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Linus’s Law Applied to Standards Review

Eric Raymond’s famous formulation in the Cathedral and the Bazaar was “given enough eyeballs, all bugs are shallow”. Since Code is text and Spec is text, so it is reasonable to ask if this same law might apply to reviewing a specification as well.

This proposition was put to the test this last weekend at GrokLaw, where a team of volunteers attempted to review the 6,000 page Ecma Office Open XML specification. Since the specification is already two-weeks into a 30-day review in ISO/IEC JTC1, a parallel approach was the indicated solution. The alternative, for each individual to review the specification in its entirety, would have required them to read at the rate of 200-pages/day for a month.

The team of around 20 contributors logged nearly 1,000 edits on the wiki they set up for their collaboration. The wiki received a further 4,000 page reads. This was done over a few days, but the bulk of the work was done just this weekend.

What they found is amazing. As you know, I have been reading the OOXML specification, on and off, for a few months now, noting in this blog the problems I’ve seen. I thought I had a good grasp of the problems. But I was wrong. I was just scratching the surface. The Microsoft guys think I have been complaining too much. But it now looks like I wasn’t complaining enough.

Take a look at the report. I’ll need a few days to read through the details and research some of the items. You can be sure I’ll follow up with some new posts to explain, in plain English, the significance of the new issues.

Also, GrokLaw has put out a call for concerned individuals to write to their nation’s JTC1 representatives, to give informed thoughts on whether OOXML should continue the process toward an ISO standard, or whether it should be taken off its current “Fast Track” because it contradicts existing standards. If you are a regular reader of this blog, you know what is at stake and you know what to do.

One final note. I’m so impressed with the results of this collaborative approach to standards review, that I’m going to investigate whether we can do the same thing at OASIS. We’ve been using a wiki internally for drafting new parts of the ODF 1.2 specification, and that has worked well. But I’d love it if the next time we had a public review period for ODF we could have the public also participate in editing content in the wiki and organize the process that way. It is a much better method than the non-interactive, linear pattern of a mailing list.

{ 1 comment… add one }
  • GaryEdwards 2007/01/26, 6:02 pm

    You are so right Rob. This is an incredible achievement. Especially given the time constraints.

    Although ISO/IEC officially accepted the MS Ecma 376 submission on Friday, January 5th, the Grokdoc group wasn’t fully aware of this until the following Monday. The information isn’t publicized. I’m not even sure if it’s public.

    Then the group had to figure out what ISO/IEC means by “contradictions and inconsistencies” with existing ISO/IEC products. More research.

    Ramping up and sprinting through the understanding of the practical, customary and legal aspects of these concepts, and having them fully referenced and evidenced through the long history of ISO/IEC documented decisions, is only one part of a most complex endeavor. There’s also research, understanding, and referencing of Trade Agreements and International Law.

    These things had to be done, and put into the proper context before the real challenge of sifting through the MS Ecma 376 proposal could begin. Yeah, without a doubt, the GrokDoc group should be congratulated for this herculean effort. Well done!

    Particular thanks goes out to the legendary marbux and Daniel Carrera for their tireless and determined effort, toiling upwards through the night on into the day, without rest, and without any diminishing of their determination to be factually accurate with each and every contradiction and inconsistency pouring in from the rest of the group and related friends; who were themselves pawing through the Ecma 376 specification and researching the rich rain forest of blogosphere expertise to further document and verify finds. (wow, what a sentence :)

    Without this herculean effort, Ecma 376 might have slouched through the Contradiction Review Phase and onto the fast track with the world knowing next to nothing about how their digital future was being railroaded out of their hands and back into the iron grip of Redmond.

    Am i the only one to notice the strange and hard to explain quiet with Microsoft and big media? Very unusual, especially given what’s at stake.

    For sure Microsoft bloggers know of the GrokDoc work, but strangely they’ve chosen silence as opposed to the rabid response such a work would otherwise be expected to elicit.

    We won’t know the impact this work will have had until after February 5th. But thanks to the GrokDoc group, i’m going to sleep better tonight.

    And thanks to ISO/IEC for giving us a chance to have our say. Whatever decision they come to, one things for sure; the impact will be felt the world over.


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