On July 1st, 2010 a new set of rules (directives) took effect in ISO/IEC JTC1 including new processing and voting rules for JTC1 Fast Track submissions. If these rules had been in effect back in 2007, OOXML would have died after its initial ballot.
Let’s take a look at some of the specific changes that were made in reaction to the events of 2007-08.
First, we see the elimination of the contradiction phase in Fast Track processing. If you recall, under previous rules, a Fast Track begin with a 30-day NB review period, sometimes called the “contradiction period”, where NBs were invited to raise objections if they think the Fast Track proposal contradicts an existing ISO or IEC standard. This was followed by a 5-month ballot. The problem was that the word “contradiction” was not defined, leading to various irreconcilable interpretations. In the case of OOXML 20 JTC1 National Bodies (NBs) raised contradictions. Evidently, the passage of time has lead to no progress on defining what exactly a contradiction is, so the contradiction period has been eliminated entirely. Instead, looking for “evident contradictions” (still undefined) is given to JTC1 administrative staff, which is the surest way of guaranteeing that we never hear of contradictions again. The Fast Track DIS ballot remains at 5-months, so net-net this accelerates processing by one month.
Next, we see some clarification around how NBs should vote on Fast Tracks. Back, during the OOXML ballot, Microsoft made a huge effort to convince NBs to vote “Yes with comments” if they found serious flaws in the text, with the promise that they would all be addressed at the BRM. Well, we now know that this was a big lie. Very few issues were actually discussed and resolved at the BRM. And most of them were addressed by merely saying, “Sorry, no change”. At the time I argued that the rules were quite clear, that disapproval should be voiced by a “No, with comments” vote. Well, we now see another small slice of vindication. The revised rules now state:
If a national body finds an enquiry draft [ed. A Fast Track DIS is an ‘enquiry draft’] unacceptable, it shall vote negatively and state the technical reasons. It may indicate that the acceptance of specified technical modifications will change its negative vote to one of approval, but it shall not cast an affirmative vote which is conditional on the acceptance of modifications. (ISO/IEC Directives, Part I, Section 2.7.3)
I assume this is clear enough now.
Another change is that if the DIS ballot fails to get sufficient votes, meaning less than 2/3 approval of ISO/IEC JTC1 P-members, or more than 25% disapproval overall, the proposal dies at that point. It doesn’t go on to the BRM. Game over. If this rule had been in place back in 2007, OOXML would not be an ISO standard today.
Finally, we see the requirement for a Final DIS (FDIS) text for review and approval by NBs. Back in 2008 I was quite vocal about the absurdity of having NBs vote on a text that they were not allowed to read. Several NBs lodged formal objections at the time as well. All this was dismissed by JTC1 staff. But reality struck when NBs reads the actual published version of OOXML, and saw that it did not contain all of the changes mandated by the BRM. So belatedly, but better than never, the rules have been changed. Fast Tracks now require an FDIS text for NBs to review, along with a 2-month ballot on it.
There are also smaller, less substantial changes. For example, the dedication to Jan van den Beld, the former head of Ecma, for his “unwavering dedication to the development and evolution of the JTC 1 procedures”, has been removed. Ironically, both Ecma and Microsoft have indeed made long-term contributions to the evolution of Fast Track in JTC1, but probably not the way they intended.
The new ISO/IEC Directives are posted online. Note that one document expresses the common rules for ISO and IEC, while another is a set of supplemental rules which apply to only ISO/IEC JTC1. Evidently, we’re supposed to consult both documents and mentally merge them whenever trying to determine what the rules are.