SC 34 Meetings, Jeju Island, Korea - Day 3 
2008-10-01, 15:50

Preparing for the Plenary



This Korean bog is so computerized it has an appreciable boot sequence;
brings a whole new meaning to the term “core dump”

WG 1 met in the morning and its business was mainly consensus-building and drafting on topics already covered, in advance of tomorrow’s plenary. The plan is to create a new working group dedicated to document interoperability, and many NBs participated in a drafting panel to get the terms of reference for this group just right. There were also liaison statements to be written: to OASIS (concerning ODF maintenance), and to JTC 1 (concerning ODF maintenance) – again there was wide interest in making sure these communiqués exactly expressed the consensus International view.

Meanwhile, back in Blighty, our tireless and most excellent experts were scrutinizing the new ISO/IEC 29500 (OOXML) text to ensure all the UK’s BRM changes have been properly implemented. Three problems have been found so far and submitted to SC 34 as defect reports. I am sure there will be many more.

Bye bye IBM?


Following the threat made last week by Bob Sutor (VP, Vice President Open Source and Standards, IBM) that IBM would, as its first stated “principle”,

Begin or end participation in standards bodies based on the quality and openness of their processes, membership rules, and intellectual property policies.”

a question being asked along the committee corridors by perplexed NB members is whether IBM has withdrawn its staff from participation SC 34. I have no idea, but IBM people are certainly conspicuous here by their total absence.


Some chairs were empty at SC 34

In reaction to Bob Sutors’s post, the headlines (some from sources who really should know better) suggested that IBM would “leave ISO”. They can of course do no such thing. IBM is not a member of ISO (or IEC, or JTC 1, or any of its subcommittees) – mere vendors are not accorded the privilege of being members of an International organisation; only National Bodies (effectively, countries) are — hence the “nation” in “international”.

The next steps in IBM’s plan is to hold a secret meeting (invitation only; secret member list; opaque funding) to discuss – would you believe – openness, perhaps before waltzing off to create a brave new standards world in Second Life: maybe there, IBM can be a nation!

For myself I know first-hand that IBM does have some great people who have a lot to bring to International Standardization in all kinds of ways. Indeed IBM has made a historic contribution to SC 34 and its predecessor groups – no less a person than Charles Goldfarb, the “father of SGML”, was himself an IBM man. We need people of that calibre. But even if IBM is blasé about (what might sentimentally be termed) a betrayal of its heritage, they might take a hard-headed look at the benefits of being a full, good-faith player in International Standardization: I wonder how long, especially in these troubled economic times, IBM stockholders are going to tolerate the kind of valueless, out-of-control escapade the company is currently indulging in.


Charles Goldfarb, markup languages titan and sometime IBM man


Alan Bell 
2008-10-01, 18:45
"valueless, out-of-control escapade" seems a fairly good description of what has been going on, and it would appear that IBM are not so convinced of the benefits of being involved in it, hence saved themselves a few air fares. I am a little surprised that they are already "the elephant not in the room", I thought it would take another incident to trigger it.

hAl 
2008-10-01, 21:43
If IBM were to withdraw from ISO I have little doubt that quite a few of those people would reappear in standardization processen incarnated working for Sun, Intel or Google or something

Lars Marius Garshol 
2008-10-01, 21:55
I'll pass over the OOXML stuff in favour of a more interesting question: for the second photo, did you use the wide-angle lens? Because that looks great. Suddenly I can feel a need for a wide-angle developing...

Michael Brown 
2008-10-01, 22:09
"A betrayal of its heritage" is the phrase that popped into my head too, although not in regards to IBM.

When you can see that the deck's been marked, it's time to leave the poker game.

Cheers,

- Mike

orlando 
2008-10-02, 02:31
"I wonder how long, especially in these troubled economic times"

this is the point, in these troubled economic times, we *really* need useful standards and not mere corporates marketings helpers ( ISO 29500 ) totally un-implementable and with unprecedent bad quality as a "repetible" specification.

by the way, my chapeau to Microsoft, they have now at least 2 ISO WGs working free for them, to try to fix the mess of the rushed fast-tracking of more than 15000 pages ( +6000 original +2000 of proposed dispositions of NB comments + fixes + fixes of the fixes + defect reports of the fixes + ... + (*) )

interesting times... but enough of OOXML ... let me relax and enjoy the great landscape of Jeju islands; beautiful place indeed


(*) "there is no end but additions..."

hAl 
2008-10-02, 14:33
There were also liaison statements to be written: to OASIS (concerning ODF maintenance), and to JTC 1 (concerning ODF maintenance) – again there was wide interest in making sure these communiqués exactly expressed the consensus International view.


I'm not surpised IBM's Rob Weir decided to pass on the SC34 meeting.
Agreeing with the change of the liaison text with OASIS (mainly because of the lack of actions by the ODF TC) would be to critisize himself as he is co-chair of the OASIS ODF TC and on the other hand if he would not have been agreeing with the change of hte liaison text would just anoy the SC34 members more with the attitude of both IBM and the OASIS ODF TC.



Gareth 
2008-10-03, 00:12
After the bloody nose IBM got from the Rambus caper and now Open XML, small wonder that they want to get back to the good old days of the shadowy "invitation-only" cartels of "influential figures" (AMI-2 / JEDEC)and making sure that they retain and increasepatent revenue, whilst minimizing their own licensing costs.

They are paying Rambus through the nose now after being outflanked. One might even muse that they died by their own hand, by pointing out to JEDEC that there was no requirement to disclose patent info and IBM were certainly not going to - maybe showing Rambus the way.

Maybe the bean counters pulled the plug on this - IBM standards activities no longer a profit centre.

Or maybe I've become overly cynical in my dotage.


Gareth

Administrator (Alex Brown) 
2008-10-03, 11:41
@Michael Brown

> When you can see that the deck's been marked,
> it's time to leave the poker game

86% of the nations voting approved the standardisation of OOXML. The view that this could come about through a "marked deck" is an insane conspiracy theory.


@orlando

> totally un-implementable

This is a myth. The truth is, of course, that both MS Office and OpenOffice implement OOXML (in its harder, Ecma 376, manifestation).

> by the way, my chapeau to Microsoft, they have now at least
> 2 ISO WGs working free for them

That is partly true - the "world" now owns OOXML and is really users of all sorts that the WGs are serving, including you.

John Scholes 
2008-10-03, 16:30
@Alex

Hmmm.

I spent a whole day talking to Bob Sutor. My conclusion was that he was rather out of his depth and mismatched against the much more professional effort by MS to make use of the JTC1 machinery.

But I think it is a tad unbalanced to confine your criticism to IBM. There was even more to criticize in MS's behaviour over OOXML. But there is nothing to be done about how large organizations behave. There is, however, the possibility of doing something about how JTC1 behaves. This will not be the last time that it comes up against blatant attempts to misuse its procedures for commercial gain. It needs to give some serious thought about how to enhance its reputation and protect itself against future abuse.

I don't think it is enough to put all the blame on National Bodies and say they ought to reform their procedures.

Of course, most people involved in the standards process do it out of love and a genuine desire to enhance the benefits to the world of these wonderful technologies. They just breathe a huge sigh of relief that things are now getting back to normal. But lots of other companies will have watched from the sidelines and drawn conclusions. Now is the time for some reforms ....



Administrator (Alex Brown) 
2008-10-03, 17:20
@John

Interesting comment!

> I spent a whole day talking to Bob Sutor. My conclusion was that he was rather
> out of his depth and mismatched against the much more professional effort by
> MS to make use of the JTC1 machinery.

Thinking in "corporate war" terms, I take a slightly different view ...

I think MS made rather a poor play at the beginning by over-relying on Ecma to guide their spec through. Ecma of course took their chosen route (the Fast Track) and this was so obviously unsuitable for OOXML that things very nearly unravelled. The not-very-good state of the text was also obviously a big problem. In the early stages MS were also guilty of pestilential over-lobbying that did their cause no good at all. Ironically, what saved them I think was that after the first "no" vote they went into a kind of paranoid nervous paralysis that allowed the NBs to get on with it. To some degree that nervousness still exists: notice how the MS blogs all went from cautious to virtually silent over the latter stages of the process, and have stayed that way.

But if MS's campaign was inept and flukey, IBM's was a total disaster. They could have sunk OOXML easily by "helping" to get the spec into shape by instigating very thorough comments with fully written-out proposals for solution. The load of not-very-good comments they did produce (with no fully-written out proposals) merely had the effect of keeping the Ecma team very busy for several months, and gave them complete flexibility in how they responded. Admittedly the effort nearly broke the Ecma TC, but it also gave them a good chance to demonstrate cooperation with NBs. IBM have also offered several hostages to fortune that indicate they lacked situational awareness: making pronouncements like "JTC 1 needs to maintain OOXML" and "MS Office needs to support ODF" don't seem so smart when these were MS's own plans too. The lobbying efforts by IBM (especially the anti-BRM in Geneva) had the effect of upsetting NBs and - crucially - of upsetting Patrick Durusau, prompting him to write his famous postings. His intervention had, I think a big impact on the direction of the debate.

> But I think it is a tad unbalanced to confine your criticism to IBM.

While MS and IBM slug it out it's possible to look on with a "boys will be boys" attitude, but when the guns start to swivel round to point at International Standardisation itself I think all of us who care about it need to be on our guard.

> There was even more to criticize in MS's behaviour over OOXML.

I'm not sure about that, but as a "collector" of tales of bad behaviour on both sides, I'd be happy if you contacted me offline with any information I am unlikely to have come across elsewhere.

> But there is nothing to be done about how large organizations behave. There is, however, the possibility
> of doing something about how JTC1 behaves. This will not be the last time that it comes up against
> blatant attempts to misuse its procedures for commercial gain. It needs to give some serious thought
> about how to enhance its reputation and protect itself against future abuse.

I completely agree. I hope to run some posts on this topic shortly (it is huge). As I have frequently said one immediate way to improve things would be to scrap the Fast Track and PAS procedures. But of course "immediate" is not a concept that can exist in a bureaucratic International standards organisation like JTC 1 (speed of change is another issue, of course).

> I don't think it is enough to put all the blame on National Bodies and say they ought to reform their procedures.

No, but immature NB processes is another part of the problem.

> Of course, most people involved in the standards process do it out of love and a genuine
> desire to enhance the benefits to the world of these wonderful technologies.

Of course! As we both know!

> They just breathe a huge sigh of relief that things are now getting back to normal. But lots of other companies
> will have watched from the sidelines and drawn conclusions. Now is the time for some reforms ....

Watch this space...

Mike Brown 
2008-10-03, 23:55
>> 86% of the nations voting approved the standardisation of OOXML

Yes, but was it a fair vote, Alex? With Microsoft stuffing committees with its partners left, right and centre.

And sorry, but it's not enough for ISO to say that's the National Bodies' processes, and it's not for ISO to interfere. If ISO accepts the results of the votes then it implicitly validates the processes used to get them.

Say all you want about IBM's poor campaign, and I'm not going to defend it. However, that company did not resort to openly cheating. A source within IBM at the time told me that there were plenty of IBM people that wanted to fight fire with fire, by swamping committees with business partners of its own to counter Microsoft's. I think it's to the company's credit that it refused to play that game that way, whatever other mistakes that it may have made.

Cheers,

- Mike



Administrator (Alex Brown) 
2008-10-04, 03:46
@Mike

> Yes, but was it a fair vote, Alex? With Microsoft stuffing committees
> with its partners left, right and centre.
> And sorry, but it's not enough for ISO to say that's the National Bodies'
> processes, and it's not for ISO to interfere. If ISO accepts the results of the
> votes then it implicitly validates the processes used to get them.

On the contrary, it *is* enough to say it is not for ISO (or, more accurately, JTC 1) to interfere, any more than it is for the UN (say) to reject the decisions made by China because other Nations disapprove of its regime. JTC 1 is an international technical committee, not some kind of world police force with powers to override national policy in standardisation. Ultimately there needs to be a point of authority where the buck stops, and in International Standardisation it is each nation. Who would you have as your alternative final arbiter - the secretaries general? IBM? slashdot?

Now, as I have said, NB maturity is an issue - it tends to be the more mature NBs who are experienced in keeping vendor influence in check. But even if we look only at the big, experienced, long-term participants in this field of standardisation, we get the same kind of comfortable majority in favour of OOXML that we did in the actual ballot. It seems to be the contention of the anti-OOXML crowd that, for example, ANSI, DIN, BSI and JISC are somehow owned by Microsoft. Do you honestly believe that?

IBM were of course also participating strongly (as is their right; maybe their duty) in the process, and there are many tales of heated debates within national standards committees. Ultimately the plain truth is that the post-BRM spec was of sufficient utility and quality that the nations wanted it. And these were the same nations, remember, who rejected it in September 2007 (an incident that doesn't fit so easily with the tinfoil brigade's narratives).

John Scholes 
2008-10-04, 15:33
@Mike, @Alex

NBs.

I have to agree with Alex that JTC1 cannot override or invalidate an NB vote because it does not like the internal processes of the NB. Nations are sovereign.

I also agree with Mike that there were many unappealing stories about how NBs decided which way to vote. A particular issue is transparency. Many NBs take their decisions in secret. One reason for that is to shield the individuals involved from undue pressure, lobbying and hassle. On the other hand, courts sit in public so that justice is seen to be done. There is a strong case for NB decisions being similarly exposed to the public gaze. Certainly, distasteful deals are much more easily done behind closed doors, and secrecy tends to breed the suspicion that such deals took place, even when they did not.

However, I think that each country has to deal with these issues itself. JTC1 has no mandate to start imposing particular Western democratic ideals on all members.

My comments about the need for JTC1 reform were more directed at the apparent confusion about exactly how the JTC1 process is supposed to work, to what extent the rules can be overridden in a particular case by an affirmative vote, and exactly what appeal rights NBs have. It is unfortunate that in this case several NBs apparently felt that their rights under the rules had not been properly respected.

franco merletti 
2008-10-07, 01:15
"86% of the nations voting approved the standardisation of OOXML. "

You have a particular way of viewing the results because you are *excluding* abstentions to calculate this number. Yes, i anticipate your response: JTC1 rules say that; but this is not my point: abstentions were very important in this fiasco. I mean:

17 of 41 P-members don't think OOXML deserves the 'ISO brand' ( abstained or disapproved ).

This is a *big* number ( near 42% ), considering that 8+ P-members were unconditional-yes-sayers ( Jamaica, Lebanon, Malta, etc. [0] ) and many abstention were actually negative votes changed at last minute by political influence ( Malaysian and Norweigan case for example ).

Like it or not, this is a nominal "standard" , not a legitimate one ( see for example Brasil, India and China: very big countries and fast evolving economies that are simply ignoring the beast ).

This has been an enormous waste of time for many people, including you, just to keep a corporation happy giving an ISO stamp. What a shame ( Don Knuth and computer science: forgive us!! forgive ISO!! )

Franco Merletti

[0] for example Ivory "what-standard-do-you-want-to-fast-track-today-TM" Coast case: http://www.noooxml.org/forum/t-43510/iv ... at-the-brm


Jeetje 
2008-10-08, 11:46
Alex,

I'm sorry, but if ISO expects me to trust the organisation to come up with (a) document standard(s) that caters to my need as a consumer, it will have to do its utmost to convince me that trust is well earned (just like a bank these days needs to go the extra mile if it wants my life savings to enhance their cashflow).

I was already painfully made aware 15 years ago the whole ISO 9000 series certification amounts to little more than 'Yes, the organisation we've certified drew up some arbitrary rules on how they will bullshit consumers, and they stick to those rules', i.e. it's not a certificate of excellence but a certificate of how well that organisation will adhere to the promise they laid down in their procedures. Don't expect me to read the whole damn rulebook before I sign my name on the dotted line for a purchase, I need a neutral arbitrator to tell me whether I'll get my money's worth!

The whole document standards fiasco up till now tells me a couple of things:
1) In this particular area of IT, ISO standards don't deserve my trust.
2) In this field ISO is no longer in the lead (if it ever was) but trailing by a landslide.
3) Even worse, by setting two (partly) overlapping standards, one of them heavily encumbered by not fully specified legacy items, SC34 has taken upon it the daunting task to get them properly aligned AND AT THE SAME TIME draw up a full specification of how to convert legacy documents into the future unified document format.

Working in IT for over two decades myself I feel confident enough to state the scope of the project in bullet 3 is way to wide to keep everyone focused on the real issue: a unified document format that can stand the test of time a lot better than the multiple de facto Microsoft standards we've had over the past 15 years.

If ISO were to cut out all the legacy fluff from ISO 29500 and align it with ISO 26300 within the next year, leaving the task of mapping legacy formats to that future unified format to Microsoft (as it should be!) or alternatively a combined ECMA/OASIS taskforce, then I'd be convinced SC34/JTC1 still has some staying power. But as it is I'm afraid it's not the muddy process of the last 2 years, but the way your current project (as described in bullet 3) reeks of politics instead of the pleasant odor of technicians blood, sweat and tears that'll make ISO even more irrelevant than it already is. And no, I'm not going to dive into the 2 years I indulged myself into politics other than that I've learned to avoid it like the plague whenever I can.

The plain and simple fact a number of governments representing a large portion of the globe's population have already singled out ODF as their format of choice means you need to get your act together fast. ISO choose to have two (partly) overlapping standards, the ball is in your court, surprise us in a positive manner instead of still playing petty blame games and get this whole sordid episode over with, will you? Get us our money's worth!

PS Our money's worth in my book:
1) A unified document format in 2009, building on all the knowledge aggregated over the past 30 odd years.
2) See 1
3) See 1
4) Do we still have time left? Ok, who needs help mapping their legacy formats to the clean slate we just presented?

Administrator (Alex Brown) 
2008-10-08, 15:03
@Jeetje

I can tell you there is absolutely no appetite in SC 34 for a new unified document format. I think the last thing the world need need is a yet another designed-by-committee blue-sky format that is not implemented.

As a technician you will understand that "it's just stuff", and what we're really talking about when we contrast ODF and OOXML (and even UOF) is, mainly, differences in XML syntax. Questions of taste if you like. What's the betting that in five years time the game will have moved on and we'll be more focussed on WHAT we are committing to document formats, rather than their underlying construction. Let's hope so.

On your more general point, I think it is foolish to judge a standard's technical quality based purely on its provenance. Some ISO/IEC standards are good; some suck. The same is true for, e.g., OASIS and W3C standards - a brain is required to distinguish. What an ISO/IEC standard gives you is an International dimension in its approval; no more, no less. The problem with having a "neutral arbitrator" as you propose is that it would be difficult to appoint such a person. So, (with apologies to Churchill), having the nations of the world decide is probably the worst possible system, apart from all the others.

- Alex.


Chris Ward 
2008-10-08, 23:15
Come on, Andy !

The principal market competition point between IBM and Microsoft related to SC34 is between IBM Lotus Notes and Microsoft Office.

I've seen reports from competition authorities (the latest was some California state one) wishing that Microsoft was less dominant in 'the market', hoping that someone would compete with them, and trying to level the playing field so that someone does. But they also say that it's not in their remit to 'king-make'; to pick which vendor or vendors will make the profits as Microsoft's bubble is (they hope) deflated.

And it's true. It's not the job of a competition authority to pick a winning vendor. It's the job of a competition authority to arrange that there are a variety of vendors in the market, so that a consumer (or a consuming business) has a choice of what to spend their money on.

It's kind-of understandable that IBM would like it to be IBM that makes the profits. Which isn't quite the same thing at all.

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