CyberTech Rambler

August 31, 2007

Swedish National Body nitpicking procedure irregularity?

Filed under: Uncategorized — ctrambler @ 9:20 pm

By way of Matusow’s blog (and all credit to him for posting this information really quickly), Sweden had decided to annul its recent vote for “Yes with Comments”. However, according to news report, it has nothing to do with the public uproar, but a procedure irregularity.

The irregularity? One member voted twice. To me, it is not good enough to annul the vote itself. To annul the results means you wasted the effect of ALL participants. This is not something you do lightly. One need to make a assessment of the maximum damage this can be done. As only one member voted twice, we must try to take out that effect. Results can be annulled if there is ambiguity after we take this effect out, or if the results changed.  Worst case here is one decision got one more vote.  Can this affect the results? According to stupid.domain.name, the results is 25(positive)-6(negative)-3(abstain). However you calculate, this irregularity is insufficient to affect the results. Even if I am going to penalize that member bt saying the vote does not count, and be extremely lenient, i.e., taking 2 votes away from one possible outcome and add two to the other, I am still not possible to influence the outcome.

Annulment this way is like collective punishment. A more appropriate action is to name-and-shame the member involved. Too heavy handed? OK, fine the member, bar it from voting in the next few votes etc etc etc are better instrument available at Swedish National Body’s disposal.

If you want an example why is this too heavy handed, let’s take the example of voting in general election. Is there any possibility that there is no irregularity in any election? No. Even in a well known bad scenario, the US presidential election in year 2000, should US Supreme Court had annul the election?

So why is it nitpicking to annul the results? I believe it is just an excuse to annul the result. An excuse that nobody can argue is wrong. Clearly Sweden is unhappy with something else, but it did not want to name the problem because it did not want to name-and-shame, or to go into a confrontation with the accused wrong-doer. What exactly is the reason? I leave it to the internet to speculate.

Thanks for looking further than the immediate future, Updegrove

Filed under: Uncategorized — ctrambler @ 4:03 pm

Updegrove has an interesting insights into how Microsoft may be trying to influence events in OOXML’s ISO process, post Sept 2. While everyone is concentrating on Sept 2’s vote, it is great and good that someone did some forward thinking and spotted what looks like an attempt to seed favourable vote in the Ballot Resolution Stage. Otherwise, the opposition would had been successful in pulling wool over our eyes.

The upside: we have 5 months to observe how these new “P” countries behave.Assuming there will be regular/semi-regular meetings in this stage, we should be able to see how things evolve and the way these new countries behave. I have no doubt that Updegrove and Weir will keep us up to date. That itself will provide enough scrutiny that will make any biased representative uneasy. This, coupled with local activities will hopefully be enough to urge P countries to carry out their duty properly. This is good. It will also give us a chance to see how ISO’s oversight process works. This time, ISO will be given the time and chance to oversee the process. After all, it is not easy to keep up appearances for 5 months compared to a one-off vote so we will see the true colours of all P countries.

I don’t think MS will be stupid enough to do what it did a while back, i.e., giving its employees leave to represent their countries. That is something MS countries brigade did but HQ will not approve. It was lack of “coordination” that make this too obvious. What I think will happen is we start seeing MS Gold Partners going to these meetings as country representative. As I said a while back, this is fine provided these representatives understands and carry out their duties as country reps, not Microsoft reps.

August 30, 2007

Now this is a surprise

Filed under: Uncategorized — ctrambler @ 10:18 am

Surprise of the day for me at least, Rick Jelliffe actually wants a “No with comments” vote for OOXML.

He did that because there are issues he wants addressed. Unfortunately, under ISO rules, that is the only choice available. It is a catch all phrase covering everything from “Conditional Approval” (Jelliffe’s reason) to “Not for fast track but back to drawing board” (my choice) and “No completely”.

Finally, PJ is wrong when she says Jelliffe cannot reconcile his stands. Jelliffe and I disagree on whether the things are fixable via the current ISO process or ECMA’s next iteration, but our choice of vote is the same because of ISO rules on voting.

To me, as far as XML goes, the syntax itself is fixable. What make it not fixable is ECMA charter for TC45 implicitly said any fix will be Microsoft choice and Microsoft’s alone and I think this will only happen if there is really extremely large pressure on Microsoft. Moreover, to fix it to my satisfaction will mean the final product does not resemble the current one, meaning it would not be worthwhile.

August 29, 2007

Caught with hand in the cookie jar (Updated)

Filed under: Uncategorized — ctrambler @ 12:25 pm

Oh deary me. Vote stacking is “fine”, just don’t get find out. MS Sweden got caught with its hand in the cookie jar. Bad move.

Writing memo telling partners what it can do to support OOXML is one thing (I am not going to speculate on the “expected” aspect implied by PJ, though I think it is a fair characterization given the incentive), paying for their participation by “cost-offsetting” through “marketing incentive” makes one look bad. Even worse is to be caught telling partners who does not feel it should participate because of lack of knowledge to participate, thus proving vote-stacking.

To me, the worst case is the training on how to behave “properly”, i.e., attend some meetings after the vote. I do not know whether to laugh or to cry.

I think the Swedish Standard Body should make a statement on whether this is permitted behaviour.

Update: 20070830 : MS damage limitation exercise by Jason Matusow here. As I said, just don’t get caught red-handed. Interesting that Matusow did not say whether the two partners actually participated. This is only pure speculation on my part, but how did the employee get the idea of offsetting the cost of participation via “marketing incentive”? Would be interesting to see whether the Swedish Standard Body back up his story, but I think they will not say a word as per usual.

If you read Swedish, more information here. According to Groklaw’s translation, IBM left in protest. I wanted to write this down yesterday in my blog but want to wait for confirmation that IBM left in protest, not because the representative have to meet his CEO or his wife/she is having a baby.

Vote Stacking at ISO

Filed under: Uncategorized — ctrambler @ 12:02 pm

There are signs that can be interpreted as vote stacking in ISO, where we see an increase in countries interested in voting in the OOXML fast track process, as reported by Andy Updegrove. That did not surprise me, but I like this comment from Updegrove: “… Microsoft is keeping close tabs on how every already-qualified member is likely to vote.  They therefore know how many additional countries may be needed in the “yes” column in order to get the level of approval they want – but no one else does.” That will indeed be a strategy well executed: just in time and right on target, without the unnecessary “Shock and Awe” Rumsfeld prefers. This is typical Microsoft techniques, something we Chinese appreciate: Never go out blatantly to change the effect with a single strong brush, effect the same impact by changing thing slowly but constantly, each event having assert a small nudge towards the direction one desire. Slow trickle will eventually become a waterfall. Above all, don’t be seen to be doing it.

To say that ISO did not anticipate this will be not true. This is definitely not the only time where such an allegation is made. ISO have definitely considered the possibility of vote stacking when it decided on its voting rules.  Every time this type of thing occurs, ISO will feel the urge to change its rules. I don’t think ISO should be reactionary, but rather study this case, put it in its repertoire of case studies, then fine-tune its voting system, but only if necessary.

On the subject of the behaviour of individual countries’ voting process, it is up to individual countries to decide what is the appropriate action to take. Again, only if necessary. I am sure this will be on a lot of countries’ study list on how their procedures withstand/collapse on issues with high stake and high contentions.

Anti OOXML people had been out to expose what they believe is underhand and unethical techniques. However, we must see through any nitpicking if necessary and then remember that whatever leftover do satisfy Matusow’s (and hence, by implication, Microsoft’s rule-of-engagement) : “There is no question that all over the world the competing interests in the Open XML standardization process are going to use all tactics available to them within the rules.”

I am not going to list what  pro-OOXML people is alleged to have done to get OOXML approved. Somebody somewhere else will do a better job than I am ever willing to do. Just keep your eyes peeled on the major blogs on the subjects.

My prediction on Sept 2’s ISO voting? I believe OOXML stand a good chance of will be approved despite my misgiving. Bob Sutor says it is likely that there will be a Ballot Resolution Meeting in Feb 2008. If you are, like me, not in favour of OOXML being an ISO Standard, than our best chance will be there is insufficient vote to automatically send OOXML on its way to ISO Standard, then for JTC1 to rule that there is too much comment that cannot be resolved in February that there is no point having one. Very slim.

August 24, 2007

Prediction on how countries will vote for OOXML

Filed under: Uncategorized — ctrambler @ 1:53 pm

I repeat, it ain’t over until the fat lady sings. The fat lady is penciled in around 2nd September. Until then, everything is subjected to lobbying.

Over the few days we have German voting yes, India (second story) and Brazil voting no. I was expecting German to vote No. After all, they (DIN) were the one proposing a working committee to harmonize OOXML with ODF. Without OOXML being approved, there is no work for them to do. Brazil had been a great Open Source Practitioner, so a No vote was not entirely not expected, but was slightly in doubt because of “yet unknown” pressure in the background, which I am sure exists. India was a 50-50. It has sufficiently Microsoft-related business to swing the vote to a Yes if need be.

The situation in US, i.e., INCITS is not at all clear. While Matusow thinks that worst case scenario is Abstain, Updegrove begs to differ. Curiously and not typical of Updegrove writing, I detect that Updegrove starts to aim its shotgun at Microsoft, rather than just shooting at the pro-OOXML camp. When Updegrove says there are countries who are trying to change their status in ISO to “P”, i.e. voting status, nobody should be surprised. Furthermore, it is my belief that the possibility of immediate change of status to “P” is intentional. I expects every country to be able to vote on any ISO standard and initially did find the “P” status slightly contrary to this expectation. Now  that Updegrove has explained, it is clear that “P” status simply means an opt in for “I want to participate in the process. Please keep me informed of the group’s activity” type status.

Updegrove says “National Body rules are directed towards perfecting and approving a submitted standard, rather than simply voting upon them on an “up or down” basis”. Furthermore, he says that “Perhaps this is because there is a presumption of validity and utility for any specification that has made it this far…”. I agree. When ISO ask you to vote on something, one should take it on trust that ISO had done its due diligence. By-and-far it did, but it appears that ISO trusted ECMA too much. I can see the usefulness of the Fast Track rule for ECMA. If a standard is sound and good, there is no need to put it through the rigorious development process twice and the Fast Track rule exists for this reason. How, being in proODF camp, I am of course going to say that this seems to be the failure point in ISO rigorious process, i.e., allowing ECMA to smuggle in a bad specification on behalf of Microsoft.

In a posting explaining how ISO voting should be, Rob Weir commented that the cost to Microsoft is great, the cost to JTC1 is greater. As far as Microsoft is concerned, it certainly cost it a lot, from both monetary and reputation perspective. However, it certainly made a “cost-benefit” analysis and decided the benefit outweight the cost, or at least the cost had to be incurred because the alternative cost even more. The cost to JTC1 is still unclear. I am biased against OOXML on what I think is solid technical ground and philosophy ground on what I think a ISO standard should have. Therefore, to me, if JTC1 vote down OOXML, it withstand one of probably the most severe test that can be thrown at it. In this case, JTC1 actually benefited from this episode. If it vote in favour, then in my mind JTC1’s reputations is tarnished because its rules cannot withstand politicking. This will cost JTC1, but it can limit the cost by rewriting its rule to make it stronger.

Rob Weir did forgot another cost center: ECMA. While not as highly regarded as ISO, ECMA had nevertheless a reasonably good reputation and had done the computing industry a good service. It is already sufferring from approving such a lousy standard. The latest, and most degrading blow, is begging publicly to get OOXML approved by saying that it will work to iron out the problems with the lousy standard. Worst case, but unlikely scenario, is ISO yank its fast track status.

I like and agree with Weir’s comment on Microsoft shifting the time frame for the “need to correct the standard”. We see it from “issues should be resolved in 5 months fast-track period”, i.e. Sept 2 to “Ballot Resolution Meeting” in Feb 2008. Yes, come Jan 2008 my money will be on resolving these issues post Feb 2008 as “standard maintenance” issue. Perhaps most worryingly, at least from the outside, there was no changes in the 5 moths fast-track period promised by ECMA.

Compared with Matusow’s reasoning for why a “Yes, with Comment” is appropriate, Rob Weir’s is more straight forward. What Matusow ask us to do is to consider the severity of the technical comments. Voting “Yes with comments” and submit your comments means you think there is no major technical issues and they can be resolved easily. If that is what you think, vote “Yes with comments”.  This is also consistent with Rob Weir’s reading. However, if you think there are issues, whether is it  issues that are important or you simply want an issue, any issue, to be dealt with, you must not let ECMA choose to brush aside your issues by voting “No with comments”. You should not buy the Matusow’s endorsement of ECMA begging bowl. There is nothing in the begging bowl where ECMA promise to do beyond routine standard-related work.

One level of severity that Matusow ask us to consider is whether the technical issues are “standard maintenance” issues. That is fair. The problem is, I considered the issues and came to the conclusion that a lot are not “standard maintenance” issue. For example, the inability of third party to reproduce one “refers to Word 1988” implementation is arguably a “standard maintenance issue”. Inability to reproduces 100 of such issues move the situation from “maintenance” to “serious flaw” which will prevent the passage of the standard.

Standards are not perfect, but should be of good quality. Quality is in the eye of the beholder. Matusow obviously thinks OOXML is good, Rob Weir no. Me, I think not. I will, however, leave it to ISO to decide whether it is. A lot is at stake at ISO, including ISO’s reputation. If the final vote is for OOXML, although I will disagree with the decision, I will have to accept it. ISO is, after all, what its member makes it to be.

August 23, 2007

Rubbish reason for changing SUN’s Nasdaq ticker

Filed under: Uncategorized — ctrambler @ 6:04 pm

SUN announced that it is changing its ticker from SUNW to JAVA. There is only one word I want to say and interestingly, it is the same word if one reverse the letters in SUN then add the letter ‘T” at the third location : NUTS!

First of all, a really important function that a ticker serves is to give you an idea which company the ticker belongs to. That is why it normally contains letters from the company name. Granted, it is not always extremely obvious, e.g. MSFT is Microsoft, but it does allow one to guess quickly. Nobody in their right minds (except SUN) will associate a ticker call JAVA with SUN. In fact, the rest of the world is more likely to match JAVA to a company, any company, selling coffee beans or coffee.

Moreover, Java may be the most recognizable brand name now for SUN, but SUN is bigger than JAVA. If we use this analogy, Microsoft should, God forbid, rename its ticker to WINW or something similar and Google should rename itself “SRCH”

This is an exercise that is going to cost money, confuse everyone and SUN ends up with a worse-off ticker name. Something like Royal Mail decided to call itself “Consignia”  a while ago.

August 22, 2007

100% fidelity?

Filed under: Uncategorized — ctrambler @ 3:12 pm

Rob Weir did a import/export from MSOffice, OpenOffice.org and GNumeric. It’s an interesting read.

There is one point which Weir is prepared to consigned to different applications setting but I have to respectfully disagree. I cannot agree that the colour of the chart is different is as a result of different applications using different default colour. With OOXML, that should not happened. As an end user, although I accept that different applications will give you different colour, and that their rendering of graphics can be different (look at the line graph), but if you say full fidelity, I am not willing to accept that colour difference does not matter.

I might had used default value in MSOffice, but I do expects MSOffice to store the colour information (not nothing or the word default) to allow me to see the same colour in another application.

Sorry… Too late

Filed under: Uncategorized — ctrambler @ 3:02 pm

Jason Matusow blogged that ECMA TC45 will review ALL comments, arguing that this should justify “Yes with comments”.

Personally I think this offer of review is insufficient to justify “Yes with comments” vote if one think that there is issues. It is based on the definition and the intended use of “Yes with comments” and “No with comments”.  In short, “Yes with comments” says the proposer can choose to address the comments, but “No with comments” compel proposer to address the issue to National Bodies’ satisfaction. Thus, if you want an answer, use “No with comments”. In fact, I will go as far as saying “No with comments” as the default position when considering any vote, moving to “Yes with comments” only when you are satisfied that all your concerns are addressed. This is the way ISO voting process was designed to function.

With respect to OOXML, if you have issues, than “Yes with comments” is not the appropriate vote. This offer of review is inadequate. Anti-OOXML people like me believe we raised a lot of legitimate issues and they should had been addressed before the “fast track” process. To accept this offer is wrong in principle. The correct response, if they want a shot at fast-track, is to withdraw, address these issues and resubmit.

Moreover, I think this offer also too little too late for standardization process in general, fast-track in particular.  Fast-track process more-or-less requires that the proposed standard to pass as-it-is, giving little scope for modification. This is by design and reflects the “fast” nature: There is no point allowing the standard bogged down by modification proposal. As I see it, it is a “take it or leave it” choice for National Bodies. In return, the proposer has the onus of making sure there is no significant problem with the proposal. If there is, then the correct response is for National Bodies to take the “leave it” vote.

Therefore, ECMA TC45 should had answered ALL public comments to reasonably satisfaction before submitting this to the fast track process. I don’t care whether ECMA has a public comment process or not. Whether ECMA listens to public comments or not and if so, the question of how and when is ECMA’s decision. ECMA can choose to  listen to the public comment at any time, including now. Unfortunately, now is too late for the fast-track process.

In fact, the ECMA offer to review public comments is what they have to do after receiving national body comments. Nothing more. What is worse is that the second paragraph can be read as it is NOT going to consider public comments in the evolution of OOXML.

ISO’s “Yes With Comments” vote does not requires the submitter to answers question submitted by National Body. Hence, if any person wants their National Body’s comment to be considered and answered by submitter, they should ask their National Body to vote “No with Comments”. “Yes with comments” should only be used when the questions asked are trivial.

Bottom line… if you want ECMA to answer any question you have, do not give them the chance to choose whether to answer or not. COMPEL them with “No with comments”.

August 21, 2007

iWorks XML format vs ODF vs OOXML preliminary thoughts

Filed under: Uncategorized — ctrambler @ 3:27 pm

Anyone with a Mac who uses command line knows that  Apple is fond of storing things in directory structure and Apple’s UI uses directory extension to interpret and navigate the directory. For example, Apple programs are actually stored in directory with the <appname>.app directory convention. It appears that iWorks store its data the same way. Pages store its data in a directory with <name>.pages extension where <name> is something you type in the “File Save” dialog.

For some reason unknown to me except for the fact that I was not looking into my .pages directory to write a blog post about ODF vs OOXML vs Pages XML structure, I ventured into the directory. You can do that on “Finder” by right-clicking your <name>.pages than hit “Show Contents”, therefore I am not divulging any trade secret of Apple either. What I got was something that looks like <appname>.app directory. Not exactly a surprise but it does confirm that Apple is using the same convention for applications and its data. Following Apple’s convension, the first place I looked was PkgInfo in  the Contents subdirectory and was disappointed to find only  eight “?” in it. I am sure each of the eight “?” meant something for the operating system but is frankly not interested in what they meant. Looking back in the original <name>.pages directory I find all my picture files as used in the document, and a gzipped file named index.xml.gz.

One important note that I immediately made is to trim down my picture size before including in the document, since all the pictures appear to be copied into the .pages directory as it is. This kinda reduce the advantage of the very useful “mask” facility in  iWorks because for large file, you are better off cropping the image separately or reduce the resolution of the images before importing into your iWorks document. Otherwise, you will find your document size increase very quickly, as no compression is performed. Anyway, this is not the most interesting part.

The most interesting part is index.xml.gz. I ungzipped it using standard tool and as expected, it is Apple’s own XML description of the file. What is surprising and refreshing is, by using words in my document and filenames for the pictures as keywords, I quickly decipher the structure of the file, without having any Apple documentation on the format. What I really like is, unlike some naive implementation of IDs which we see in OOXML and some if not most ODF documents, IDs are readable, along the line “STDrawItem-9999” rather than the useless and clueless “987654321”.

Like ODF single file format, index.xml is self-contained. It actually resembles ODF more closely than OOXML in this and many other respects. In particular, we do not see abbreviated XML element name or attribute name except those that are extremely obvious and borrowed from HTML. This, of course, is the key to why I can decipher the file quickly. We do not see “run tags” (rPr tags for example) that MS insist it needs to fully  document the properties of the text.  Those property tags are attributes of the element it refers to, the way it is done in ODF and the way I think it should be.

What Apple should had done was to keep the root directory clean. All pictures should be shifted into a subdirectory. Doing so will make the directory structure clearer. As it did not, it makes the file structure difficult to see if, like me, you use a lot of pictures. And I do miss the manifest file. The reason why I went straight into Contents/PkgInfo is I thought it was the equivalent of META-INF/MANIFEST.MF file in java. Although small developers like me is unlikely to read this file, it does give an overview into the directory content and is useful for machine readability and cross-check when programming. What I think it should not do is to make a manifest file for all files, as in the case of OOXML with its proliferation of <name>.rels file.

Also, compared to OpenOffice.org and MSOffice, iWorks, while having innovative UI, is still immature. I could not write a technical document or thesis using Pages because it lacks several vital element like consistent display of heading numbering. This requires me to refrain from calling Apple’s Pages XML a work of art as there may be cracks in the XML schema that makes advanced features required in technical document or thesis hard to implement in Pages.

What does all these says about Apple? It has the competency to implement a good XML structure for office document.  I cannot help but use this to take a swipe at OOXML. While I can see why from a business point of view, participating in OOXML’s ECMA TC45 make sense,  from a technical point of view, it tarnishes Apple’s reputation when one considered that it set on, deliberated and approve that lousily written OOXML in ECMA TC45. Also, since Apple is already brewing such a XML for its own document use, this further confirm my suspicion that Apple is there to ensure it can implement import/export filter only.

I do not blame it for not using OOXML or ODF as native format. If any, Numbers proved that both are inadequate for Apple’s need.

Now that I have a preliminary look at Apple’s own XML design for office document, what can  I say about the debate on  XML beauty pageant point of view?  (1)Use of abbreviated tags, except of tags borrowed from HTML, should be discouraged. Not only ODF did not think it is a good idea, Apple thinks so as well.  Obviously, both ODF and Apple considered the speed argument proposed by OOXML and decided it is worth sacrificing; (2) The “run” tag concept in OOXML is not a good idea. If it were, Apple would had done it. Moreover, it smells like left-over from the binary file format era, and (3)please use human readable string in XML, no “98egs3gfe” but “STTextBox-109873”, even if you use a program to generate the XML which is intended for another machine to read. You never know when a human will eyeball it. Do you really think Apple thought that I will actually eyeball the XML?

One final note, on closer reading of iWorks website and documentation, it appears that iWorks can only read OOXML file but cannot write it. That’s a pity.

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