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Doug Mahugh of Microsoft writes1 on Twitter:

XPS will be submitted to Ecma within three weeks, likely to be approved at the Ecma GA in June. Have decided not to submit to ISO.”

No ISO submission? Interesting. Note: XPS, Microsoft’s alternative to PDF, depends on their own “HD Photo” (see slide 14) Also known as “JPEG XR”, it is about to be processed through ISO this year.

1 Someone found this piece. As for myself, I believe I’m “too old” to use things like Twitter.

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Some political standards processes can be curiously slow. ODF 1.0, going through a fast-track procedure (rubberstamp, if you will), spent about a year in ISO, from submission to publication – and that with a strong consensus backing it, as well as (as far as I can tell) a truly open and thorough process preceding it in OASIS; public mailing lists and all. This is about as good as it gets in that context, but don’t let me spend too much time on that glorification.

Enter the submission of OOXML (ECMA-376) shortly after the publication of ODF (see the timeline provided by Rob Weir at IBM), and it’s closer to a two year period, beginning with formal protests (contradictions) that were set aside, followed by a vote to disapprove, followed by a contested fiasco of a BRM.

Out of more than 1,000 known errors of varying complexity presented there, only about 200 were resolved in any way (this took a week, even after legally questionable procedures were applied). Following this, there was a sort-of-vote1 for approval, followed by appeals, and recently a week-long silence from ISO on whether the appeals will be considered or not.

The bumps should not be surprising considering the relative (lack of) justification for, and quality of, the proposed standard, the closed process in Ecma and the hijacking of ISO to approve that outcome. So, one keeps wondering how a fast-track process is deemed to be appropriate for a 6,000 page proposal, developed behind closed doors and in practice being pushed by a single entity.

Looking at it from another direction, does it make any sense to call it “fast-track” after all this time? One of the most interesting aspects here is that the breaks, where there are any, seem to be rather poor – so far they have only managed to slow things down, but not to stop them. I would suggest a maintenance check, or somebody is going to get hurt.

In this moment, it seems quite likely that ISO has already rejected the appeals. The odd thing is that it seems they should have been available to the ISO TMB on Aug 4, and we have yet to see any official response. Is ISO lagging behind, working on PR measures? Maybe they are still using typewriters over there?

ISO, in case you are reading this: don’t sit up all night pondering how to best articulate all nuances of “these appeals have no ground, and we are not aware of any procedural problems…”; try something more concise, such as: “black is white, so we can’t see anything”. To the point, don’t you think?

Well, they would surely need some breathing room in any case; regardless of the decision, it is sure to raise many uncomfortable questions for ISO.

So, what will happen to OOXML? Will ISO publish it as a standard? If not, when will it end?

More importantly, what will happen to ISO? Without serious reform and actual transparency, can it be taken seriously by the community in this light?

Update 15 August: ISO took only 11 days to publish their decision to reject the appeals and proceed towards publication of OOXML. Congratulations for the speedy response! Let’s see where this goes…

Footnotes:

1 Earlier votes would count unless new ones were submitted. This certainly had effects on how the game was played.

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OOXML use cases

ISO has now rendered a decision, and the fight over OOXML could be over soon. Specifically, while there have been no reported irregularities, countries have available another two months to raise concerns. Apparently e.g. Norway has already done so, but I’m sure that misunderstanding will be cleared out shortly.

In any case, there are many good things about OOXML that I don’t know where to start. (I need to double-check the exact meaning of “open” and “XML”, but at least the “Office” part seems clear to me, which suggests a high quality work here.) Indeed, one of my favourite aspects of this standard is its simplicity. For instance, one can safely focus on its two major use cases, namely when:

  • you own Microsoft, or
  • Microsoft owns you.

Actually, this is a rather strong statement, since it has yet to be proven that anyone is currently using or implementing any version of OOXML – especially Microsoft themselves, who apparently are a bit slow on that. No worries though – it’s a standard now, so surely it’s not that important.

I wish ISO and Microsoft best of luck with all the upcoming, exciting standards projects. Clearly, we can expect even better processes that provide for a modernized approach with honest and high fidelity works. We can all thank ourselves for being part of this proud and happy family. 🙂

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CNN notes that the EU is looking into the OOXML actions of Microsoft (the original article requires a subscription).

I wouldn’t count on the EU to show more backbone than last time, but I guess the company won’t be so happy about the timing, considering the BRM takes place in about two weeks from now. (By the way, isn’t all this bad press quite ridiculous? People keep confusing themselves with ideas such as “quality”, or “fair play”. It’s so annoying!)

After that, there’s another month for voting countries to present their final opinion, so I guess we’ll have to wait until the beginning of April for the actual outcome. (Would a rejection from ISO put an end to it, though? Or would an approval of OOXML be taken seriously?)

One thing is clear: both Microsoft and ISO will have to reshape – the length of the rubber stamping process demonstrates clear deficiencies on both ends. Let’s hope for the best.

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Drive-by voting

Since the Swedish stance in favour of OOXML, I’ve had no particularly exciting moments in the related committee of the Swedish Standards Institute (SIS). Because the decision was withdrawn in the media chaos that followed, Sweden will not be able to vote on Microsoft’s ECMA’s proposal, or go to the Ballot Resolution Meeting (BRM) in February. It’ll be interesting to see how the story ends…

Meanwhile, I thought I’d remind you of how committed Microsoft’s partners are to actual standardisation work, as opposed to, hmm, something else. See my table below, listing organisations ordered by degree of participation. (You can also find out the date of joining for some members. Note that many of them have decided not to be part of the committee in 2008.)

Oh, and IAMCP has sued SIS in order to make sure that “IAMCP and its members can continue to work with standards in a reliable manner”.

What a sandbox.

Organisation 5 Jun 15 Jun 14 Aug 16 Aug1 VOTE 27 Aug 26 Sep 26 Nov2 17 Dec
Riksarkivet (chair) x x x NO x x x
IBM x x x x N/A3 x x
Microsoft x x x x YES x
Illuminet AB x x NO x x x
Verva x x NO x x
IAMCP Sweden Chapter4 x x YES x
Sun Microsystems AB x NO x x
EPiServer AB x x x YES
HumanData Inventus AB x x YES
iBizkit AB YES x x
Diamo AB x YES
WM-data x YES
Kungliga Biblioteket5 NO x
Exor AB YES x
Formpipe Software Linköping AB YES x
FS System AB YES x
International Development Europe YES x
SourceTech AB YES x
Rikspolisstyrelsen N/A6 x
Camako Data AB YES
Connecta AB YES
Cornerstone YES
Emric AB YES
Fishbone Systems AB YES
Google Sweden NO
HP YES
IT-Vision AB YES
KnowIT Stockholm YES
Modul 1 YES
Nordic Station AB YES
Sogeti YES
Solid Park AB YES
TietoEnator Digital Innovations YES
Cybernetics N/A3
ReadSoft AB N/A3
Strand Interconnect N/A3

Footnotes:

1 This meeting was only for editorial purposes.
2 This meeting was organized specifically to discuss coordination between various working groups in SiS.
3 Left before the OOXML vote.
4 The person in question is listed to be representing “VeBe IT-Management AB” during the first three meetings (including one absence).
5 Is a member of other committees as well.
6 Became a member after the OOXML vote.

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(Sorry about the headline, couldn’t resist.1)

Glyn Moody Gets It. In Linux Journal, he writes about OOXML and Microsoft’s successes with OSI and EU antitrust: Is Microsoft Hijacking Open Source?

1 (Also familiar from snail-mailing the “sorry that I forgot to use a stamp” excuse.)

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The impact of OOXML

(I mentioned some of the following ideas in a presentation I held on Thursday at KTH, and thought I would share them. As a side-note, there may be another FFII-style lecture here later this year, covering a wider range of topics but also some OOXML material again.)

OOXML, to me, is not a standard; I do not recognize the value of it as an Ecma publication, or indirectly in “de facto” terms, simply because the main problem is still there: nobody but Microsoft knows how the format really works, and so not all consumers are yet able to escape the lock-in that is Microsoft Office.

When OOXML was preliminarily voted down on 2 September, not much has actually become clear about its future; most votes have a chance of being changed, especially since we do not yet know what the final proposal will look like. Microsoft’s manipulations will certainly continue until February, and thus the usual techniques for prediction may not apply. (Without the interventions of the company, I would say OOXML would be gone already – maybe not even voted upon.)

While one can expect that the standard proposal will require a significant amount of changes to be approved, such fixes could still be of trivial nature, relatively speaking. There are some rather tough suggestions around, though. One of them was submitted by France (J1N8726-03.doc) and others, suggesting that OOXML first be split into two parts; a “core” and “extensions”, where the former is something ODF-like, and the latter is an add-on to address properties of the old file formats.

So, in theory, anything could happen; some imaginable scenarios being that:

  • ISO rejects OOXML. While this in itself would not exclude a new submission, that would get much attention with a new fast-track, or require much time without it; the proposal would likely be out of the picture in these cases.
  • ISO decides to split the proposal, and approve the “core” and “extensions” parts as “technical specifications”. An “ISO standard” labeling is delayed further, awaiting e.g. merging of the “core” part with ODF.
  • ISO approves OOXML “as-is” (few, or no fundamental problems are solved). This would most likely affect the reputation of ISO itself (due to the scale of the abuse of the process), perhaps to such an extent that the approval would have little weight eventually.

In some sense, OOXML (as published by ECMA) consequently is less of a worry now – regardless of the voting results. However, an “as-is” approval could (through governmental policies etc.) raise a lot of “short-term” problems and further setback in useful development, and it would also have an impact on ISO. It’s not just about OOXML, though: XPS is also knocking on the door, and it carries lock-in threats with it as well through software patents. Maybe there is more to come, still.

So, while the harm that could come of OOXML and the end result is probably limited at this point, it is important to fix ISO’s – and its members’ – working procedures (e.g. for the fast-track, voting rules, etc.) and patent policies, in particular. Right now, ISO allows for licensing terms that are incompatible with free software / open source, and XPS could invite significant trouble in this context. Also, the discussion of ODF vs. OOXML still has important lessons for reaching a new and improved single standard. The patching continues…

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