OOXML - what just happened? 
2007-09-06, 20:19
As everyone knows, the DIS 29500 five-month ballot closed on 2 September, and the results are now out.

To look at the headlines, one would think something momentous happened. “Microsoft’s OOXML Rejected By ISO” they (mostly) say. Yet again, the truth is more mundane: there was a vote, the process continues. Anyone who had bothered to acquaint themselves with the basics of the process (perhaps by reading this blog) was not surprised. In truth, there was no great prize on offer here (other than in cheap PR) which Microsoft/Ecma somehow failed to attain. This ballot merely took the temperature of opinion at a mid-point in the process. Even if DIS 29500 had achieved ISO approval it would not have been published without further deliberations, and the headline writers are quite wrong to imply otherwise. Equally, Microsoft's silly press release represents cheap PR from the other direction.

... and what happens next?

As I have blogged previously, the Ballot Resolution Meeting (BRM) is the crucial forum for DIS 29500's standardisation. The meeting is scheduled to take place between 25-29 February at the International Conference Centre, Geneva.

Already some curious pieces of wrong information are beginning to appear about the process of this meeting, which is governed by the published JTC 1 Directives. Sure, these Directives leave some room for interpretation (which will appear in the coming weeks and months), but the framework of the meeting is already clearly set out ...

The aim of the BRM is resolution, not argument

The purpose of the BRM is to try and resolve, in good faith, the comments made by the countries that have voted in the ballot, and to try and get constructive agreement on a revised text if that is possible.

Who attends the BRM?

The 87 countries that voted in the five-month ballot may send delegations to the BRM. Those that voted “disapprove” have (in the words of the Directives) a “duty” to send a delegation, as do P-members.

P-member and O-member status

Since ballot resolution is an extension of an existing ballot in which countries have voted with a certain status, for the purposes of the BRM P-Member and O-member ISO status is counted as at the close of the five-month ballot on 2 September i.e., any subsequent status changes are discounted for voting purposes.

The BRM considers revising the text

The BRM considers the comments made in the ballot that closed on 2 September, and Ecma's proposed responses to them. In this way it can work towards a revised text and (ultimately) vote on whether to adopt this.

There is no further ballot

Following the BRM, those who voted in the ballot have a very short opportunity (hours, not weeks) in order to reconsider their vote of 2 September, and inform ISO of this change. Votes can change FROM any of yes/no/abstain TO any of yes/no/abstain. In this way the fate of DIS 29500 is decided.

The BRM is the end of the decision making process

If the result of the BRM is that DIS 29500 is accepted, Ecma have one month to prepare the revised text, which is then forwarded for publication as a full ISO standard.

Roll on February!

Tim Bray 
2007-09-06, 21:48
Alex, is SC34 involved (de jure or de facto) in the work between now and February? In fact, a little more connection between the dots would be appreciated. Is it the case that the ECMAnauts go away and hide in a room and drop another 6,000 page doc on JTC1's desk at a fixed period of time before the February meeting? Are there any hooks for interactivity in the process?

Clearly, something of this size and scope isn't going to get redrafted in a few days in February.

Thanks in advance.

Administrator (Alex Brown) 
2007-09-06, 22:13

I'll try and connect the dots as best I can - but I'm still getting my head around the process and don't want to be incautious. I am trying to keep the ballot resolution description on Wikpedia up-to-date too.

Although it's entirely up to Ecma how they go about revising the text, my understanding is that they will be liaising with all voting NBs (not just SC34 NBs) to try and find acceptable ways to alter the text in response to the ballot comments. Ecma may decide to do this 'in the open' (an interactive web site has been talked of), but in any event they are obliged to circulate their final proposed text some time before the BRM (by 14th January, I believe).

- Alex.

2007-09-06, 22:37
Will the ISO JTC1 SC34 committee give their view on the proposed changes ?

Luc Bollen 
2007-09-07, 02:07
Alex, thanks for the clear explanation about the BRM process. It helps a lot to correct my misunderstandings. Could you please give some indication about the role of SC34 (P-members and O-members) in this process ? Thanks.

Administrator (Alex Brown) 
2007-09-07, 06:38
@hAl, @Luc,

My understanding is that SC34 has no special role to play in the onward process other than its members being represented in the BRM.

The next, and the last, formal examination of the text as part of the standardisation process is the BRM.

SC34's only engagement with DIS 29500 until then will be a discussion of the Ecma maintenance proposal at the upcoming Kyoto meeting (draft agenda here).

I would expect a lot of people will turn up to Kyoto expecting to discuss DIS 29500, but they will be disappointed to find it is off the agenda (this has been something of a pattern in recent SC34 business).

- Alex.

Alan Bell 
2007-09-07, 06:40
Hi Alex,

It seems that the P countries who abstained are in an interesting position, they can and should turn up at the BRM, but the comments they had (but couldn't submit because there is no "Abstain with comments" vote) won't be on the agenda to resolve.

Thanks very much for clarifying the vote changing process, it is encouraging in particular to see that NBs who voted "Yes with comments" have the opportunity to change their vote to a disapproval in the event that their comments are ignored.


Andy Updegrove 
2007-09-07, 12:44

This is very helpful, and clears up at least one major question I've had (I've heard differing opinions on whether changes from O to P status will have effect at the BRM).

I think that there is the potential for some things to happen in February that have not been encountered before, or may not be clear from the rules. The contingency that occurs to me most obviously is this: what happens if the time alloteed for the BRM is not sufficient to allow all of Ecma's responses to be discussed to the satisfaction of those in attendance?

Your description above sounds as if on the last day, there would be a call for those in attendance to announce whether or not they wish to change their position, but if all of the comments have not been discussed, I can imagine that some may call for the BRM to be adjourned and reconvened at a later date.

Do you know whether that would, or would not, be a possibility under the appropriate rules?

By the way: From what I've been told by a very old hand in the JTC1 process, the role of SC 34 would be more active than you suggest. That's completely second hand, and I'll go back and see if I can get more specific information.

Meantime, please keep up the information flow. It's appreciated.

Andy Updegrove

Administrator (Alex Brown) 
2007-09-07, 15:16

I'm sure February will see some interesting developments. It is in the interests of everybody that the process details of the meeting are clear beforehand, and I know there's a lot of work going on to that end right now. It's important that the BRM can concentrate on the technical work in hand, rather than squabbling about process.

Opinions differ on the question of the meeting's length. Some say each and every comment must be addressed at the BRM; others, that there should be a guillotine and that the NBs have to take a view after 5 days. I'm interested in hearing more opinions on this.

- Alex.

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