CyberTech Rambler

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.

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