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To read comments to this article, go here
And now the appeals and reactions while OOXML sits on hold
Wednesday, April 02 2008 @ 01:06 PM EDT

Now that OOXML has been shoved through, (and if you are new to the story, here's a very complete and succinct history of what happened by James Hogarth on Tideway), we find it cut and bleeding on the other side. What about appeals of the travesty? There is an appeal process, although you may have noticed that Standards Norge's decision was objected to elsewhere. Perhaps folks have gotten the idea that ISO is a bit tilted at the moment. But here's what ISO says about appeals:
"Subject to there being no formal appeals from ISO/IEC national bodies in the next two months," the text of the standard will be published as ISO/IEC 29500, ISO said Wednesday.

Here's what it means if there are any such appeals:

If any national standards organizations do make appeals to JTC1, the Joint Technical Committee of ISO and the International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC) that worked on the draft, then Microsoft may have to wait several months longer while the appeal is heard, according to Section 11 of the ISO/IEC JTC1 Directives.

That is if the appeals are unsuccessful. So Microsoft has to wait at least two more months for appeals to be filed and heard. So, that means to me that it will be more than two months, unless ISO just rubber stamps rejections of appeals as fast as they are filed. Which seems sadly possible.

Some Reactions

Here is a formal statement from IBM:

The need for truly open standards and processes is demonstrably more important than ever. IBM will continue to be an active supporter of ODF. We look forward to being part of the community that works to harmonize ODF and OOXML for the sake of consumers, companies and governments, when OOXML control and maintenance is fully transferred to JTC1 (ISO/IEC).

Well, at least they have a sense of humor. I don't believe, personally, that that day will ever dawn, when Microsoft will allow true harmonization.

Free Software Foundation Europe has a press release expressing concern for the standards process, and if you are not a tech person and are wondering what all the fuss is about and why so many are disturbed by OOXML, if you click on the links provided, you'll understand:

FSFE concerned about quality of standardisation process

Today the International Standards Organisation (ISO) approved Microsoft's Office OpenXML format as ISO/IEC standard 29500 despite severe technical and legal concerns with the specification that have been raised by various parties.

"FSFE published its 'Six questions to national standardisation bodies' before the September 2nd vote last year. Considering the statements about progress made on MS-OOXML, one would have hoped that at least one of these questions enjoyed a satisfactory response," states FSFE's German Deputy country coordinator Matthias Kirschner.

He continues: "Unfortunately that is not the case. Issues like the 'Converter Hoax' and the 'Questions on Open Formats' are still equally valid. As the 'Deprecated before use' and 'Interoperability woes with OOXML' documents demonstrate, MS-OOXML interoperability is severely limited in comparison to Open Standards. In addition to these issues, there are the legal concerns that were raised by various parties."

"Technologically speaking, the state of IS29500 is depressing," says Marko Milenovic of FSFE's Serbian Team and co-chair of the Serbian technical committee on DIS29500. "In large parts it is low quality technical prose that fails to use the normative terminology mandated by ISO/IEC's guidelines. We've been told to wait for the maintenance process for MS-OOXML to become usable. That ISO would knowingly approve a dysfunctional specification is disillusioning."

FSFE vice-president Jonas ÷berg states: "Governments have to start asking themselves what the ISO seal of approval really means. As demonstrated by the MPEG standards, it never meant that something qualifies as a meaningful 'Open Standard.'"

÷berg continues: "Now it seems that ISO could be the wrong forum for standards development in information technology in general. It seems to work too slowly or too poorly to make the ISO brand meaningful in the IT world. We'll have to see whether ISO can repair its own processes enough to become a meaningful participant."

"Governments that seek to gain control over their own data and ensure long-term archival of public records independently from any specific vendor will need to establish other criteria in their public procurement," concludes Georg Greve, FSFE's president. "Programs like 'Certified Open' that seek to assess the actual interoperability and independence are likely to play a larger role in the future."

When folks flood the market with Brand X products, that is what happens next -- certification, so people know which is The Real Thing. Microsoft is busy trying to redefine Open in its own image, and make interoperability mean that Microsoft can use whatever it needs but you can't. Well, all right. Time to fix that. And it can be fixed. Just because ISO didn't bother doesn't mean it can't be done. And you know what the song says, There's Nothing Like the Real Thing.

Andrew Updegrove writes about fixing things too:

In order for the credibility of the traditional system to be restored, a thorough review of the just completed DIS 29500 Fast Track process should be immediately commissioned. That review should include recommendations for reform that would include, but not be limited to, suggesting revisions to the rules relating to Fast Track and PAS submissions, new National Body and ISO/IEC JTC1 rules relating to transparency and conflicts of interest, and providing for circuit breakers and corrective actions that could be invoked the next time such a process has clearly run off the rails."

Bob Sutor also writes that now the standards process needs fixing, so the best tech wins:

So is that it? Of course not. The process of international standards making has been laid bare for all to examine. People now have some sense that
  • Not all standards are created by a community of independent stakeholders, as some people may have previously assumed

  • The lack of transparency, the ability to see who voted and why, leads to less understanding and accountability

  • If intellectual property policies are not clear and comprehensive, significant questions exist over who can implement what in what way

  • There are no brakes on putting the wrong standards though some existing processes

  • Politics, and not just standards politics, has fully entered the process

  • Equilibrium, the need for having a balance of independent people considering a standard and not a majority of business partners, is out of control

  • In some countries with democratic governments, there is virtually no connection between ďrepresentation of the peopleĒ and votes on international standards

  • There is very little consistency from country to country in how voting decisions are made, which is their right, but some better common guidance might be appropriate

I believe that thousands of motivated yet pragmatic people will now move on to fix the systemic issues Iíve identified, with fresh evidence of why it is necessary. There are now, as there have always been, much bigger issues than OOXML itself. For that reason, we are still in the early phases of the worldwide movement to true open standards.

Openness means that the best technology for all wins. Openness means that the process is clean and visible and incorruptible. Openness means that personal accountability means something and is known and respected by all. Openness must be earned.

I think thatís worth fighting for. There has been tremendous progress and itís happened far faster and wider than most people ever imagined possible. While fully cognizant of these current results, Iím energized to take the bigger fight for openness to the next level with the thousands of individuals who are now convinced that the standards system needs fixing, and soon. I hope youíll take part.

That is a lot of words that say two important things: ISO failed to put the brakes on Microsoft's politicking, which included calling presidents of countries to overrule decisions and force a bad standard through, we've been reading in the media; and 2) there is work to do to set up a standards process with some brakes in it should bad actors try this in the future.

Of course, there is another choice, to become a cynic. If the system is so corrupt that it works like this, why bother? However, Groklaw has always been committed to giving things a whirl, and we've accomplished a great deal more than I ever expected, and anyway, it's no fun being a cynic. I think it gives you high blood pressure. Besides, you didn't think Microsoft would play fair, did you?

Ha! Caught some of you. Because some of you *did* think Microsoft was changing and getting more open and was wanting to build bridges to FOSS, etc. I know you did. I hoped for a while myself. Well, take a look at the evidence splayed out before us on the ISO table. It speaks. And what it says is, "There is no new Microsoft."

And so we need to get smarter. Make the division more clear. People will choose well, given a clear choice. Firefox and Ubuntu and Red Hat and others have demonstrated that. There is no need to compromise. And if you are tempted by the money, think about the rest of us, will you? Look at ISO. Do you want to be like that?

Anyone, then, from this day forward who is naive enough to believe a single word from Microsoft needs to see a doctor right away. That is the single most important positive result from this OOXML process, as far as I'm concerned. Now we know.

They shouldn't be invited to Open Source conferences to give keynotes, I don't think, or get to be on boards of directors of organizations, or let inside in any way that gives them the chance to pretend to be members of the community or even fair-dealers with FOSS. They will harm you any time they feel like it, and clearly from the OOXML story, we see they do indeed feel like destroying FOSS. They don't mind if a redefined, brand X version of "open" source limps along in its wake, paying tolls along the way to Microsoft, but they intend to kill off the real thing. That's why the OSP doesn't cover the GPL and the February "interoperability" statement opening up certain documentation is only for FOSS if it is noncommercial. Otherwise, all signs point to patent litigation, with all those presidents of countries that just got phone calls from Bill Gates lending a hand, one presumes. That is the plan, Stan, as best I can make it out, and anyone who enables that strategy by signing patent pledges, inviting them to speak as if they are now members of the community, etc. is helping to kill off FOSS. There is no middle ground now. Think before you buy an Asus eeePC, will you? There is more at stake here than just you as an individual.

Georg Greve of Free Software Foundation Europe has this to say:

Re-enacting the parrot sketch

Wednesday 02 April 2008

Calling the past months work-intensive would be something of an understatement. Fortunately my colleagues in FSFE did an excellent job of working on the same project in various countries while I was partially absent. They also managed to put out some interesting comments on the IS29500 approval. What I can say on the issue is unfortunately fairly limited by the various shrouds of secrecy over what in my personal opinion should be like any other public interest process that affects the lives of citizens.

Why are various national standardisation bodies not accountable to the public they represent in ISO? Why can the public not know what is going on? If I had a magic wand, non-accountability and intransparency would be my top two issues to fix in all of this. It could also be a good idea to get some procedural buffs from the United Nations to make things more predictable and reliable on a procedural level. Had you told me a year ago I'd be wishing for the procedural efficiency of the United Nations, disbelief would have been a likely reaction. Now the United Nations appear extremely well-functioning in comparison.

Due procedure would allow for fair dialog based on substantial considerations. In this case it would have allowed discussing technical issues and answering the most fundamental question for any specification: Is it technically sound so it can be approved without further review or modifications?

This question can be answered on technical grounds. There is no need for attempts at authoritative arguments, assertions about the quality of future editorial work, or referrals to the maintenance process. Attempts at answering that question in any of these ways indeed translate into "No, it is not."

Of course there are also other questions that are relevant when it comes to standardisation - including the "Six questions to national standardisation bodies" that FSFE put out around July 2007. Answering some of these issues is a little less clear-cut than the technical side, but can be done in an environment where people are accountable for their actions and statements. The media could have helped a great deal at keeping that dialog honest.

As accountability and transparency are sadly lacking, the past months often seemed like a gigantic, world-wide re-enactment of Monty Python's parrot sketch with the involvement of several multinationals and billions of EUR spent. I am pretty sure the original was more cost effective -- and thanks to the wonders Gnash we all get to enjoy this classic here: YouTube

My only question is: Where is the standardisation store of ISO's brother so I can return IS29500?

I love Gnash. You don't need to enable Javascript to see that video. Hogarth, the first link in the article, talks about what he plans to do next:

For my part? I will be writing to Mr. Pughs, MP giving my support to his questions. If he is right about suspicious activity in BSI then the result can be changed for 2 more months as a lodged complaint. I shall also be writing to my local MP pointing out his parliamentary question and international opinion. Finally I shall be writing to my MEP. Poland is being investigated by the EU commission and hopefully support will be lent to that.


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