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ISO Statement on the BRM: Public Stay Out - Updated
Wednesday, March 05 2008 @ 01:07 PM EST

The ISO folk have put out a press release about how wonderful the BRM worked out and what happens next. However, it tells us little people to stay out. Here's the operative language:
The BRM was not intended to be a public event but followed the orderly and inclusive process of ISO and IEC. With the BRM review completed, it is now up to national bodies to determine whether approval of ISO/IEC DIS 29500 is warranted.

So much for an open standard. I have a question for the ISO. Have all prior meetings been run like this? In the deepest shade you can find? You know they have not, and I know they have not.

So, how about letting us listen to audio of the meeting, so we can compare claims now coming from all sides? There are so many different accounts, and they don't all sync up. Given that this format, if accepted, will impact us little people, not just a bunch of vendors, how about letting us in enough to make it at least possible to figure out who is telling the truth?

Hey, EU Commission. Did you know that there is reportedly audio made of the BRM meeting?

Here's the meat of the ISO statement:

The purpose of the BRM was to resolve comments submitted by the national member bodies of IEC and ISO on the draft and to reach agreement on proposed modifications arising from these comments with a view to making the document acceptable for publication as an international standard according to IEC/ISO criteria.

No decision or vote on the document as a whole or any part of it was taken at the meeting, but only on proposed changes to it....

At the beginning of the meeting, each national body was invited to raise the issues they considered to be their priority so that these could be discussed during the BRM. When it was apparent that it would not be possible for all comments to be reviewed individually, the meeting discussed and agreed on a voting procedure to decide on the remaining proposed modifications. A total of 43 resolutions, involving dispositions or groups of dispositions, were accepted, most of them unanimously, some by consensus and only four by simple majority; four were refused.

Following the BRM, all 87 national member bodies who voted in the original fast-track ballot have 30 days – until midnight CET on 29 March 2008 – to examine the actions taken in response to the comments and to reconsider their vote if they wish. If the modifications proposed are such that national bodies then wish to withdraw their negative votes, or turn abstentions into positive votes, and the acceptance criteria are then met, the standard may proceed to publication. Otherwise, the proposal will have failed and this fast-track procedure will be terminated. This would not preclude subsequent re-submission under the normal IEC and ISO standards development rules.

The BRM was organized by subcommittee SC 34, Document description and processing languages, of ISO/IEC JTC 1. ISO/IEC JTC 1 is one of the most experienced and productive of ISO and IEC technical committees, having developed some 2 150 widely and globally used international standards and related documents. The BRM was a technical meeting open to delegates that were duly nominated by the ISO and IEC national member bodies and registered for the meeting. The BRM was not intended to be a public event but followed the orderly and inclusive process of ISO and IEC. With the BRM review completed, it is now up to national bodies to determine whether approval of ISO/IEC DIS 29500 is warranted.

In short, I read this as saying they'd like to do this Fast Track their own secretive way. What is there to hide, may I inquire? Sorry, ISO folk, but I think we'd like to hear the audio of the BRM to validate the truthfulness of what is being claimed, partly because we've gotten the distinct impression that Microsoft has stacked the deck.

Update: Here's another voice trying to tell us what happened at the BRM, this time from Brazil, "What We Did in Geneva", despite what he calls 'the Law of Silence':

Since a post on Rob Weir’s blog (a member of the US delegation) about the mapping of the binary data was published today, I’ve already received phone calls and e-mails from Brazilian colleagues who participated in the discussions on the issue in Brazil wondering the reason why Brazil has not submitted a proposal for it at the BRM. This was one of the things that we are committed to do in Geneva, but guys… we just could not make it.

The mapping is nothing more than a document that explains how to correctly translate the data stored in the old format (binary data as .doc, .xls and .ppt files) to the new proposed format (.docx, .xlslx and .pptx). The importance of this is that several document converters can generate more similar documents, reflecting adequately the old data in the new format. In addition, this document provides a clear identification of attributes that can not be translated (for technical reasons) and that must be preserved. All this is part of the most basic idea of OpenXML, an editable documents format (such as ODF) that support the legacy (the ECMA argues that this “legacy support” is what differentiates it from ODF and therefore makes it necessary). By the way, ODF is already an approved ISO standard (ISO/IEC 26.300).

Seeing that I cannot comment any details about the meeting, I cannot explain the details of what happened but I have the duty to respond to those who worked with the theme here in Brazilian NB (ABNT): “They didn’t allowed Brazil to present its proposal about the mapping.”

I cannot tell the details of the meeting, but I can tell a conversation we’ve had (myself and another Brazilian delegate) with a person, at the beginning of the lunch break on Friday. I will disclose this conversation because the person has identified himself as a member of the ECMA, a member of a national delegation present at the BRM but didn’t said that he was speaking on behalf of anyone (the protocol used there), so I understand that this was a conversation that is not covered by the scandalous “Law of Silence” imposed on us all.

This person tried in saying that believes that we should not submit our proposal that asked the mapping, since there was no time at the meeting (just over three hours) to write the mapping document. We’ve said that our proposal stemmed from the premise that the ECMA had this document because they justifies “the need” of OOXML because it supports the binary documents legacy and it is also stated that there are still things that can not be translated (deprecated), they should have thoroughly studied this and at least have made the mapping.

I have never seen a person so nervous and ashamed in my life… He said that Microsoft should have this mapping and if we want, we can ask it to Microsoft but not ask it to ECMA. He said that ECMA was only responsible for creating the new XML schema and who do not have this mapping documentation.

As our conversation was not going to nowhere, I explained him that our proposal was the result of the work of a committee in Brazil and unfortunately that if he could not come back in time and to tell this story throughout Brazil, we would have to insist with our proposal.

I described this issue here, because hey didn’t allowed Brazil to present the proposal…

If the ECMA not have the mapping, can someone there explain to me:

1 - How can they assure that OpenXML is 100% compatible with the legacy?

2 - How can they assure that OpenXML is not a 100% overlap with ODF, if they didn’t studied thoroughly the legacy support?

3 - How do they assure that there are “deprecated” elements that can not be translated into XML and “shall” be kept?

4 - How can they force the whole world to lose a year, millions of dollars and time for many people, that would be more productive doing other things, to discuss such a proposal, if the most elementary basis of it is real solid?

Finally, as a protest, an excerpt from a music of Peter Gabriel, about Steve Biko:

”You can blow out a candle, but you can’t blow out a fire”

What relief… Tonight I’ll sleep my first night in peace with my conscience since Friday…

And Brian Jones says this on his blog:

For the past two months, Ecma officially held 4 calls per week where national bodies could discuss the comments, and Ecma could explain their proposed resolutions. This meant that by the time we got to the BRM, the countries had time to find which Ecma responses they were not quite satisfied with, and raise those issues at the BRM. The purpose of this entire process is to make improvements to the specification, which in turn may lead countries to change their vote on whether or not they approve the overall spec.

This whole process is so steeped with secrecy, he could say they all met on the moon the first day of each week, and who could say it isn't so? But some questions do pop up. For example, was this with all NBs? Just a limited number Ecma/Microsoft wanted to lobby? Were results of these discussions made known to all? If this went on for two months, that's 32 calls. Who attended? Who didn't? Where is the record of those meetings? Is this the process anticipated in the ISO Directives? He says some other things that have my eyebrows up in the air:

98% of Ecma responses approved – This was very important. The Ecma responses consisted of a number of changes to the specification in order to address the concerns raised by various countries. These were issues that one or more countries felt were problematic in the spec, so it was important to make sure the feedback from those countries were heard, and that the spec was modified to address those concerns. Most people at the BRM that I talked to agreed that without question, the changes proposed by Ecma made the spec better. Voting to approve a comment means that you feel the spec is better with the change than without. This is why it would have been odd to see the changes voted down, which would have meant countries felt the spec was better before the change....

More changes were proposed at the BRM – There were a number of issues where folks wanted to see the proposed changes go further....I'll now list some examples of these changes.

Transitional and Strict conformance – A number of folks weren't comfortable with the deprecated annex, and wanted us to go much further. So a few countries, with the help of Ecma folks came up with a new proposal where there would be two types of functionality: transitional, and strict. Conformance is defined in terms of transitional and strict, and there are even two versions of the schemas (transitional and strict). All of the legacy features that we had previously marked as deprecated, will instead now move into a new part called transitional. If you are going to create a strict document, than you are not able to use any of the transitional features (legacy compat settings; VML; old date bases; etc.)....

It was a chance for everyone to discuss additional things they wanted to see done with the spec, and also to meet those folks who will probably be involved in the next version of the spec as it enters into maintenance (assuming it is approved this month).

Everyone? A chance for everyone to discuss additional things? How about Malaysia? Brazil? Who might those people be who will probably be "involved in the next version of the spec as it enters into maintenance mode"? Might NBs like to know *before* they vote?

Finally, to make our collection complete, here's the agenda for the BRM.

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