By now you have all seen the news. Andy Updegrove appears to have have the most coverage and analysis of that story, so I’ll try not to repeat stuff that you can easily read there.
The short of it is that DIS 29500 has failed in its attempt to be approved as an International Standard. The Microsoft spinmeisters are trying to make defeat sound like it is a good thing, that this is just the next step in the approval process.
Jason Matusow claims that “The next 6 months will be where the rubber really meets the road for the work on Open XML.” This is nonsense. The work should have been done back in Ecma, before submission to ISO. Fast Track is not a standards development process. It is intended for standards that are already completed and for which there is already industry consensus, to quickly transpose them into International Standards. Fast Track starts at the last stage, the Approval stage, of ISO’s 5 steps. By this point it is assumed that the text is complete, accurate, and has already been thoroughly reviewed. Since JTC1 NB’s have registered hundreds of technical flaws in OOXML, it is clear now that it never should have been put on Fast Track in the first place. The types of errors that are being reported now should have been found and fixed back at the committee draft stage or earlier, in Ecma. This defeat is an indictment of Ecma’s shoddy review. It is an abuse of ISO process for Microsoft to try to ram it through Fast Track in this state. They deserve the rebuke they have been given for this poor judgment.
Let’s drill into the numbers a bit and see what this all means.
First, recall JTC1’s two approval criteria for Fast Track submissions:
- 2/3 of JTC1 P-members must approve
- No more than 25% of total votes may be negative
In both cases those NB’s that Abstain or do not vote are ignored.
So, the ballot results for OOXML appear to be:
P-members: Approval: 17, Abstain: 9, Disapprove: 15. With only 53% Approval of P-members, DIS 29500 fails by the first criterion.
Overall vote: Approval: 51, Abstain: 18, No: 18. With 26% overall Disapproval, DIS 29500 also fails by the second criterion.
Microsoft highlights this second number (74%) in their press release, but does not even mention the P-member number. This is deceptive since even if they raised that number to 76% OOXML would have still failed. Only P-members can cause a Fast Track to be approved.
What is interesting is the large number of NB’s who participated in this process that have never participated in JTC1 before (at least to my knowledge). In fact, a number of them have such a strong interest in JTC1’s activities that they have joined as P-members — the highest level of participation — in some cases only in the last week or so. This is, I assume, what Tom Robertson, Microsoft’s GM of Interoperability and Standards, means when he talks of “rejuvinating” standards bodies:
Robertson dismissed criticism of Microsoft’s efforts to encourage its partners to join standards bodies. 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. “Have we been speaking to our community of companies about this issue? Yes, we have,” he said. “They needed to know. They, in many cases, decided to participate. [But] there is no basis to allegations that we are gerrymandering the process.
“Old Guard” NB’s appear to be those like Canada, France, New Zealand, Japan, Korea, Ireland, China or Norway that voted against OOXML. The new blood presumably are countries like Cote d’Ivoire, Syria, Kazakhstan and Tanzania that are participating in JTC1 for the first time, and voting in favor of OOXML.
JTC1 has historically had a rather stable membership of NB’s active in its technical agenda. There has been only a slow increase in membership, 1 NB joining in 2001, but none in 2002, 4 joining in 2003, 1 joining in 2004, none in 2005, 4 joining in 2006. But in 2007 JTC1 has been blessed with 12 new P-members, many of then joining in only the last week. There is a very clear trend in how these new P-members have voted:
In that table I’m defining “old guard” as those NB’s who were P-members of JTC1 before the OOXML process started. As you can see, the “old guard” voted overwhelmingly against OOXML by 2-to-1 margins. But the new P-members have almost all voted in favor of OOXML.
We can look at this graphically as well, showing the P-member composition of JTC1 over time and how they ultimately voted. As you see, JTC1 was overwhelmingly against OOXML until the blip at the very end, when Kazakhstan, etc. joined.
Another difference between the “old guard” and the “rejuvenated” membership is the level of public input and industry participation in their national committees. The old guard members had public forums, invited all sides to come in and speak, had all their stakeholders participate, reviewed technical comments and tried to come to a consensus. With openness like this, no wonder Microsoft believes they need rejuvenation! The new members, well… let’s just say the transparency of their decision making process is not uniformly great.
(6 Sept 2007 Update. I’ve removed the previous mention of CPI correlations to avoid confusion. The “transparency” of a national standards body’s process does not bear any necessary relationship with a country’s overall business climate. We’ve certainly seen in-depth, thorough technical reviews in the developing world, and we’ve seen suspect political dealings even in the United States. With the specific instances so damning to Microsoft, there is no need to make generalizations.)
I suppose that no one should be surprised that Microsoft, which has been stuffing committees at the national level throughout this ballot, would also attempt the same at the JTC1 level. From what I have been able to determine, NB’s, never having sat in a single JTC1 meeting and never having joined a single JTC1 technical committee, were able join as a P-members, in the last hours of the OOXML ballot, simply by sending an email to ISO.
Although this attempt to juice their results by signing up new P-members did not help Microsoft win approval for OOXML, it remains to be seen what adverse effect this will have on other JTC1 activities. We need to remember that a participation rate of 50% of JTC1 P-members is required to transact most JTC1 business. So this “rejuvenation” may very well paralyze JTC1 entirely unless the new members are earnest and participate in ballots beyond OOXML.