After months of quiet after a flurry of activities on the ODF vs OOXML front, things are warming up as we approach the Ballot Resolution Meeting (BRM) in February. I am glad that the BRM coverner, Alex Brown, had posted a few neutral/procedural information such as this FAQ on his blog during this lull where everyone’s head is cooler.
The first major salvo in the debate, as far as I can tell, came from Bob Sutor’s piece which Jason Matusow find it necessary to correct. While readers of this blog knows that I almost always disagree with Matusow, it is not characteristics of Matusow to point finger at people. I read Matusow’s opinion and have to say I do not agree with him this time as well.
Before I dissect Matusow’s clarification on where Sutor went wrong, let’s set one basic rule. I am not going to comment on the Sutor’s or Matusow’s opinion. Sutor is not impressed by OOXML, is a very prominent member on the ODF camp. This means most of his opinion is going to be “Do not accept OOXML” type. Matusow comes from the opposite background. There is no point criticizing them on “why cann’t you just stay neutral”. Rather, I will concentrate on where I think they got too far, or factual things that I think they overlooked.
Sutor: The BRM will result in a changed specification – those changes may themselves result in new problems.
Matusow: “..[T]he whole point of the BRM is to change the specification in the interests of improving it and driving greater consensus for adoption”
The only agreement here is the specification will be changed. I do not think Sutor will disagree with Matusow that the purpose of the changes, come BRM, is to make the specification better. So, I believe the argument here is whether the change is for the “better” or “worse”. Bottom line is changes, any changes, at any stage of the process, need not necessary be in the interest of improving it. A lot of time changes themselves results in new problems. Hence, I think Bob’s comment, taken at face value, is fair, especially he had chosen very carefully to insert the word “may”. I will argue that, if we factor in his bias against OOXML, this statement even “fairer” because he is duty-bound to highlight potential problems. Matusow’s argument that editorial process in place, both at ECMA and ISO and all those comments received, including IBM’s , only means that it is likely that the specification will be better, not a guarantee that it will be better.
Sutor:The specification is long, there are thousands of comments, there is no way for a national body to consider the dispositions in the time they have.
The essence of Matusow’s counter argument is that there had been a lot of time spent before September’s ballot and since to digest the comment. As such, the time is adequate. There is one problem with Matusow’s statement. Those “thousands of comments” are filed in September. Presumably, the pre-September digestions had reduce millions of comments (including frivolous ones) down to those “thousands” that need further work. Therefore, the only available time to digest through the “thousands” of comments is between September 07 to Feb 08, approximately 6 months. Since a lot of these comments are likely to overlap, and that pre-September time spent on the OOXML will help (but not to the extents Matusow is implying), I cannot answer the question on whether there is enough time to digest.
Sutor:There are questions about the BRM process, attendance, time to consider all comments etc. – the process is bad.
I agree with Matusow that Sutor went overboard here. This is actually an attack on ISO process in general, on the coverner Alex Brown in particular because it is saying that they lost control of the process. What is clear is everyone, including IBM and Microsoft, will try to game the process. ISO and Brown’s job is to ensure fair play. Until it is demonstrated that they do not, we have to refrain from criticizing them. The path leading up to September votes open a lot of question on NB’s involvement and potential gaming inside National Bodies. It has nothing to do with the BRM process. It is wrong for Sutor to say the process is bad today unless he is willing to show proof of this. By the way, may be the gaming had started as Rui Seabra is accusing Portugal of playing “musical chair” again.
Sutor: If you are not satisfied for any reason, vote against Open XML. The specification should be perfect or you should reject it.
Sorry Matusow. First sentence is fair. Reading ISO Fast Track rule suggests that both explicitly and implicitly, this is how the game should be played, if you are an unbiased National Body. But Sutor’s second sentence is too strong. As Matusow points out, no specification, including ODF is perfect. I, however, think that Matusow is wrong to imply that since ODF moves from 1.0 to 1.1 then to 1.2, it must therefore be immature to present ODF 1.0 to be approved by ISO. I have to accuse him of spreading FUD here as I am sure he understands the evolution of standards. It will be the same thing as me accusing Microsoft of releasing Windows 3.1 as it is immature compared to Window Vista.
Sutor: Don’t set a bad precedent with this specification.
Do not set a precedent with ANY specification so if this specification can be a bad precedent, do not set it. Matusow argues that this will not be a bad precedent because (1)Open XML has received more scrutiny and (2) dedicated engineering attention than any specification in JTC1 (if not ISO or IEC) history. First point is true. Second is not. Compared to ODF, where there were two independent implementations before it was proposed to ISO, OOXML have only one, Microsoft Office, today. The best engineering attention is one you get when you create independent implementations, so the second argument fails by default. Both, however, does not guarantee the final product will be a good specification. If this is a bad specification and ISO approve it, it will be bad precedent.
Moreover, if the intense effort surrounding a standardization process is inappropriate legally, morally or spiritually or the mere invocation of the is inappropriate, *and* the standard is allowed through, then a bad precedent would had been set.
Matusow:This blog is not about me and Bob, it is about IBM and Microsoft having differing views on the BRM – so let’s keep the comments focused on the substantive issues rather than about the people (thx)
Sutor has this disclaimer on his blog: “The postings on this site are my own and do not necessarily represent my employer’s [IBM] positions, strategies or opinions.” While I cannot find a similar statement on Matusow’s blog, I will be wrong to assume he is talking on-behalf of Microsoft. Whatever the case, I agree there is no point talking about two person and will extend it and say there is no point framing the question as IBM vs Microsoft as well. Let’s do what Matusow say, focus on the substantive issue, not people (or company).