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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").


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