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Pseudorandom Thoughts

We’ve heard a lot of coverage of events in Sweden, Mexico, Australia, the US, etc. But we should remember that there are 150 or so countries eligible to vote. Here is a first-person account of the Microsoft medicine show in Ghana, from Kwasi at Ramblings of an African Geek:

So, the Q&A section rolls around, I asked some questions and an attempt was made by the MS reps to paint me as ill-informed and obtaining all my information from blogs on the internet run by anti-Microsoft fundamentalists. Oh, and of course IBM was mentioned as the prime company lobbying everyone and providing them with groundless reasons to vote against OOXML. Then came the best tactic of the day. Dismissing my questions as ‘too academic’ and ‘concerned with the needs of other nations, not Ghana’. After I stopped being annoyed at the attempt to shut me down, I was highly amused.

From Africa News is a report “African civil society warns Microsoft“:

(FOSS) Foundation for Africa (FOSSFA), Ms Nnenna Nwakanma, told HANA that Nigeria like any other African country stands to gain by properly investigating the issue on the ground, stressing that Microsoft lobbyists have not been able to convince stakeholders how the OOXML document formats would benefit the public except for those who have Office 2007, which is a proprietary software .

“Only those using Office 2007 can benefit from it. If you use any Office apart from 2007, you first have to upgrade. I cannot understand why norms cannot be used unless certain proprietary changes had to be made,” she said.

On the implication of voting ‘No’ to OOXML being proposed by Microsoft to Africa, especially in relation to e-School initiative, she said, already some African countries are warming up to embrace Open Document Formats (ODF), as an alternative file format.

But back to Sweden. My, my, what a mess. I suspect the same has happened elsewhere, including the US. But no one has been so careless as to leak a memo over here. We feel left out! So, if anyone has a similar “smoking gun” letter sent by Microsoft to line up MS Partners in the US to join INCITS V1 at the last minute, and doesn’t know what to do with it, you might consider letting me know. I’ll trade an original copy of the Utica Saturday Globe of Sept 21st, 1901, the President McKinley memorial issue, with full coverage of his funeral and burial, including a still brilliant page one color portrait (over the fold) of McKinley with Lady Liberty on the side, weeping, draped in flag with shield. Suitable for framing. A true collector’s item for any McKinley fan.

(Trivia: Ever wonder why there are so many McKinley High Schools in the US? Because so many of schools were built after soon after his death.)

So what is wrong with stacking a committee? Isn’t it just an expression of our freedom to associate? An interesting perspective from the Supreme Court, in a case that no one is talking about, but everyone should know: ALLIED TUBE & CONDUIT CORP. v. INDIAN HEAD, INC., 486 U.S. 492 (1988). This appears to be the highest profile case involving stuffing a standards committee:

Petitioner…can, with full antitrust immunity, engage in concerted efforts to influence those governments through direct lobbying, publicity campaigns, and other traditional avenues of political expression. To the extent state and local governments are more difficult to persuade through these other avenues, that no doubt reflects their preference for and confidence in the nonpartisan consensus process that petitioner has undermined. Petitioner remains free to take advantage of the forum provided by the standard-setting process by presenting and vigorously arguing accurate scientific evidence before a nonpartisan private standard-setting body. And petitioner can avoid the strictures of the private standard-setting process by attempting to influence legislatures through other forums.

What petitioner may not do (without exposing itself to possible antitrust liability for direct injuries) is bias the process by, as in this case, stacking the private standard-setting body with decisionmakers sharing their economic interest in restraining competition.

(Over on Slashdot one reader says of the above, “And I don’t think normal people go around reading and quoting 20 year old anti-trust cases for fun.” You don’t know me very well, do you? I read legal analysis for fun. I have my own copy of Tribe’s “American Constitutional Law”, a facsimile edition of Blackstone’s “Commentaries on the Laws of England”, a three volume set of the writings of Edward Coke, and Fergus Kelly’s “A Guide to Early Irish Law”. Never confuse me with normal. But never confuse me for a lawyer either. I don’t generalize well.)

In the “When Your Mom is the Beauty Pageant Judge” department comes news that the most influential “products, applications or technologies of the past 25 years”, according to a super duper scientific poll by CompTIA, is Internet Explorer. Second place is Microsoft Word. Third place is Microsoft Excel. And tied for Fourth Place is Windows 95.

Joe Wilcox over at Microsoft Watch takes a pin to the Microsoft-sponsored puff piece IDC did on OOXML called “Adoption of Document Standards.” And if the data is not rosy enough, Microosft can make it look even better by cutting off the y-axis labels to make a more impressive bar chart. “This one goes to eleven.” You could spend hours exposing the flaws in that paper, but why bother? Life is too short.

Wait… this just in. In a survey of most dumb-ass Microsoft-sponsored surveys of August, first place goes to CompTIA’s “Microsoft, Creator of Civilization, Inventor of Fire & Universal Benefactor of Mankind” and second place goes to IDC’s “4% Looks More Important in a Bar Chart if the Maximum is set to 5%.”

This one brought a smile to my face. Software Engineer job postings at Red Hat in Pune. Resumes must be submitted in ODF format.

Freecode in Norway has link to an an essay [pdf] by Sun’s XML Architect, Jon Bosak entitled “Why OOXML Is Not Ready for Prime Time”. Although I may disagree with Jon on the suitability of this single-vendor format for international standardization (His position is more along the lines of “Not yet” while mine is more like “Hell no”), I must admit he makes some excellent points.

Also, the Linux Foundations Desktop Architects have a statement just out: OOXML – vote “No, with comments

And speaking of “No, with comments”, now that the Microsoft checks have presumably cleared, self-proclaimed “standards activist” Rick Jelliffe, is recommending that Australia vote “No, with comments.” This after a summer of speaking in favor of OOXML in India, Thailand (twice), Australia, New Zealand and who knows where else. How unfortunate for us all that his sage advice comes only after Standards Australia and most other countries have already finished their deliberations. I can only respond with the words of Lord Byron, from his “Ode to Napoleon”:

And she, proud Austria’s mournful flower,
Thy still imperial bride;
How bears her breast the torturing hour?
Still clings she to thy side ?
Must she too bend, must she too share
Thy late repentance

In the following post Rick reinterprets time, gives sophistry a bad name and takes such liberties with geometry that would make M.C. Escher blush, all in attempt to show that OOXML is really not 6,000 pages long, and it really wasn’t created in less than a year. You can read his attempt to seek a logical basis for redefining reality to fit his preconceptions here, or just consult my one-slide summary below.

(Oh, Rick. One more thing. My last name is shared by Australia’s most famous film director, Peter Weir. I manage to spell your name right. Maybe this mnemonic will help you spell mine right.)

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{ 38 comments… add one }

  • Anonymous 2007/08/29, 22:43

    New Zealand just voted “no” … see standards.org.nz

  • Sam McCall 2007/08/30, 00:23

    (Oh, Rick. One more thing. My last name is shared by Australia’s most famous film director, Peter Weir. I manage to spell your name right. Maybe this mnemonic will help you spell mine right.)

    I wouldn’t take that too personally. On reducing the font size from 11 to 10:

    Viola, I estimate that about 1,000 pages can be reduced by this.

  • Anonymous 2007/08/30, 01:39

    Ok, but what are “the most influential products, applications or technologies of the past 25 years”? There list is pretty computer biased, but sad as it is, IE is pretty darn influential.

    CompTIA’s press release.

    I’m having a hard time coming up with anything created after 1982. Cell phones, microwave ovens, hand calculators, cable tv, CT scans, internet, LEDs…they don’t make the cutoff.

    Does our world really revolve around computers? Or am I just blind to a world of neat stuff out there?

  • Gerhard 2007/08/30, 02:53

    Oh Rob!
    How do you expect us to believe you really know the difference between linear and exponential, when you do not manage the basics of arithmetic?
    Years ago, when I was a student, 10 Years represented between 3651 Days and 3653 Days. (Depending on the Position of Leap Years)
    A rough calculation gives me 1100 minus 400 equals 700, representing less than two years.
    Is your graph now a proof, that you exaggerate everything by a factor of five?

  • Rob 2007/08/30, 07:25

    Anonymous, Oh, I dunno. How about the invention of the world wide web (1991)? You think that might place in the top 5. How about Apache HTTP Server which runs the majority of web sites? What about SSL which made retail use of the web safe? What about HTML which allowed users to author web content in an interoperable way?

    I guess when I think of the “the most influential products, applications or technologies of the past 25 years” I think more of the plumbing and less of the wallpaper. The plumbing is what is really influential, since it enables the rest.

    Gerhard, Sorry, but I can’t tell from your post whether you are trying to be funny. If so, I’ll need to think about it some more. It is always awkward to have a conversation with someone who has a far greater or far lesser sense of humor than oneself.

  • BobFolkerts 2007/08/30, 09:52

    @gerhard

    Here is some arithmetic. The specifications for SVG, SOAP and ODF have a combined length of something around 2,000 pages and a committee effort of about 2,900 days, or about one month under 8 years. If we add in the other points on the graph, you will find that you have fewer than 6,000 pages and more than 11 years of committee effort. So, I would say that Rob’s claim of 10 years is actually conservative. But don’t take my estimates as correct, please do the math ;-)

    If we are wanting to get technical as to the length of a year, we should not that the graph measures committee effort, so perhaps we should use 360 days, since even standards committee members should have a week off now and then.

    @rob
    I applaud you as an exponent of the correct use of mathematical terms. Precision in language is almost as important as precision in mathematics.

  • Karellen 2007/08/30, 11:04

    Hmmm…influential tech products of 25 years.

    Even if you limit yourself to software, are they seriously suggesting that IE is more influential than Mosaic (1993)? That Excel is more influential than Lotus 1-2-3 (1983 – first killer app for the IBM PC)? That Windows ’95 is more influential than the X window system (1984) or the Apple Macintosh (1984)?

    I don’t see how Word is particularly influential either. Word processors just kind of grew out of text editors and text formatting systems gradually, and those from line-based editors like “ed”. I don’t see any huge jumps in any version of Word to shout about, or any products that could be said to have been influenced by Word in a way they would not have naturally grown themselves from the editors of the past. TeX and SGML are probably more influential than Word here, even if they were created in the ’60s and fall outside the 25 year timescale.

  • Stefan Gustavson 2007/08/30, 14:37

    “Most influential products” seem to have been defined as what flavor of an actual technical innovation most people end up using. MS products like IE and Word certainly get the top rank there. However, if the definition had been “actual sources of technical innovation”, MS would not have anything to show. They are never first, not even best, and never truly innovative, they are just big. That really never stops puzzling me.

  • Rob 2007/08/30, 15:14

    What does “influential” even mean when you don’t say what or whom is being influenced? Influencing end-users? Influencing the advance of technology? Influencing Microsoft’s earnings? Without providing that clarification, I don’t know how anyone could answer their poll.

  • Anonymous 2007/08/30, 16:11

    How can anyone misspell your name? I’ve never gotten it wrong since I first came here & noticed that it’s just weird without a d at the end :-)

    Anyhow, I’m glad to see that Sweden is changing its vote to abstain after those irregularities.

    As for the anti-trust bit… even if IBM or someone were to sue, wouldn’t the court case take far too long to stop Microsoft? Even if it went twice as fast as SCO v. IBM, where SCO has one of the most pathetically weak cases ever brought to court, I fear the damage would be done.

    If it’s anything like the two class action suits against Microsoft I’ve been a party to (where I was one of millions of nobodies caught up in a lawsuit someone else started), they’ll just settle the thing for a pittance and the court won’t even entertain objections. I even wrote out an objection stressing that it was against the judicial economy to approve a settlement where Microsoft didn’t even promise to mend its behavior, structured the settlement to drive people to buy even more Microsoft software and further expand its monopoly when such actions clearly indicate that we’re headed for yet another antitrust case in a few years for all the monopoly practices after the cutoff date in that litigation.

    Of course, I didn’t finish it in time, either, and I’m not a lawyer to begin with so I probably can’t properly respond to the legal nuances they’d introduce. Pity, too, because I think a good case could have been made to restructure those settlements…

  • Rob 2007/08/30, 16:33

    Funny, that’s how I remember how to spell the word “weird”.

  • Queen Elizabeth 2007/08/30, 18:00

    If anything, the legal excerpt you provide buttresses Microsoft’s case. What the passage forbids is use of the standards process to restrain competition (i.e., stacking the process to block or lock out other vendors.)

    Interestingly, IBM’s conduct might easily be read as transgressing that decision: it is attempting to use the standards process to shut out (or greatly set back) Microsoft, the competition.

  • Anonymous 2007/08/30, 19:47

    Speaking of other Weirs, there’s also this guy: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bob_Weir

    But Wikipedia doesn’t have a page on you, too bad. I’d create one, but they don’t let anonymous folks do that any more and I don’t know of any sources to cite for the notability claim.

    Pity, I so wanted to add that last quote about that being how you remember to spell weird to your page, had it existed :-)

  • Sam 2007/08/30, 20:55

    Rob-

    Rick got the name thing from me: Craig “Kittering”.

    That MY intellectual property! Mine! You dumb bitches.

  • Rob 2007/08/30, 21:00

    Sorry, I’m not very notable. Maybe I should write a book sometime. That’s what notable people seem to do.

    But I can tell you a joke, one of my best.

    I start my talking about my youth, when I studied Aikido. I talk about the throws, the joint locks, etc. Then I say, “I learned that there are 27 distinct ways to kill a man with one finger,” and I stiffly hold up my index finger and pause for dramatic effect. Then, relaxing, I sit back and say, “But killing a man who has all his fingers — that is much more difficult.”

  • Anonymous 2007/08/30, 22:09

    Well, I’m not totally sure that you’re *not* notable, either. To my memory, you broke some of the more interesting OOXML stories, like the format_like_ancient_word_processor flags.

    But maybe the only reason I think that way is because I read this blog every day and submit any juicy bits straight to Slashdot & Groklaw, which I think is helping to get some of this stuff more notice in mainstream media.

    I’m still disappointed, though, that I haven’t seen much coverage in places like Wired. I mean, we’re watching Microsoft organize a global takeover of countries which vote in ISO. Call me crazy, but I don’t think they’re just going to forget about that power and all the effort they’ve put into gaining it as soon as OOXML is rammed through (or defeated).

    But I’m just a lowly tech support nobody for a small manufacturing company I had never heard of before I started working for. Not much I can do about this except rant on the Internet and hope that someone takes note.

    Oh, and learn about berries. I did manage to do that here, too :-)

  • Ben Langhinrichs 2007/08/30, 23:14

    Hey, I broke that story. I know it is incredibly pointless to point it out, but on the 27th of August, 2006, I wrote the post Self deprecating standards, which Rob then picked up on in January 2007. I think he even linked back to my post, but I am not sure. I only remember this because I happened to mention it on Brian Jones’ blog today, but I thought I’d set the story straight! (grin)

  • Anonymous 2007/08/31, 14:26

    Sorry, guess I never saw your contribution then, or else forgot about it. I’m just the anonymous nobody who shuttles stories from here & Groklaw then writes Slashdot submissions, most of which get ignored, but a few of which become somewhat notable because of the high profile of the OOXML controversy, SCO case, etc.

    But I have to stay anonymous, or like PJ of Groklaw, people would claim that I was a “committee of IBM lawyers” or some other nonsense, instead of realizing that I’m just some pathetic nerd who has a low level sysadmin/tech support job, few RL friends, lives with his grandmother and has been toying with the idea of installing Ubuntu Feisty Fawn :-)

    But I repeat myself–I already said I was a Slashdotter.

  • Rob 2007/08/31, 16:26

    I know the feeling. I’ve been accused by one reader of having a staff of grunts pouring over the OOXML specification looking for problems, that this couldn’t possibly be the work of one person, working part time on reviewing OOXML.

    My plan is to take that comment and show it to my boss when I have my annual performance review. It should be worth something.

    Or maybe I’ll just rename my blog to “My Name is Legion” ?

    But I do note that there has been a great sharing of information in the best open source tradition. We say it in the 30-day contradiction period on Groklaw, and that idea caught on. The US comments and mailing list archives were made public. The British did their work in a publicly visible wiki. Several NB’s took public comments and posted the comments that they received.

    Of course, although I do not have a staff reviewing OOXML for me, I don’t live in a vacuum. I’ve benefited from the contributions and perspectives, both technical and strategic, of many, a small number of whom show up on my blog roll.

    So when we look at the “irregularities” and the things that have gone vastly wrong in this process, we shouldn’t lose track of the things that have gone right. We may have need of them again someday.

  • Anonymous 2007/08/31, 16:30

    http://yro.slashdot.org/yro/07/08/31/2039226.shtml

    Looks like it’s Slashdotting time?

  • Anonymous 2007/08/31, 18:07

    How many countries can vote on this in ISO? I read conflicting stories on this.

  • Rob 2007/08/31, 18:29

    All members of ISO can vote, and all members of IEC can vote. If a NB is a member of both (and most are) they still only get one vote.

  • Anonymous 2007/09/01, 00:28

    The latest from the swedish is that one of the national voters did vote twice, and therefore sweden will not use it’s vote.

    http://www.groklaw.net/article.php?story=20070830155109351

  • Anonymous 2007/09/01, 02:41

    It sounds as if Rick Jelliffe may regret his temporary job promoting MS-OOXML. His entire column is little more than an attempt at self-justification.

    In the footnote to his story he says: “the stench of the four-paned beast is hard to wash off”. That might be a rather weak attempt at humour, but it seems to cut very close to the truth.

    However the whole affair comes out in the end, I think this is going to be one of those events people will have long memories about.

  • Anonymous 2007/09/01, 06:48

    Rob,

    is the OpenFormula subcomittee moribund? Current status is unclear.

  • Bruce 2007/09/01, 15:38

    no, the OpenFormula work is just about done, and will be in ODF 1.2.

  • Anonymous 2007/09/02, 04:14

    The Office-Formula mailing list has not had any messages since 20th July, a few days after D.Wheeler suggested that the work should be finished in July! So, if like me, you had been hoping to see a posting saying ‘Well done everybody we’ve finished!’ you are left wondering what is going on. :-)

    On a similar topic, OF and ODF1.2 are nearly done but according to the OoO roadmap we are going to have to wait until Oct 2008 to see OoO3.0 before the new standards are implemented. Is this long delay necessary? It seems that it would be tactically (in the battle for business desktops) a good thing to have the new standard supported ASAP. I for one would like to implement it in my company.

  • segedunum 2007/09/02, 08:19

    Well, presumably what will happen now will be that those committees who voted ‘with comments’ will be flooded with new people (already happening) to debate those comments, and the net effect will be that OOXML is not changed in any way.

    This will probably give an apparent air that comments have been taken into account, when they simply haven’t.

    It’s funny how Microsoft have seemingly synchronised this with all the impartial observers out there.

  • Rob 2007/09/02, 10:43

    The OpenFormula mailing list is dead because the formula subcommittee already submitted its draft to the main ODF TC for their review. Based on the review there we have a few items to work on, such as moving the test cases into a separate document.

    Also, we have this thing in the Northern hemisphere called summer. Very little gets done in August when you are working with an international committee of volunteers.

    As for ODF 1.2, aside from integrating the formula and metadata work, we still need to go through and address comments received via our public comment list since ODF 1.1.

    Segedunum correctly points out the optimal strategy for Microsoft. Say hypothetically that the ballot results come out such that Microsoft is short by 5 P-member votes. So they need to get 5, any 5, P-members to change their No vote to Yes. They of course could change the standard to accommodate the concerns of those who voted No, but I don’t see that happening.

    Another approach would be to get every NB that voted for OOXML to join at a P-member level, in order to bolster their numbers. Microsoft has already done this, but it may not be enough.

    So the next easier approach would be to take 5 NB’s and have 20 Microsoft Gold Business Partners join the committees and turn them into pliant tools that will just vote Yes at the BRM without any changes being made the the standard. If they do that, and get their 2/3 vote, then they can merely vote to approve, vote to adjourn, and then finish with the BRM in 10 minutes. Aside from the expense of airfare, it is a painless solution.

  • Bruce 2007/09/02, 11:30

    anonymous: “OF and ODF1.2 are nearly done but according to the OoO roadmap we are going to have to wait until Oct 2008 to see OoO3.0 before the new standards are implemented. Is this long delay necessary? It seems that it would be tactically (in the battle for business desktops) a good thing to have the new standard supported ASAP.”

    Sure, so then talk to the implementors and them you want this sooner.

    I do think the OOo project thinks it a priority to support ODF 1.2 ASAP. And as Rob notes, there likely won’t be that big a time gap between final approval of the standard and implementation.

    I’d prefer a good spec that sees multiple good implementations, than the fiasco that is OOXML.

  • Bruce 2007/09/02, 11:32

    Rob — given the shenanigans that everyone is now seeing, how likely is it to see reform at ISO to head-off your worst-case scenario? No sure how one would do that, but surely there must be some collective anger/shame/anxiety about all this at ISO such that there will be a push to do something?

  • PolR 2007/09/02, 14:08

    After what happened in Sweden, any sudden surge in Microsoft Gold Partners membership will be viewed with extreme suspicion. Some NBs have been forced to change their votes after the Sweden story. The plan Rob outlines may prove tough to pull out.

    Who attends a BRM? Is it one delegate per NB? Or does the entire NB committee need to go? Because if there are sudden unannounced surges in memberships across several NBs the logistics for the room size and other accommodations may prove awkward to manage. I suppose there should be some sort of cut off date where notice of the number of members need to be sent. This may help someone to see surge in membership coming.

  • Rob 2007/09/02, 19:32

    My reading of JTC1 Directives 13.7 is that a NB may send one or more delegates to the BRM, though each delegation receives only one vote. Typically a delegation is sent with instructions by their NB on how to vote, or under what circumstances they may change their vote. Since the BRM is scheduled to be a week-long meeting, this may allow each delegation to consult with its NB between daily sessions for further instructions.

    As to whether shame or other such pressures would prevent Microsoft from further stacking committees in the future, I see no evidence that this has or will have any effect.

    See what Microsoft’s Tom Robertson says of the overall strategy:

    “Most standards bodies are filled with ‘an old guard’ membership that needs rejuvenation, he said. He also likened Microsoft’s recruitment efforts to a voter registration drive.”

  • James H 2007/09/03, 12:56

    If I count correctly (and I might be wrong) we just passed the 25% no threshold. MS-OOXML has failed to pass the ISO vote. What great news :)

    Now to see if the BRM happens and laugh at ECMA’s and MS’s proposed solutions to the extremely detailed technical comments from the likes of Denmark and so on.

    What great news :)

  • James H 2007/09/04, 06:50

    MS press release

    It’s semi-official it seems – or at least MS seems to see it going down….

    It failed to get the rubber stamp and now has to go through BRM etc to have any chance of making it. That press release makes me dizzy however….

  • Dark Phoenix (Nixa) 2007/09/04, 08:25

    “Interestingly, IBM’s conduct might easily be read as transgressing that decision: it is attempting to use the standards process to shut out (or greatly set back) Microsoft, the competition.”

    Oh, okay, note that no one is allowed to disagree with a standard anymore, since it might be harmful to the competition.

    I find Live.com’s attempt at spinning the IDC survey results to be greatly humorous; now there’s a section at the bottom noting that everyone who comes from here should read “an important article”, the contents of which talk about how IBM is out to shaft Microsoft because they want total control of the standards market. Uh, huh. Heard that one before.

  • segedunum 2007/09/04, 08:53

    “Most standards bodies are filled with ‘an old guard’ membership that needs rejuvenation

    If Rick Jelliffe has seen fit to publish my comment, I pointed that out as well, simply because I found that part absolutely hilarious.

    It’s corny, but I really couldn’t help but think of that Darth Vader line in RTJ: “Perhaps I can find news ways to motivate them”.

    I mean, whichever way you cut it and no matter how much you second guess yourself over how ridiculous this whole things is, it’s gone beyond a joke now.

  • Queen Elizabeth 2007/09/04, 13:22

    Dark Phoenix: The issue is not about critiquing standards. It is that many government bodies have decided to use ISO standards exclusively.

    This mandate transforms standards into economic weapons: if you can stop the competition’s technology from becoming a standard, you shut them out of the market (or force them to retool at great cost.)

    It is not really all different than non-tariff barriers to trade.

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