OOXML Homework 
2008-01-29, 22:32

Tracking OOXML issues

No matter where one stands in the DIS 29500 debate, one fact is indisputable: the vast amount of human effort that is being expended. This struck me yesterday as BSI technical committees met to agree a UK position on Ecma’s responses – a task that is nearly complete thanks, in no small part, to the use of Mantis for tracking each of the UK comments and its proposed disposition.

The work however does not end there as the UK must finalise its view on other NBs’ comments too. As the JTC 1 Directives explicitly state, the reason why all NB comments are distributed is to allow all NBs to form an opinion on all of them:

Upon receipt of the ballot results, and any comments, the SC Secretariat shall distribute this material to the SC NBs […] The NBs shall be requested to consider the comments and to form opinions on their acceptability. (13.6)

By extension, of course, NBs shall naturally be considering Ecma’s responses to these comments too. It is this considered national position that delegations will be taking to Geneva:

NBs […] shall appoint to the ballot resolution group one or more representatives who are well aware of the NB’s position. (13.7)

So, NBs need to do their homework so that delegations arriving at the BRM in Geneva are fully briefed. The delegation should ideally know their national position on all 1,000 or so distinct comment/responses that could be discussed. It is the responsibility of the delegation to faithfully represent their national position (not individual divergent delegate views), and to be prepared to respond to any fresh issues that arise in line with guidance their NB has given them.

1,000 responses in 35 hours?

Given the five day time limit of the BRM, a frequently asked question is: how can 1,000 issues be addressed in the time, even if NBs already know what their position is? The answer, I think, must lie in paper voting. I am sure that the overwhelming majority of meeting resolutions will be decided by voting (as allowed for by the JTC 1 Directives), and delegations will be given lengthy voting papers allowing them to approve, abstain, or disapprove for any proposed resolution. The voting papers are likely to have three kinds of proposed resolution listed on them:

  • Verbatim responses from Ecma's proposed disposition of comments (as contained in the document published by SC 34 as N 980)
  • Ecma responses that have been amended by the BRM
  • Fresh responses arising from BRM discussion

for the latter two types, consensus might well be reached during in-session discussion, in which case there is obviously no need to put the proposed resolution to the additional test of a redundant vote.

In ISO (and as adopted by JTC 1), the word “consensus” has a specific meaning:

[...] general agreement, characterised by the absence of sustained opposition to substantial issues by any important part of the concerned interests and by a process that involves seeking to take into account the views of all parties concerned and to reconcile any conflicting arguments. Consensus need not imply unanimity.

Different meeting chairs take different approaches to determining consensus. In general, if the existence of consensus is not beyond doubt on any issue at the BRM, it will be deferred to paper balloting alongside the undiscussed issues.

Now, paper balloting follows normal JTC 1 in-meeting rules:

In a meeting, except as otherwise specified in these directives, questions are decided by a majority of the votes cast at the meeting by P-members expressing either approval or disapproval. (9.1.4)

[Update 2008-03-06. This was the wrong clause. In-meeting Fast Track BRM voting is for resolving the comments of a constituency determined by the combined voting procedure (O-members + P-members) as per the JTC 1 Directives 9.5, and that is the understanding of the "normal JTC 1 procedures" in 13.8.]

Tied votes will be assumed not to have passed (unless they get the “further discussion” the Directives require during the BRM, which is unlikely).

Some commentators have been suggesting the BRM will be some kind of biased pro-OOXML love in, but this is laughably wide of the mark. As I have blogged before, a clear majority of delegations are from countries that either disapproved or abstained in the September letter ballot; taking P-members alone, this is even more so, with over two thirds of delegations being such non-approvers. This will be no love-in: I am expecting some hard work and high-quality technical discussion!

Mike Brown 
2008-01-29, 23:09
By my school boy maths, "1000 issues in 35 hours" averages out at 2:06 minutes (that's two minutes and six seconds) that can be spent on each comment - that's if they're all discussed, of course. So, let's hope the BRMs *do* know their stuff before they arrive!

What status will these ongoing paper votes have though, Alex? I mean are they binding in any way? I read somewhere that the BRMs get a final "change your mind if you want to" vote, a few weeks after the BRM. Is that right? If so, does this final vote take precedence over the "per comment" votes that were cast during the BRM?


- Mike

Administrator (Alex Brown) 
2008-01-30, 08:11

It's important to distinguish between voting at the BRM, and what follows.

At the BRM, voting/agreement will be on changing the text: it will NOT be deciding whether the DIS is approved or not.

Once the BRM is complete, there will be (effectively) a new text for the NBs to consider as a result of the changes the BRM will have agreed.

Then, in the 30 days following the BRM, NBs may reconsider and change their vote on approval of the DIS. The procedure for this is explained in the FAQ.

2008-01-30, 16:19
Will the new text be made available within the 30 days i.e. before the delegations can vote on it? I strongly doubt so. So in reality delegations will agree on a non-existing text.

Administrator (Alex Brown) 
2008-01-30, 18:13

You're right that a new text probably will not exist long before the 30 days are up. In practice, the technical experts from NB delegations will report back to their NBs on the technical acceptability of any changes.

ISO/IEC is putting mechanisms in place to make sure the new text, when it appears, is a faithful execution of the BRM-mandated changes against the old text.

- Alex.

Mike brown 
2008-01-31, 13:30

>> The procedure for this is explained in the FAQ.

Yeah, it may have helped (duh) if I'd have read that first. I have done so now.

There's one crucial question that's not been addressed there, though. One that I believe is critical to the entire process.

Who do you think they'll get to play you in the movie?

I'd hold out for George Clooney if I were you. The again, if things get really tasty during the five days, maybe be Russell Crowe would be more appropriate.


- Mike

Administrator (Alex Brown) 
2008-01-31, 14:31

Cluney and Crowe would both be acceptable choices. I fear though that the casting people might look more towards the likes of Timothy Spall.

You've verily naughtily now got me thinking about which actors could play which characters in a DIS 29500 film. I've already got Viggo Mortensen, Jim Carey and Robert Redford cast. I think it will be difficult for the script-writers to introduce sufficient love interest though -- I'm not sure viewers will find Rick Jelliffe's blossoming romance with the ODF Alliance sexy enough ...

- Alex.

2008-01-31, 17:03
"You've verily naughtily now got me thinking about which actors could play which characters in a DIS 29500 film."

some script ideas for the movie ...:

http://geekz.co.uk/lovesraymond/wp-cont ... /ep063.jpg



The Open Sourcerer 
2008-02-01, 18:37
I think you are all barking up the wrong tree there.

You gotta start thinking - Boris Karlof, Christopher Lee, Peter Cushing (I'm sure you get the idea...)

Or even better now I think about it: Syd James, Bernard Cribbins, Kenneth Williams, Terry Scott... More appropriate for such a farce n'est pas?

But wait! Who should play S.Ballmer??? Ahh yes Hattie Jaques!


Fredrik E. Nilsen 
2008-02-03, 16:43
Rob Weir has previously claimed in this blog that the "proposed fixes to editorial comments have introduced new technical errors". There have been several requests about what these errors are but without any response from Rob Weir.

One of his co-workers at IBM, Arnaud Lehors states this in his blog:

"Now, regarding your point about the US committee not informing Ecma or ISO of found issues, the problem is that there is no process to do that at this point. The BRM is the only venue to discuss the proposed disposition of comments and there is absolutely no way to raise new issues."

Is this correct? Is there no way for a NB to inform ECMA or ISO about these "new errors"?

Administrator (Alex Brown) 
2008-02-04, 07:54

Ecma are arranging conference calls in which NBs can participate and informally raise such things, if they choose.

At the BRM, NBs are free to make contributions about what they judge are errors or inadequacies in Ecma responses, if they choose. The whole point of the BRM is to allow NB input on the submitter's response to the NB comments that accompanied the letter ballot.

The BRM is not, however, a forum to raise completely new comments about the DIS.

- Alex.

Rick Jelliffe 
2008-02-06, 06:38
There is a process for dealing with errors introduced at the BRM or by editorial SNAFU that is not caught by ITTF review: the maintanance process (whichever regime is adopted: conducted at the Ecma forum or conducted at the SC34 WG) issuing a technical corrigendum.

(If there were some gross error, then of course a NB could complain to the ITTF or JTC1 (Secretariat) as well: NBs can always communicate with the Secretariats about any important or extraordinary issues. If they feel the spec is dangerously corrupted, they can even make a request for a withdrawal of the standard, which is highly unlikely for a document standard AFAICS: you would expect in any case the matter would end up being dealt with through SC34 in liaison with Ecma through whatever committee processes SC34 chooses but ending up with NB voting.)

Alex Owen 
2008-02-06, 12:54
There is another thing a NB can do if the BRM introduces problems or if the BRM refuses to address problems found since the letter ballot: the NB can vote against acceptance of DIS.

At the end of the BRM there is a (notional) new text of the DIS. If a NB thinks that the new text is not good enough to be come an IS then they should vote against it!

Simple really... (or have I missed something?)

The Open Sourcerer 
2008-02-08, 17:06
Just in case anyone has missed this, the Wall Street Journal have reported today that the EU is investigating Microsoft's efforts to get OOXML through ISO. This is getting heavy coverage in the "blogosphere" and on many news sites.

Wall Street Journal Article

Mike Brown 
2008-02-12, 11:17
@The Open Sourcerer

I doubt that anybody following this process over the last year or so will have missed that one, mate!

At the risk of pre-empting Alex though, I think that any of discussion of that will be seriously off-topic for this month's BRM.


- Mike

The Open Sourcerer 
2008-02-13, 13:47

Thanks for that! When I submitted the comment (last week) it was new "news"... Also, I never expected it to be discussed at the BRM.

However it is a very unusual, if not unique, intervention by such a powerful and influential body so it definitely seemed worth pointing out. Just in case it was overlooked you understand...



2008-03-06, 18:47
[Update 2008-03-06. This was the wrong clause. In-meeting Fast Track BRM voting is for resolving the comments of a constituency determined by the combined voting procedure (O-members + P-members) as per the JTC 1 Directives 9.5, and that is the understanding of the "normal JTC 1 procedures" in 13.8.]


Would you be kind enough to share a light regarding who was responsible of this ISO directive's interpretation?

Thanks in advance


Administrator (Alex Brown) 
2008-03-06, 19:09

Yes, the Information Technology Task Force (ITTF), the body within ISO and IEC responsible (among other things) for "[supervising] the application of the ISO and IEC Statutes and Rules of Procedure".

You can read about their role in the JTC 1 Directives.

- Alex.

franco merletti 
2008-03-06, 19:38
Thanks, let me ask you one more question

Did you note that the cited clause 9.5

"The voting procedure which uses simultaneous voting (one vote per country) by the Pmembers
fo JTC 1 and by all ISO member bodies and IEC national committees on a
letter ballot is called the combined voting procedure. This procedure shall be used on

clearly is about "letter ballots" and not about "BRMs"? ( the letter ballots forms can be found on the annex G of the JTC1 directives )

Thank you


Administrator (Alex Brown) 
2008-03-06, 19:54

Yes, of course - which is why I wrote 9.5 determined the "constituency". The NBs who voted in the September ballot (as per 9.5 this included O-members) then go into ballot resolution ...

- Alex.

2008-03-07, 00:27
"9.5 determined the "constituency". The NBs who voted in the September ballot (as per 9.5 this included O-members) then go into ballot resolution ..."

In this case, it would be logical to also apply the September approval requirements:

"Approval requires at least 2/3 (i.e. 66.66 %) of the votes cast by national bodies participating in ISO/IEC JTC 1 to be positive; and no more than 1/4 (i.e. 25 %) of the total number of national body votes cast negative."
Source: http://www.iso.org/iso/pressrelease.htm?refid=Ref1070

Seriously wondering...


Luc Bollen 
2008-03-07, 00:41
@Alex Brown

1. Let assume that (9.5)determines the "constituency" for the BRM.

In the combined voting procedure all the NBs vote, but only the P votes are taken into account for the "2/3 criteria" deciding if the DIS is accepted. The O votes are used only for the "1/4 criteria" that could result in **rejecting** the DIS. So, to my understanding, (9.5) gives no voting power to the O-members for **accepting** a resolution.

ITTF should, at least, let us know if the rule they applied for the BRM is written somewhere, or if this an usual rule, with previous occurrences, but which is not written anywhere. If it appears that this is a new rule applied for the first time and not written anywhere, this casts a serious doubt about the seriousness of the process ITTF decided to use.

2. On the other hand, as discussed by Rob Weir (http://www.robweir.com/blog/2008/03/jtc1-improv-comedy-theater.html), the rules for the PAS procedure are very clear: only the P-members vote during a PAS ballot resolution meeting :

( "At the ballot resolution group meeting, decisions should be reached preferably by consensus. If a vote is unavoidable, the approval criteria in the subclause 9.1.4 is applied.. If the decisions reached are not acceptable to the Recognised PAS Submitter, the Submitter may withdraw the document to terminate the procedure."

(9.1.4) "In a meeting, except as otherwise specified in these directives, questions are decided by a majority of the votes cast at the meeting by P-members expressing either approval or disapproval."

What is ITTF's explanation for using different voting rules for a FT BRM and a PAS BRM ?

franco merletti 
2008-03-07, 01:02
"Yes, of course - which is why I wrote 9.5 determined the "constituency". The NBs who voted in the September ballot (as per 9.5 this included O-members) then go into ballot resolution ..."

I understand your point.

Is there any precedent of this interpretation? i mean, that JTC1 observer countries voted in fast track BRMs to amend the text of a DIS with the same voting "power" that Participating members?

Administrator (Alex Brown) 
2008-03-07, 06:51

Hah, well (fortunately) I do not see many meetings like this for comparison! ITTF explained to NBs last week that this was a fair, consistent and correction appication of the Directives.

- Alex.

Administrator (Alex Brown) 
2008-03-07, 07:04
@Stefan, Luc,

ITTF explained the voting rules to NB delegation heads before the BRM. If NBs have outstanding concerns they can lodge an appeal and then TMB and SMB will decide.

Alignment of PAS and FT procedures is ongoing work within JTC 1. As you can see, they are currently not the same on thi topic ...

- Alex.

Mike Brown 
2008-03-11, 07:55
@Stefan & Luc,

Would it have actually made any difference to the BRM if only "P" members had been allowed to vote?

This is not a rhetorical question. I'm wondering if the outcome of the BRM might have been changed in any way had that been the case.


- Mike

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