the fight is not over when OOXML would be approved as an ISO standard. In fact then the fight starts to get even more profitable.

Alex Brown 
2007-07-15, 17:15
@Gabriel

The JTC 1 Directives do not, to my knowledge, make any specific provision for dealing with SC members who might be engaged in the kind of tactics you outline. And members are not formally tested on their expertise.

My understanding is that ISO sees itself as the servant of the nations, and it they who are sovereign in this process. If a particular country appoints members who are unqualified, or who are acting in bad faith, then that points to a problem in that country's national standardisation structures, and it is that country's business to fix things. It would be very difficult, I think, for ISO to sit in judgment on its member countries -- who would appoint the judges?. ISO is an international organisation, and ultimately its decisions are those of the international community.

The safeguards exist in the process, and particularly in the voting mechanisms; the BRM can be attended potentially by approx 150 nations, and the requirement is that two-thirds of them must approve the standard for it to pass. If some interest can "buy" 100 of the standards committees on this planet, I suggest to you something more serious is wrong than any standards process can fix!

Standardisers have to work with commercial players, since the reality is that it is through commercial interests that much of the real work in IT standards-formation gets done. The challenge is to encourage their participation while having a robust enough framework to resist undue influence. I think your questions are good ones, and I certainly think there may be scope to improve the safeguards. I'm sure that, whatever happens to DIS 29500, there will be some new thinking out of the process that will ultimately improve it.

- Alex.

gabriel merletti 
2007-07-15, 17:57
Thank you for your response, Alex, what you said seems reasonable for me and i understand ISO's position in this process


"The safeguards exist in the process, and particularly in the voting mechanisms; the BRM can be attended potentially by approx 150 nations, and the requirement is that two-thirds of them must approve the standard for it to pass. If some interest can "buy" 100 of the standards committees on this planet, I suggest to you something more serious is wrong than any standards process can fix!"


My concern has to do with the fact thay many countries won't take part in this process ( BRM of DIS 29500 ). Reasons? lack of interest, lack of expertise or because they will apply the "Ostrich algorithm"

So, actually, i believe that the "denominator" number in this division will be smaller than 150 nations, may be between 40 and 45 nations... If that were the case, it would be enough to buy ( or confuse ) ~25 NB, not 150 :-)

I hope consensus prevails!

Thank you again

Gabriel Merletti


Comments 
We are sorry. New comments are not allowed after 30 days.