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Norway Decides: No with Comments on OOXML and a Hint from Hungary
Friday, August 31 2007 @ 11:51 AM EDT

Norway Standards has released its decision on OOXML. It's No with Comments. Essentially, they are concerned about too many technical issues and wish to see them fixed before it becomes a standard. They included their comments [PDF] with suggestions for some fixes, which they'll discuss in February at the "ballot resolution" meeting along with the comments from other countries, and if the problems are fixed after that, then they would vote for it. So they call it a "conditional yes" vote, but that's more for politeness and to show that they are not in principal against the standard, if it worked.

A Groklaw member in Norway, Lars Bahner, has been kind enough to translate it for us. Here's the main paragraph, and then I'll present the statement in full:

A lot of these weaknesses are founded in the attempt to unite the consideration of the old documents with the consideration to the documents of the future. This leads to a complexity that is not expedient with regards to openness and interoperability. Norway's comments and suggestions imply solutions that makes it possible to service both of these needs. The comments reflects the input we have received during the hearing period.

I'd say Norway has captured the essence of the problem. But there is more to the OOXML story. I don't think Norway is going to like this news.

You either. Andy Updegrove reports more countries signing up to be P countries that never had any interest in the past in standards. And he notices more are signing up like mad also for a subcommittee that will decide about Adobe's new PDF and Microsoft's competing format for PDF later when ECMA throws that at ISO too. Before they get to that, though, they have a role to play in the OOXML story:

JTC1 also has a committee called "Document Descriptions and Processing Languages." That subcommittee is, not surprisingly, the task group responsible for addressing document formats, and its role regarding OOXML is not yet completed. I've pasted in the rule set at the end of this blog entry, but the bottom line is that SC 34 will be running the show on the resolution of the comments submitted along with the current votes, after they have been reconciled and responses suggested by Ecma.

So, that means that the comments from Norway and everywhere else will be decided by a subcommittee that had 23 members traditionally and suddenly has 48. You do the math.

By the way, Hungary, which had voted yes but then decided that irregularities in the process required another vote, has had another meeting, and folks in charge there got a clue that the old consensus-building system where a bunch of dusty scientific types get together, look over the proposal in a friendly, collegial way, and reach a common ground based on technical merit doesn't work any more in the new ISO environment.

And they're quite right. The system no longer works, since Microsoft started hacking it. You can't decide a standard based on which entity can drag the most warm bodies into the room. So Hungary wants new rules. Hopefully the new rules will include the subcommittee.

In the meantime, my sources tell me that it looks like Hungary will abstain and that we may just get to read a transcript of the meeting. Trust me, that will be hilarious. Sadly, you'll miss the emotive content, the angry red faces and the raised voices, but you'll catch the drift. We'll know the final decision from Hungary in two days, and assuming no one sends in troops in the interim, it looks like Hungary will go from yes to abstain.

And here's the statement from Norway:


Standard Norge gives a conditional Yes to OOXML ISO/DIS 29500

Standard Norge is principally for a standard which gives the users the best possible access to their old documents. However, we find that there are too many weaknesses in OOXML to be able to approve the existing document as a proposal for an ISO standard in its present form.

A lot of these weaknesses are founded in the attempt to unite the consideration of the old documents with the consideration to the documents of the future. This leads to a complexity that is not expedient with regards to openness and interoperability. Norway's comments and suggestions imply solutions that makes it possible to service both of these needs. The comments reflects the input we have received during the hearing period.

Founded on this, and in correspondence with ISO's directives of how a conditional yes should be expressed, Norway has to give the vote "No with comments and suggestions of changes".

A "ballot resolution" meeting in ISO in February will look at the comments that arrive and suggest solutions which accommodate the comments from the different member countries. After this meeting Norway may change its vote to an unconditional yes, if we are of the opinion that our comments have been accommodated. If the final result of the treatment of the "ballot resolution" meeting leads to a majority in favor of the standard, then ISO will send out a revised version for final voting ("Final Draft International Standard - FDIS").


Norway Decides: No with Comments on OOXML and a Hint from Hungary | 142 comments | Create New Account
Comments belong to whoever posts them. Please notify us of inappropriate comments.
Off Topic Threads
Authored by: TB on Friday, August 31 2007 @ 12:31 PM EDT
With links as appropriate.

[ Reply to This | # ]

Authored by: TB on Friday, August 31 2007 @ 12:33 PM EDT
Where PJ can find them.

[ Reply to This | # ]

News Picks
Authored by: TB on Friday, August 31 2007 @ 12:34 PM EDT

Please post commentary about NewsPicks items here. It helps to use the title of the NewsPicks article as the title of your comment.

[ Reply to This | # ]

Yes or No
Authored by: Anonymous on Friday, August 31 2007 @ 12:38 PM EDT
<blockquote>"Standard Norge gives a conditional Yes to OOXML ISO/DIS
Did Norway decide Yes or No?

[ Reply to This | # ]

Norways comments
Authored by: Anonymous on Friday, August 31 2007 @ 12:55 PM EDT
Very good and well thought out IMO.

[ Reply to This | # ]

  • Norways comments - Authored by: Anonymous on Friday, August 31 2007 @ 12:56 PM EDT
  • Clicky - Authored by: ilde on Friday, August 31 2007 @ 01:02 PM EDT
The Demise of the standards process
Authored by: vegas_r_bust on Friday, August 31 2007 @ 01:01 PM EDT
Hey folks.

I get it now! This is not just about OOXML. If M$ succeeds in buying this
pile of @#$% as a standard, then standards and stardards bodies become
meaningless. Its not that M$ wants OOXML to become a stardard, M$ doens't want
any standards. This whole process is very distressing, and I hope that the
standards bodies can in some way figure out how to make the process more legal
in some sense, so that vendors like M$ cannot subvert the standards process in
the future. And yes! I know! There are those who will baulk at the legal term,
but what else is there to control monopolistic companies like M$.

[ Reply to This | # ] - An exposing light in the dark
Authored by: clark_kent on Friday, August 31 2007 @ 01:03 PM EDT
15 years ago, I only had suspicions about Microsoft in how poor it's business
ethics and practices were. (Demise of many computer systems in the early 90's,
great software titles going away replaced by Microsoft Software, Microsoft vs
Stac Electronics, continued exclusive deals of preloading the Microsoft OS on
computers, etc.) I look at regularly. In addition to reflecting on
the history I know, Microsoft has been busy the past 15 years. Busy doing dirty
business like they always have. I prayed for a time when Microsoft's deeds were
exposed. That prayer has been answered in the expansion of the internet to the
public, and websites like Groklaw. What has transpired from SCO vs Novell,
OOXML, and Microsoft's constant mafia-style attack on Unix/Linux, and the
general market is only a confirmation of what Microsoft has been doing all
along. Still doing dirty business, and showing how corrupt or misinformed
government and other businesses can be, as well as itself. It is not good how
profitable Microsoft is, because of how they got there. It is a shame to the
ethics and morals we will pass on to our children. For as high and valuable we
regard Microsoft, we might as well allow our children to bribe their teachers to
get good grades in school instead of earning their grades. Also, we should allow
the establishment of gangs and territories in our schools, if we as a society
allow our government to justify what Microsoft has done to "freedom"
in the free market and call it very good. But we would never do that. You see,
we can relate to our children in school. We can not relate to computer
technology, how governments run, or how some of our collective decisions in our
personal lives impact society for the future. It has only been since the dawn of
Open Source software and the expansion of the University-based internet into the
public realm that we have certainly been given an education of a lifetime of who
to trust and who not to trust with the welfare and benefits of society. And
Microsoft is certainly not one to trust. And they have showed a consistent
history of unrepentance. They are willing to spend billions of dollars to change
laws that are meant to protect the general tax-paying public, and influence,
bully, and bribe public servants in order to benefit themselves with huge
profits and keep certain people some of the richest people in the world at the
expense of freedoms, represented by the objects of law, that were
bought and paid for with the blood of our ancestors.

Thank you Jesus, for PJ, and, which brought to light the deeds and
misdeeds of the computer industry.

[ Reply to This | # ]

PJ, You have been one busy lady!
Authored by: joef on Friday, August 31 2007 @ 01:59 PM EDT
Seventeen articles in the past 120 hours. My eyes are glazing over.


[ Reply to This | # ]

Time to Comment to the European Union
Authored by: Bill The Cat on Friday, August 31 2007 @ 02:07 PM EDT
It is time for everybody to start writing to the European Union governing bodies about this gross abuse of power by Microsoft. They need to be stopped permanently!

If enough people from around the world write to them, it will get their attention. Don't wait -- write now!

Bill The Cat

[ Reply to This | # ]

What *IS* a Standard
Authored by: BassSinger on Friday, August 31 2007 @ 02:39 PM EDT
Am I the only one who feels that there is no place for backward (or forward)
compatibility in a format standard?

Consider this:
Cars are made all over the world and while gasoline is made all over the world
with minor differences, it is principly the same. But not quite. So let us
assume that we want to define a common standard for gasoline around the world so
every car maker could manufacture a car that makes use of that formulae to be as
fuel efficient as possible.

To my mind that standard for gasoline should *NOT* contain references to all
previous formulaes for gasoline and how to convert them into the current
formulae. It should only spell out the chemical makeup of the current standard
for gasoline.

Now, if someone wanted to create a "translation" document that would
tell you just what to do with old gasoline (of whatever variety) to chemically
change it into standard gasoline, that would be just great. But that
information does not belong in the standard for the chemical makeup of
standardized gasoline.

Likewise, a document format standard should not (and must not) contain
translations to other document formats. That is for other places and documents
(translation tables, etc.). That is an application process and should be in the
system definition of that application. Or in another translation definition
that the system spec can refer to. But a standard for the makeup of a document
of a specific format should not contain or refer to any other document formats.

In A Chord,


"We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created
them." -- Albert Einstein

[ Reply to This | # ]

I miss the RFC days
Authored by: Anonymous on Friday, August 31 2007 @ 03:08 PM EDT

Publish it, implement it, see what happens

The RFC tradition of pragmatic, experience-driven, after-the-fact
standards-authorship accomplished by individuals or small working groups has
important advantages over the more formal, committee-driven process typical of

[ Reply to This | # ]

Norway Decides: No and what can we do to help?
Authored by: TedSwart on Friday, August 31 2007 @ 03:13 PM EDT
It is perhaps invidious to compare the SCO vs IBM, SCO vs Novell etc law suits
with the MS-XML vs ODF standards battle. But, with respect to relative
importance, I think that achieving a NO from ISO to MS-XML is more important.
It is wonderful that SCO seems to be coming to the end of tis days -- with
massive help from PJ personally and Groklaw in general. But it is hard to see
how this victory will do much dent MS's crude monopolistic ways.

In contrast to this the rejection of MS_XML (with deceptively chosen alias
OOXML) by ISO would be a truly massive victory against MS since it would, for
the first time in many a long day, force them to operate on a level playing

So, what can se do to help? It has been suggested that we might write directly
to ISO or to the European Union or both -- in our individual capacity. It has
also been very properly suggested that any letters we do write should be civil,
short and to the point. Furthermore, we have been told that old style paper
letters would have more impact than emails -- but that doing both might be ven

But I remain ignorant as to what are the best email addresses to use and what
the correct postal addresses are. Could we possible have definitive guidance on
this matter. Many of us have already written to our national standards bodies.
For my part I still don't know how Canada has voted and am holding thumbs that
China, Brazil, India and New Zealand will be joined by Canada.

[ Reply to This | # ]

OK, I'm gonna call it (humor)
Authored by: Rooks on Friday, August 31 2007 @ 03:35 PM EDT
I'm calling it - ooxml will not become an ISO standard.
Even if the votes carry through, there will be such an outcry of
"FOUL!" by everyone involved, it will be derailed. It will take time,
years, to get the whole mess cleared up, but my prediction will come to pass.

Because of this, everyone should get ready for the creation of the Microsoft
International Standards Group (MISG).
This group will consist entirely of Microsoft partners (at least at first), and
the sole purpose will be to make everything Microsoft does from now on an
International Standard: Submitted by Microsoft and sent through the ECMA to the
MISG, to give the pretense of validity.
They will bill it as the "Technology ISO" equivalent, citing that ISO
is not designed or equipped to handle cutting edge technology needs for
International standards, and they will point to the current chaos as proof of
the fact. (Downplaying, of course, their involvement in the whole mess. Hey,
its worked for them before).
In their minds this will preserve their government contracts as their entire
product line will be one International standard or another.

I just wanna know how we're going to counter this at the get-go, seeing as how
I've accurately predicted this move ahead of time.
Should we prop up ISO as "the" standards body that counts, and not
some half-arsed vendor created monstrosity of a standards commission? Should we
request Bill and Steve submit to psychiatric evaluation? Lets figure this one


Hope you got a good laugh, I would laugh harder if it didn't sound so much like
they're style.

If experience was so important, we'd never have had anyone walk on the moon.
~Doug Rader

[ Reply to This | # ]

The Vikings pull no punches !
Authored by: Bart van Deenen on Friday, August 31 2007 @ 04:39 PM EDT
Do read the co mments from the standard committee!

If you got that kind of comments on your university test, you'd get a 1, and F, or whatever you call it; as bad as it gets.

These are especially great:

  • Summary: Rework into a much more concise standard. Justification: The text of DIS 29500 is too voluminous to be reliably reviewed by National Body experts, or for implementations to be assessed for compatibility. It appears to be unnecessarily long, combining normative text with copious examples and containing a lot of redundancy.
  • The XML information model described is unnecessarily complex. Given the example in the Overview at page 13 (ยง5.6)
    <w:p> <w:r>
    <w:t>Hello, world.</w:t> </w:r>
    Could - and should - be represented as:
    <p>Hello, world.</p>
  • All examples should conform to the XML specification. Justification: More than 10% of the examples are not valid XML. This will cause confusion and could lead to differences in implementation that will inhibit interoperability.
  • The specification should not include binary notations.
I'm from an aerospace background, with lots of docbook experience (from OASIS, same as ODF). These comments are devastating (for M$), but for me: I can't get the grin of my face !!!
Way to go VIKINGS!

[ Reply to This | # ]

Norway Decides: No with Comments on OOXML and a Hint from Hungary
Authored by: Anonymous on Friday, August 31 2007 @ 06:11 PM EDT
no part 4
"...Where possible, use notation in conformance with ODF..."

I just bet MS will like that one!

But hey, if they want to get THEIR software recognized as satisfying a standard,
they should follow the same rules as the rest of us.

Oh, maybe I need to get my head out of the clouds.

[ Reply to This | # ]

Ok, lets look ahead a bit... how does this end
Authored by: Anonymous on Friday, August 31 2007 @ 06:15 PM EDT
[Prediction: it doesn't unless M$ self destructs from the inside...]

We'll assume that M$ spreads their cash around and ISO approves their format.
But what are they actually buying?

Despite their cash, the 'standard isn't... it doesn't deliver the backwards
fidelity they claim to justify it, it isn't open, and most importantly, the only
applications that use it are their own, and even those are borked.

The only reason they are going through this is to appease governmental procurers
who have finally gotten fed up with their money sucking lock-in.

I forsee a backlash starting within 2-4 years as the private sector, which isn't
as easily bought off as the government, starts complaining. Remember, the
private sector will be increasingly moving to alternatives... that swell has
already started, and is not likely to stop.

But the backlash gets even worse further out, because eventually the government
& its tightly associated contractors are the only ones using the 'standard'.
The businesses are already complaining, and then the general public starts too,
because they can no longer communicate with their government.

Finally, the government itself, as they are upgrading to the next big thing from
the monopoly (the Windows "Straitjacket" edition), realize that the
formats have shifted yet again, and that their 'standard' savior has turned on

So in 8-10 years, the whole world has finally figured out what we've been trying
to tell them now, and M$ starts throwing more cash around to get ISO approval
for their OXYZ format which will guarantee backward compatability and
preservation of legacy documents.

Will anyone believe them?

[Secondary prediction: it won't matter because M$ Office itself won't matter.
Product saturation in the US and Europe mean M$ stock price stagnates unless
they can move their lock-in into the developing markets. These markets, though,
don't buy in, and either go Linux all the way, or develop something new of their
own. M$ becomes a has been thrashing aimlessly in a puddle of cash.]

[ Reply to This | # ]

What "Consensus" Means
Authored by: Anonymous on Friday, August 31 2007 @ 10:27 PM EDT
In a previous story, PJ said:
The thing about a consensus process is that normally, there's no vote. Everyone talks it out and finally they all agree. That's the idea of it, anyway. But if the vendor behind a proposed standard can kill any consensus that isn't a Yes by objecting to a majority vote that is against it, then what happens? It seems a demonstration that the consensus process is flawed, if a proponent of a standard has total veto power over a majority that doesn't wish to accept the proposed format as is. Perhaps the process needs to address such questions as we all go forward.
I had a look at how at least one standards organisation defines "consensus". In the "National Standards System (NSS) Guide: Key Considerations in the Development and Use of Standards in Legislative Instruments" published by the Standards Council of Canada, they define "consensus" as:
Consensus: general agreement, characterized by the absence of sustained opposition to substantial issues by any important part of the concerned interests and by a process that involves seeking to take into account the views of all parties concerned and to reconcile any conflicting arguments.
NOTE: Consensus need not imply unanimity.
Note the phrase : "consensus need not imply unanimity". While they are looking for general agreement, "consensus" doesn't mean that everyone has to agree to something for there to be a consensus. If someone is being obstructive for no good reason, they can be ignored. This definition of "consensus" is likely used by others besides the SCC.

So, a "process" for dealing with obstruction is there. The question is whether a committee chair is willing to use it. As Stalin once said, "it's not who casts the vote; it's who counts the vote".

[ Reply to This | # ]

What Comes After?
Authored by: Anonymous on Friday, August 31 2007 @ 11:59 PM EDT
Whatever the ISO decides in the end this is just a skirmish, not the war. If the ISO rejects MS-OOXML, then Microsoft still has the ECMA approval and will just advertise that if they want to show a stamp of approval. If ECMA is good enough for C#, then its good enough for MS-OOXML. Market acceptance of the MS-OOXML format depends on sales of MS-Office, not on ISO approval. Market rejection of MS-OOXML depends on people wanting to use something other than MS-Office.

Perhaps the best outcome of all of this will be for ISO approval, but by a narrow and contentious margin. Anyone who cares about file formats will know about the controversy, which means it will have been a hollow victory for Microsoft.

"No" Doesn't Solve Anything
The problem with "no with comments", is that its not a solution to the real problem. Rather, you are just giving Microsoft a list of things which will overcome your opposition. If they claim to have addressed the issues, then you have to support the proposal. Having a standard though isn't the same thing as having interoperability.

The real problem can't be solved by a better document. A "standard" is just a general guide, not a solution in itself. No non-trivial standard, no matter how well drafted, is free from ambiguity. In the end, the only way to see if two things will work together is to try them out. Interoperability is the result of good will and effort by all the parties implementing something. It's not something which automatically flows from having a standard.

The Official Standard Doesn't Matter Anyway
Furthermore, it is unlikely that MS-Office 2007 will follow the standard exactly. What people want is to be able to read files. Any software intended to read MS-Office 2007 files which can't do so will be judged a failure, no matter how closely it adheres to a theoretical standard. This means that what really matters is whether other programs can read and write the files which are created by the MS-Office 2007 software.

To understandt this, it is important to remember what the original terms of reference for the ECMA 376 commitee were. The goal of the committe was not to come up with an "ideal" file format, it was to document the Microsoft Office 2007 file format. Microsoft has already released a product (MS Office 2007). It's out in the market and it is going to be one of Microsoft's main revenue (and profit) generators for the next 4 or 5 years. They also have other products such as Sharepoint which work with this format, along with other products in the pipeline. At this point they can't change their format. Their central product strategy for the next 5 to 10 years is already set. They don't have several years to fix the problems in MS-OOXML.

Many Opponents of MS-OOXML Don't Really Understand Free Software
Many people don't understand the fundamental difference between a shrink-wrap proprietary vendor and open or free software. With free/open software, when you come out with something new, you release it and hope people start using it. If you are using Ubuntu, or Mandriva, or some other Linux, then you are usually upgrading once or even twice a year. You get the new version of OpenOffice or KOffice, (or whatever) without really thinking about it much. If you are using OpenOffice on MS-Windows, you don't get that automatic upgrade, but it's still not something that you have to plan or budget for. In either case the decision to upgrade or not to upgrade is just a matter of whether the fairly minor amount of time and effort involved is worth the new features that you'll get. What this means that for free/open software new features and new standards can propogate quickly once a useful implementation exists. If you want that feature, you'll simply install it in a few minutes. Even if you don't particularly care about that feature, you'll get it anyway as part of a general distro upgrade.

Microsoft is in a much more difficult position. Their windows of opportunity come at most only twice a decade, not twice a year. They have to persuade people to part with a very large sum of money which means they have to overcome some very serious reluctance to upgrading. The large cost also means that for use in large businesses upgrades have to go through long bureaucratic financial approval processes.

We shouldn't underestimate the importance of MS-Office to Microsoft. It along with MS-Windows are the two products that support the entire company. Virtually everthing else the company does loses large sums of money. Anything which interferes with that reveunue stream threatens the financial collapse of the entire company. Having these products come on the market on time determines whether or not they meet the revenue projections they've given to the stockmarket.

What this means is that for free/open software a new file format comes out when its ready. For Microsoft, they have to be on that train when it leaves the station, and for MS-Office, the train is already well down the track.

So, Should People Vote "Yes"?
While voting "no" won't solve anything, voting "yes" won't solve it either. The real problem is that there is no answer to this problem so long as Microsoft wants to control everything. All that people can do in this case is to say what they believe is true, and to offer legitimate criticism where it is warranted. People just need to realise that the outcome of the vote either way isn't the end of the story.

The Long Term Answer
This all goes back to that the best result might be a narrow and contentious approval. Microsoft wins a hollow victory; they have their "approval", but everyone knows the "standard" is discredited. Meanwhile we have a document which they can use to help reverse engineer the actual format, much like the SAMBA team uses old SMB documents to reverse engineer the SMB/CIFS network protocol. We won't have a single universal file format we want, but we will have a head start on developing file import filters such as the ones that we have for the old "doc" format and we'll have ODF for practical use.

Over the long run, the only practical answer to interoperability is the steady erosion of Microsoft's market share to the point at which their influence is relatively minor. At that point interoperability is something they need to survive, rather than something which threatens their profit margin. To do that, we need to keep doing what we have been doing all along. Keep writing good software. Keep implementing good technical solutions using free software. Keep helping people to solve their problems using free software. In other words, keep up the good work.

[ Reply to This | # ]

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