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The Art of Being Mugged

I will never forget that brisk October evening in 1996. I had arrived home from work, and followed the standard routine — drop off the backpack, boot up the PC, put the keys and wallet on the desk, sort through the mail, turn on the TV, etc. But what about dinner? Nothing in the refrigerator interested me, so I grabbed a $10 bill from my wallet, took my keys and headed off to a sandwich shop around 1/2 mile down the street, as I had done a thousand times before.

I ordered a chicken stir-fry sub with American cheese, large, to go, and headed off home. As I walked down one deserted street, I heard foot steps rustling in the leaves. Turning my head, I saw a figure 50 yards away walking in my direction. Nothing to worry about. The city is full of people. Then a few seconds later, I heard the person running in my direction. Nothing to worry about. I was near a bus stop, and no doubt he was rushing to catch his bus.

But there was no bus. Before I realized what was happening, he had come upon me from behind, knocked me to the wall, and with his left arm around my neck, pressed a blade against my throat with his right hand.

“Don’t turn around or I will plunge this knife into your chest cavity,” he said.

Many things enter one’s mind in such a situation. I’d like to say that my thoughts went immediately to self-preservation, or clever plans for escape, but in all honesty, my first thought was on how awkward his demand was phrased, how clichéd it was. “Plunge into my chest cavity”? I wanted a rewrite.

But a look down at the blade reminded me that this was not a prop, and that however inelegant his words, this gentleman and I had a business transaction to complete.

“Gimme your wallet,” was his request, as I had expected.

“I don’t have a wallet,” I replied.

And thus began a protracted negotiation session,where I offered my $3 and change, and even my sandwich, and this was repeatedly refused as being inadequate. We reviewed the alternatives. He suggested an ATM. I said the nearest one was over a mile away. He said I could drive him. I said I didn’t have a car.

And so we went on, trying to find mutually acceptable solution. When he finally demanded that we go to my apartment and I write him a check, I knew I had to take charge. For the first time that evening I was really scared. This needed to end now, on the street, while the mugger was still relatively calm. I was willing to fight and risk the blade before I would let him into my apartment, where I knew my odds would be greatly diminished. But was there any other solution?

Then it hit me. What if I put him in a context he was familiar with? If he is going to give me clichéd lines, why don’t I give him the same? We’ll work this out according to the book.

“This ends here. I’m not moving an inch more. I don’t have a wallet, and if you don’t believe me, then search me!,” I said in a louder voice that startled him a bit.

I threw my sandwich on the ground, faced the building, dramatically placed my hands spread above my head on the wall, and spread my legs, just like in the movies. He quickly got the idea, patted me down and satisfied himself that I was not carrying a wallet.

His final words were: “Don’t try to follow me.” He then tossed $2 of my $3 back to me and ran off, saying “I only need money for the bus”.

I then walked, a bit faster than usual, back to my apartment, locked and bolted the door, called the police and started eating my sandwich, with cold, shaking hands.

I learned two important lessons from that night. First, I now always carry enough money to satisfy a mugger, $40-$50. Carrying too little money is as risky as carrying too much.

The second lesson… Well, I’ll get to that later, after a few words about the DIS 29500 BRM.

I’m just back from Geneva, where delegations from 32 National Bodies (NB’s), plus Ecma, met for five days at the CICG. Present were 104 delegates in a large, double room with tables four deep, in two sections arrayed in a chevron. A microphone was placed between each two delegates. The delegations were generally arranged in alphabetical order by the English names of their countries.

At the front of the room was a table with the meeting officials, including the SC34 Chair and Secretariat, ITTF representatives (one of their responsibilities is to supervise “the application of the ISO and IEC Statutes and Rules of Procedure”), Ecma’s Project Editor and his assistant, and in the center (or centre) was the BRM Convenor, Alex Brown.

The agenda was essentially improvised based on NB interests. Each NB, called in alphabetical order, was invited to raise an item for discussion, from one of the 3,522 NB comments from the failed Sept 2nd. ballot, or from one of the 1,027 Ecma responses. A quick calculation shows that, a 5-day meeting in session 6.5 hours a day (9-5, with one hour for lunch and 15m breaks mid morning and afternoon) will have at most 1,950 minute of meeting time, or less than 2 minutes per Ecma response. This should have raised warning signals. More than warning signals, it should have triggered action. But not in JTC1. Fast Tracking a 6,045 page Ecma standard. No problem. Processing 1,027 Ecma proposals in one week. No problem.

“Forward, the Light Brigade!”
Was there a man dismay’d?
Not tho’ the soldier knew
Someone had blunder’d:
Their’s not to make reply,
Their’s not to reason why,
Their’s but to do and die:
Into the valley of Death
Rode the six hundred.
— Tennyson

So with a bit of derring-do, we plunged into the work on Monday morning. We had a delightful mix of personalities. We had world-renowned experts in XML technologies (I won’t mention any by name for fear of giving offense by leaving one out), experts in JTC1 process, experts in accessibility, RTL writing conventions, computer security, etc. We also had many people who had never attended an ISO meeting before. Individual delegates came from a mix of backgrounds, some government bureaucrats, some standards professionals, independent XML consultants, academics and employees of small and large corporations. The presence of open source and open standards advocates was notable, and I’ll write more on the significance of that another day.

Monday went well. There was a little commotion and several objections when it was announced that detailed minutes would not be recorded. And one delegate did protest that the Head of Delegation for his country was improperly determined. But we plowed ahead and started hearing from delegations by 9:30am, starting in alphabetical order with Australia.

One NB, in lieu of a technical comment raised the objection that the DIS was too long and inappropriate for Fast Track. The response from ITTF was that we should do a “best effort” in the time available this week. If this is not sufficient, NB’s should change vote to No, or maintain No vote.

By lunch time we had made it to India. And what had we resolved? Ten substantive technical issues were raised by NB’s. One was resolved (add Ecma’s OOXML accessibility report as an informative annex) and 9 issues are taken off-line for further discussion.

Six more issues are brought up in the afternoon, as we made it through Malaysia. These items were discussed, and all taken-off line for further discussion. So net for Monday is 15 issues raised, and one resolved. Many of us had homework to do.

Tuesday and Wednesday proceeded much the same, but with time given in the morning and upon returning from lunch to update the BRM on the progress of the “off-line” discussions. But we were still clearly in the accumulation stage. Issues were piling up faster than they were being resolved.

By Tuesday at 12:11 we had made it once through the alphabet, so every delegation had the opportunity to raise, thought not necessarily resolve, a single issue of importance to them. We started again with Australia and end the day with Ireland. The BRM never completed the second pass through the delegations. As the days progressed, more and more time was given to reports from the off-line discussions and trying to gain consensus on those issues. Less time was given to raising new issues.

Given the constraints of the meeting, this was the appropriate thing to do. But the net result was that New Zealand had the last opportunity to raise new issues, on Thursday at 4:34pm. The US, being last in the alphabet, was able to raise only a single issue during the week.

As we reached mid week, we were presented with a set of ballot choices, to deal with the responses that could not be discussed during the meeting, for lack of time, which would at the current rate of processing amount to 800-900 of the 1,027.

As any real estate agent will tell you after a few drinks, the trick to selling a house is to make the buyer think they have made a wise decision. To do that, first show them a few overpriced, dilapidated houses, and then show them the house you want them to buy. A similar approach was used on the BRM.

The four options presented were:

  • Option 1: Submitter’s responses (Ecma’s) are all automatically approved.
  • Option 2: Anything not discussed is not approved.
  • Option 3: Neutral third-party (ITTF) decides which Ecma responses are accepted
  • Option 4: Voting (approve + disapprove) must be at least 9 votes. Abstentions not counted.

We were told that these options are not in the Directives and that we have been given these choices because ITTF “needs to act in the best interests of the IEC”. I don’t quite get it, but there appears to be some concern over what the press would think if the BRM did not handle all of the comments. One NB requested to speak and asked, “I wonder what the press would think about arbitrarily changed procedures?” No response. I thought to myself, why wasn’t ITTF thinking about the ‘best interests” of JTC1 when they allowed a 6,045 page Fast Track submission, or ignored all those contradiction submissions, or decided to schedule a 5-day BRM to handle 3,522 NB comments. Isn’t it a bit late to start worrying about what the press will think now?

We break for lunch.

After lunch and after more discussion, the meeting adopted a variation of option 4, by removing the vote minimum. I believe in this vote the BRM and ITTF exceeded its authority and violated the consensus principles described in JTC1 Directives.

Consider 1.2 of the Directives, the General Provisions:

These Directives are inspired by the principle that the objective in the development of International Standards should be the achievement of consensus between those concerned rather than a decision based on counting votes.

[Note: Consensus is defined as 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. (ISO/IEC Guide

However, 80%+ of the resolutions of the BRM were resolved by a ballot, without discussion, without taking into account any dissenting views, without reconciling any arguments. Indeed, there was not any opportunity to even raise an objection to an issue decided by the ballot. Many of the issues were decided in 6-5 or 7-6 split votes, with no discussion. How can that be said to be a consensus? This is an utter failure to follow the cardinal principles of JTC1 process.

Note that votes are explicitly allowed at a BRM, though they are discouraged. Section 13.8 of the Directives states:

At the ballot resolution group meeting, decisions should be reached preferably by consensus. If a vote is unavoidable the vote of the NBs will be taken according to normal JTC 1 procedures.

What are normal procedures? Section 9.1.4 says:

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.

(Somehow this got this confused and O-member votes were included in the initial reported totals, but I assume this will get fixed and the results restated.)

The key observation is that there are a number of solitary experts at the BRM, those who bring a perspective or expertise that cannot be matched by anyone else at the BRM. For example, the Israeli delegation speaks with authority on matters of Hebrew writing, counting and calendaring systems. In fact, they made a number of valuable contributions to the meeting in these areas. Similarly, other delegation or specific delegates bring their own unique expertise to the table. If an issue is brought up,and the question is asked whether Ecma’s resolution is satisfactory, if Israel objects, their objection should be heard. Period. It doesn’t mean we necessarily will agree with, or adopt their suggested change. But they should be heard. This is what is meant by “seeking to take into account the views of all parties concerned and to reconcile any conflicting arguments”.

The majority has the right to have its will enacted. That is the easy part. The responsibility of the Convenor, however, is to ensure that the minority has the right to be heard, and the equal opportunity to make their case. That is the price of consensus. This is the price of open standards.

This point was demonstrated when one set of comments was being approved. The list of response numbers was projected on the screen. The Convenor asked if there were any objections to approving this batch of comments, which were said to be all related. Three hands went up, objecting, from three delegations, including the US. “So resolved” was the response, without asking the nature of the objections. Certainly, if the only thing that mattered was majority rule and efficiency, and if JTC1 did not have explicit consensus goals, then this might be the correct thing to do. But how, in practice, can one determine the “absence of sustained opposition to substantial issues by any important part of the concerned interests” without hearing what the objections are?

In this case the US Head of Delegation continued to gesticulate and was eventually recognized to speak. We stated that we observed that the list of response numbers in this resolution was in error and included a response number that should not have been part of this bunch. Once pointed out, the proposer of the resolution agreed, and the US change was adopted without dissent.

This is the kind of thing you lose with an electronic ballot. There is no way to object, no way to discuss, no way to amend or to substitute language. It is not a consensus process. It is just a Hobson’s Choice — take it or leave it, and the BRM suffers for it, as the value of solitary expertise is the room is neutralized by the NB’s who voted blanket approval for all of Ecma’s proposals.

As the meting progressed into Thursday, the tension mounted. As new issues were identified, they were taken off-line and told they could be brought up “Friday morning”. But no one really believed that. It was clear that there was not enough “Friday morning” to go around.

Thursday 9:20am, a delegation objects that they were told only to review Ecma’s responses to their own comments, and that there was never sufficient time to review all 1,000 Ecma responses since January 14th. ITTF’s response: “Nothing we can do about it in the rules — Nothing we could have done in our judgment”.

2:18pm the Convenor announces “This is zero hour”.

There is clearly not even enough time to fully discuss in the meeting the resolution of items that were taken off-line for further discussion. The US is not allowed to present our multi-part proposals to the meeting. We are told get consensus outside of the meeting first, so it can be brought up for quick approval.

Into Friday the BRM spirals further downwards. The issue is not now that NB’s cannot raise new issues. The problem is now that NB’s who have been diligently working on issues off-line with other delegations, meeting over lunch, or early in the morning or into the evening, may not be able to have their proposals heard and acted on.

There simply is not enough time. The anxiety-driven, frantic delegates push even harder. More resolutions are approved with 2 or 3 delegations trying to raise objections, but without being recognized. Tempers grow short. One highly respected Head of Delegation, of unimpeachable reputation and experience started to voice an objection “I am extremely disgusted by the way procedures have been…” before being called out of order by the Convenor, saying that discussion of procedural issues will not be allowed. Another delegation tries to raise a new issue, as they had for the last two days without luck. “We’re using the public money from NNN to come here to speak on our issue. Can we speak on our issue?” Convenor – “We have run out of time.”

And so the BRM came to an end, with the announcement of the results of the paper ballot. Five delegations gave default approval to the Ecma comments (Chile, Cote D’Ivoire, Czech Republic, Finland, Norway) and four gave default disapproval positions on the undiscussed Ecma responses (India, Malaysia, South Africa, United States). Most delegations gave a default abstain position, or registered no position. A delegation could additionally override their default position on any particular issue.The net is that, although the discussions on Monday and Tuesday demonstrated that the quality of the Ecma responses was such that almost every one required substantial off-line work to make it acceptable, we gradually lowered our standards, so that by week’s end, we approved 800+ comments without any discussion, even in the presence of clear objections.

I want to make it clear that I in no way wish to criticize the Convenor. I think Alex did a remarkable job in trying to carry out his duties and be fair in this no-win situation. He was given an impossible task and had to find out how to fail in the least offensive way. There is an art to crash-landing an airplane and we must acknowledge that.

There is an art to being mugged successfully as well and I have learned that lesson. But when someone tells you, “Your money or your life”, although one is better off having that choice than not having it, one can still complain vigorously at the injustice of having a choice forced onto you. It is an artificial constraint, determined entirely without your consultation, and without considering your welfare, that limits you to those two choice. Similarly, the choices given at the BRM were arbitrary, artificial, and not to the benefit of JTC1, NB’s or to users and implementors of DIS 29500.

As the meeting concluded, ITTF requested that we not call the vote a “default” vote. “These were your choices, voted according to the rules you adopted,” we were told. I reject this revisionist portrayal of the events. This was not my choice. This was merely the least bad of several bad choices that the ITTF deigned to allow us at the end of a grueling week trying to resolve 3,522 issues in bloated, technically immature proposal that has been mismanaged from the start.

“Your money or your life”. Not a day goes by that I am not appreciative I was given that choice. But that decision was made under duress, and does not diminish my revulsion of the person who forced that choice upon me. The question is, why do NB’s put up with this OOXML Fast Track nonsense? Who is holding a knife to our throats?

{ 30 comments… add one }
  • PolR 2008/03/02, 9:11 pm

    I know it is too late to make suggestions, but when presented the four choices, shouldn’t someone have asked to be given a fifth choice: to disapprove the DIS on the spot and be done with it?

  • Rob 2008/03/02, 9:23 pm

    A reasonable 5th choice would have been:

    Ask delegations to propose a list if issues that they want to discuss further. So not a vote on issues,but merely a list of issues they want to discuss.

    Then form a list of all issues for which no delegation wants to discuss. The response numbers for these issues are put into a meeting resolution to approve in batch. This motion could be discussed, amended and issues added or removed by the meeting. Once approved,any remaining issue (those which at least a single NB wishes to discuss) are discussed in order of the number of NB’s requesting discussion of it.

    This is different from what the BRM actually did in that it preserves the right of even a single delegation to call for an issue to be discussed. But it also allows for consensus approval of those issues where a clear consensus exists.

    The BRM was faced with certain failure and had to chose a failure mode. Fail by not processing all of the proposed dispositions? Or sacrifice the consensus JTC1 process and quality review by having a batch approval ballot without discussion or opportunity for objection?

  • toorg 2008/03/02, 9:29 pm

    Unbelievable. Utterly unbelievable. So now we have an American corporation (Microsoft) telling various governments in the world (as represented by the NB’s) how they must format their data. Just say it slowly and think about it.

  • Anonymous 2008/03/02, 9:30 pm

    I believe the part of the process which is the most broken is the concept of voting ‘abstain’ or not voting to object to the process.

    You object to the process by voting ‘no’. If a majority object in this manner, the process stops cold. Otherwise, the process moves on, disregarding the people who have chosen silent indignity over protest.

    Everyone who felt the meeting was too rushed should have voted ‘no’. Few of them did.

  • podge 2008/03/02, 10:37 pm

    The abort button should have been pushed early for OOXML. Instead we have this absurd standards stage show. I am not a part of the process but I am embarrassed by it.

    Rob, I truly hope this process is fixed so that this can never happen again. However, under no circumstances should OOXML be allowed to pass. OOXML should do the long haul, like ODF.

    ODF = Open Document Format = Open Document Freedom

  • bersl2 2008/03/02, 11:38 pm

    ‘”Don’t turn around or I will plunge this knife into your chest cavity,” he said.’

    Most articulate mugger I’ve ever heard…

  • Bill of Borg 2008/03/03, 2:56 am

    Yes, the obvious fifth choice is missing: drop DIS 29500 then, there and permanently. This could have been done if who voted ‘abstain’ handed in a solid ‘no’ However, there is enough wrong with the spec and enough abuse of the process that it could be thrown out on purely administrative grounds.

    Maybe it is time to start billing MSFT HQ for the hundreds of hours each participant’s organization, and even non-participating developers, have had to waste with this. It should have been rejected outright even at ECMA. The longer ISO let’s the farce drag on, the greater the risk to its reputation and the greater the economic loss of those *required* to stay abreast of standards.

  • Anonymous 2008/03/03, 4:13 am

    “to disapprove the DIS on the spot and be done with it?”

    The aim of the BRM was to come up with a unified text to vote on. The real vote on DIS29500 will be in 30 days. There was no possibility to approve of disapprove of the standard, just on the text that will be voted on.

    The real scandal is that there was no unified text to vote on. The NBs were not allowed to discuss the issues at hand and Ecma simply blocked ANY change that would inconvenient MS.

    Procedures were changed to force a vote on those items that were not discussed. But the delegates themselves were not allowed to really discuss procedural matters.


  • Anonymous 2008/03/03, 5:17 am

    Maybe I’m misunderstanding something, but why was option 2 not immediately chosen by the vast majority?

    It seems the obvious and reasonable thing to do, and I have read in other news that about 80% of the items were not discussed. So option 2 would have resulted in a clear statement that most of the open issues were unprocessed. Which seems to be the only adequate summary of this attempt at fast-tracking OOXML.

  • Anonymous 2008/03/03, 5:41 am

    “You object to the process by voting ‘no’.”


    A no vote is against the DISPOSITION. If you don’t know what the disposition IS, you cannot vote against it. And if there is no consensus in the delegation (eg, there are two commercial camps), an abstain is the only solution. We say at the fall ballot that some NBs had to Abstain io vote NO because a SINGLE vendor representative simply refused to support a No vote (without argumentation, as happened in the Netherlands).

    As far as I understood, delegates were NOT allowed to vote on the process, only on the content of the dispositions.

    However, 4 delegations voted against the Ecma proposals, and two even refused to register for a vote. Only six voted unqualified yes.


  • orlando 2008/03/03, 6:28 am


  • Jirka Kosek 2008/03/03, 6:35 am

    Czech Republic haven’t approved every Ecma comment. I hope that the rest of your article doesn’t contain similarly misleading information.

    Moreover, all Ecma proposed disposition that we approved were improvements over original DIS29500. Some of them were even improved during BRM, some of them not because of the lack of the time.

    You also forgot to mention that ECMA proposed dispositions were in many cases discussed with NB and corrected before publishing on Jan-14. Czech Republic have used this approach to resolve many issues even before BRM, because it was the most productive way to improve text of spec.

    Unfortunatelly majority of NBs left even the simple typos and very easy to fix to BRM, so time for more important issues was shortened.

    Not approving majority of proposed disposition would mean that the final vote would be on much worst specification — of course this could be interesting option for anti-ooxml parties.

  • Rob 2008/03/03, 7:13 am

    Hi Jirka, I apologize if my post implied that the Czech delegation merely voted Approval on all of the Ecma proposals. That would have been inaccurate. The fact is your delegation voted Approval on only 1020 of 1027, or 99.3% of the Ecma proposals. It was wrong of me not to acknowledge that 0.7%.

    Personally, I do not take it as an article of faith that the Ecma proposals are all improvements to the specification. We certainly found on Monday and Tuesday that almost every Ecma response reviewed was found to require more work. The fact that your delegation voted to disapprove 3 of the 1027 Ecma proposals shows that you as well see that there are exceptions.

    Other NB’s should be entitled to their exceptions as well. But by resorting to a ballot for the vast majority of issues without discussion, the BRM failed to reach consensus.

  • orlando 2008/03/03, 7:58 am

    Jirka Kosek said
    “Moreover, all Ecma proposed disposition that we approved were improvements over original DIS29500.”

    Jirka, with my respect to you:

    i know what your “position” is about DIS 29500 and OOXML. You have put it crystal clear on your blog:

    “But I was always promoting open formats and complaining about using proprietary binary formats for document interchange. After ten years OOXML could finally change this in a large scale because it is default save format in a new version of MS Office. OOXML is far from perfect and very far from being elegant and technically excellent. But making it ISO standard will somehow freeze this format and will be of benefit mainly to third-party developers and users because there will be much stronger warranty of long term stability of format. Woohoo!
    ( http://xmlguru.cz/2007/07/czech-comments-ooxml )

    So, it is clear why you blindly approve 1024 comments without ever discussing or reviewing it.

    For example: you approved that replacing three occurrences of the “OLE” word with “linking technology” was an improvement, for god sake !

    Do you really think that this format is interoperable and 98% implementable by other vendor distinct from Microsoft or partners who use .NET libraries to render it?

    Another example: please open DIS 29500, the last draft, and search for the word IOleObject::Update , can you tell me were in this +6000 page monster is this term defined ?

    Another question: search for the term “Coherent 3D behaviour”. Could you tell me were in this +6000 page monster is the term “Coherent 3d behaviour” defined

    And so on, so on and so on

    So, please be honest when you talk about Czech motivation, for example you could say:

    “Yes, we approved 99.7% of Microsoft(ECMA) proposed dispositions because we *want* this draft approved, no matter it technical merits.”

    Thank you


  • TropicalCoder 2008/03/03, 8:12 am

    Rob, I would like to thank you so much for sharing this with us all who have been anxiously awaiting news of the outcome of the BRM. At this point of time as I write, you are the only person who was in that room to report back to us. As much as I appreciated your blog, it leaves more questions in my mind than it gives answers.

    In the end, you bravely stood up to the mugger who gave you the choice of “your money or your life”. In that situation, you came to the understanding that “This needed to end now,” “This ends here. I’m not moving an inch more.” Why couldn’t you have taken that stand at the BRM? Why did your courage fail you there??? What could they have done to you? Did the moderator hold a knife at your throat?

    OK – Obviously, even without knowing anything at all, I can easily guess that one person acting alone may not get very far and indeed, perhaps could be dragged out of the room by security, but were you alone in your perception of things there? Though you give much anecdotal evidence that many others were upset about the process, all these observations seem to be from a distance. You make no mention at all about if you personally spoke to others and what was the point of view of people whom you personally spoke to. It would seem obvious to me, that if I had come to a conclusion that it was a total farce, I would seek out others who had come to the same conclusion and explore the possibility of taking some collective action.

    For example, what if a dozen delegates stood up and refused to sit down until their concerns were addressed? They would probably have been ruled out of order, but then what if they still refused to sit down? I don’t think anybody would have put a knife to their throats. Would security have been called and all be removed from the room? Well, so what if that happened? It just seems so Kafkaesque that you actually sat through the entire BRM helpless to do anything at all. Why would you even continue under those circumstances? It just seems your situation played out like one of those bad dreams you can’t wake yourself up out of. Sorry to seem to criticize. Of course I wasn’t there, and I have no way of knowing the realities of the situation. Obviously you are a very capable person, who has demonstrated courage in the past, and we should assume that if there was something you could have done you would have done it, but you leave this question without any illumination at all.

    Other possible actions to take – I was expecting someone to sneak in a camera – or at least a recorder into the room. Why did no one do that? If those responsible for the BRM showed such little respect for the process, why should any one else show respect for it?

    Even if one didn’t want to do anything as dramatic as smuggling a prohibited device into the meeting, one could probably quite legally spend the entire session recording the minutes with paper and pen or on their laptop. I mean, when it was clear that the process was fatally flawed, there was really no further point in participating.

    Finally, please tell us – what can be done about this now, after the fact? Who can we write to – to voice our opinion? How can we ensure that this horrible thing will be properly dealt with and undone?

  • Rob 2008/03/03, 9:00 am

    Hi George,

    What more could I have done? Good question. At the BRM I was part of the US delegation, representing the US NB, not my personal interests or IBM’s interests. That is why, for example, I did not blog during the BRM. However, I did keep my own detailed transcript of proceedings, noting each statement, when someone spoke, paraphrase of what they said, etc.

    People with a lot more authority and experience than I protested against process and were ruled out of order. Speaking for 8 seconds before being similarly cut off would not have accomplished anything. The goal is to be effective, not necessarily to be noisy.

    So, where do we go from here? Formally, I report back to INCITS and argue for an appeal. Informally, I share my observations and invite other delegates to share theirs as well.

  • Anonymous 2008/03/03, 10:20 am

    The start slow, piles left at the end, was predictable.

    The incremental rules changes allowed for a “Press Release” voting victory. One wonders if that outcome was in any way engineered?

  • Jim 2008/03/03, 2:12 pm

    All this discussion about the ISO procedures caused me to reread Apendix C,“The Future of OSI: A Modest Prediction,” in “The Internet Massage, Closing the Book on Internet Mail” by Marshall T. Rose.

    Where are the MHS mail systems today? Where are the applications using the ISO seven layer protol stack? SMTP, LDAP and TCP/IP and TRULY inter-operable, implementable protocols untimately won. Proprietary protocols time and again failed in the market place.

    Will OOXML as an ISO standard really matter? Or will it die of it complexity, codified bugs and patent emcumberances.

    As to Microsoft’s market dominance; when IBM was struggling to maintain market dominance in PC hardware, they tried to foist the heavily license encumbered MCA bus architecture on the hardware manufactures and the market place untimately responded.

    Just because it has an ISO or EMCA definition does not mean it will be implemented. Microsoft’s heavy handed actions only show their desperation.

  • Jirka Kosek 2008/03/03, 4:10 pm

    @orlando: Be sure that I have read and reviewed whole text of DIS29500 and all proposed dispositions. Who else could say this? Could you?

    Your OLE/linking example is quite funny. Embeded application binary object could be interoperable only if there is widely supported for such application binary objects between platforms. There is no such format, and OOXML hardly can do anything about it. But at least it will allow you to insert such objects into your document on non-Windows platforms. But if you want portable documents you can’t use embeded binary objects — this simply can’t work and it is irrelevant whether such object is embeded in .doc, OOXML, or other document format.

  • Anonymous 2008/03/03, 5:03 pm

    I agree with winter that naively voting “no” (do not accept the proposed change to the document) is not appropriate. Out of 1027 proposed changes, at least some are probably acceptable (or at least better than the original text).

    I like rob’s 5th choice to narrow down the list of items to discuss in the available time. It is unfortunate that it was not an option.

  • funnybroad 2008/03/03, 10:43 pm


    I think it will die due to lack of use… even amongst its own Office customer base.

    It’s not that Microsoft’s customers don’t want to use the OOXML formats… I don’t think most of them really care (or they don’t know enough on the subject to care… not yet anyway…)

    No. They won’t be using the new file formats, because they just can’t get migrated to MS’s latest Office product so that they can start to use them in earnest!!

    Office 2007 introduced such an unprecendented high number of content incompatiblity problems between Office versions, that as a result, not many large companies are going to be able to migrate to it without experiencing a lot of unneccessary (and expensive!) incompatibility pains for extended periods of time.

    I think a lot of large companies are waiting to see if Microsoft will fix these problems… either in a few service packs or the next major release of Office.

    So while they wait it out… how many people do you suppose are going to start creating OOXML files in pre-2007 versions of Office… just because the Compatibility Pack enables them to?

    I’ll tell you one thing though…. if this whole OOXML / ISO / ECMA fiasco is what finally brings Microsoft down, I hope the fall will reveal the secret of what Brian Jones has been smoking! Either that, or the flavor of koolade he’s been chugging. I wanna get me some of that!

  • Anonymous 2008/03/03, 11:04 pm

    Am I wrong in thinking that voting “disapprove” is not so bad a choice?

    Microsoft can keep the $3 for all I care.

  • Anonymous 2008/03/04, 6:54 am

    Comments from a Greek delegate seem to be coherent with Rob’s:


  • Anonymous 2008/03/04, 10:33 am

    “So while they wait it out… how many people do you suppose are going to start creating OOXML files in pre-2007 versions of Office… just because the ompatibility Pack enables them to?”

    How many people “chose” to buy Vista? MS will simply make the older formats unavailable.

    The OSP does not cover Office 2007 files, just some part of the OOXML specification. As even MS claim they cannot tell us whether OO.o is protected by the OSP, their users simply will not have a choice.

    OO.o nor any other credible competitor will be allowed to read and write Office 2007 compatible files.


  • Anonymous 2008/03/05, 1:40 pm

    OOXML will become the default standard. It will replace the existing default standard, Office 2003 docs. Why? Because corporations and governments have licensing agreements that provide Office 2007. As these organizations roll it out this year, all new docs will be OOXML based. Why? Because the average user doesn’t know how to change the default file type. Nor do they care.

    Face it, if a legal requirement is not put in place to require free and open access to a document format’s specification, Microsoft will continue to do what it wants.

    Even getting OOXML approved as a standard is more of a delaying tactic to allow time for Office 2007 to be deployed. It wont matter if it is an official standard or not once that happens.

  • Anonymous 2008/03/05, 8:51 pm

    Did a vote get taken on the resolution mentioned by this agenda item?:

    The output of the Ballot Resolution Meeting shall be a single resolution that instructs the Project Editor to prepare a revised text. The resolution shall list the changes that the meeting has decided on.Jim&Sue2$!

  • Rob 2008/03/06, 8:28 am

    There was no vote on that final resolution.

  • orlando 2008/03/06, 9:26 am


    my comment about OLE has to do with underspecification and proliferation of proprietary underspecificated features in a proposed international standard ( there are lot of them in this draft: Sqlserver, Office art extensions , VML, RTF, DOS paths, Excel functions ,etc.]

    “@orlando: Be sure that I have read and reviewed whole text of DIS29500 and all proposed dispositions. Who else could say this? Could you?

    let me be more specific, may be i’m getting something wrong ( i’m talking about *peer* and *careful* review of the dispositions, not to just a quick reading ).

    For example, see the proposed disposition of this comment:


    Clearly the solution is not acceptable, because it doesn’t resolve the problem alerted by the commenter.

    You ( representing Czech ) voted “approved” , but the submitter of the comment GB, of course, *disapproved* it.

    Do you think that the Czech “approve” is a proper vote to Response 164?

    This example is only “the tip of the iceberg”.

    To better understand my point ( no technical merits of DIS 29500 to be fast-tracked as ISO ) read for example what said this guy ( one of the major XML contributors ) about it:



  • Anonymous 2008/03/12, 8:16 pm

    Does anyone actually read what MSFT says…
    and see the most obvious flaw in their statement?

    To me it was classic MSFT trick and so obvious and stupid that I expected everyone to jump on it right away. I failed to comment on it at the time because it was so obvious. Then I failed to comment because I started thinking that it is so obvious that I must be wrong about seeing what I saw there. Surely someone more experienced on legal issues than me would see it.

    I mean it is absolutely in clear language in the OOXML IP commitment.

    But now we have even SFLC analysis of the agreement which as far as I can see fails to see the most obvious trap. Either I am missing some legal detail or a lot of people seem to not actually read what is actually written.

    MSFT IP (intellectual property in the widest sense of words i.e. patents, copyrights, trademarks etc.) guarantee states that they give ***NO rights to any of their IP*** that is not necessary to implement the minimal *mandatory* part of the standard. In particular, they give no rights to anyone just because a legacy formats are REFERRED in the standard.

    The more stuff BRM moved to appendices or relegated to legacy status or optional parts of the standard, the happier MSFT was. Only they can ever implement the standard in full!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    No one else has any rights to even try to implement any of the functionality that is not spelled out in the mandatory parts of the standard in full. Note that any part that is not spelled out in detail is MSFT property and they agreement gives you no rights to even ask them how their various binary formats work or how MS workd 95 formats a list of items or whatever other thing that is defined by reference to how piece of software XXX works. The binary file formats are not essential part of the standard and even trying to reverse engineer them becomes even more illegal under many jurisdictions in Europe where many of MSFT most abusive behaviour was curtailed in small degree under certain protections w.r.t. rights to reverse engineer or reimplement things independently. Note that the legal status of MSFT binary format changes in each and every jurisdiction quite unpredictabibly if OOXML becomes law.

    Of course MSFT could eliminate this obstacle to acceptance to OOXML by simply giving blanket license, right to sublicense and agreement not to sue anyone for any implemenetatons of the OOXML standard.

    But then again, that would defeat their purpose of trying to make OOXML a standard….

    Remember, all the law applies all the time and I actually see OOXML giving MSFT more protections in some jurisdictions within EU that they never had before!!!!!!

    Am I really missing something or are legally minded people missing the big log in our common eye because of the forest of trivial detail?

    (Signature FFAQ98)

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