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Merely a flesh wound?

The subject is the 19 contradictions JTC1 member countries submitted at the end of their 30-day contradiction ballot. Andy Updegrove broke the story.

Since that post came out there has been some interesting spin placed on these results, spin that I’m seeing popping up in several places. I’ll give you a few examples, and than explain why these ballot results are more significant than some might have you believe.

An anonymous comment on Groklaw:

This is a normal step in the fasttrack proces. (bypassed by ODF however) This might add one or two months to the proces [sic]. The ballot in ISO requires a 2/3 majority. Only 20% have reacted with contradictions or a question for information and Ecma can probalby [sic] satisfy a lot of those 19 by answering questions, expanding on their information and mayby [sic] amending the proposal.

A blog post from Jerry Fishenden, Microsoft’s National Technology Officer for the UK:

I’m not sure where the media are getting their information, but apparently out of the hundred or more ISO members only nineteen of them filed a response to Ecma 376 (Open XML) by the close of the initial 30 day consultation period.

From Brian Jones, whose excellent blog does worthy service to Microsoft’s perspective on OOXML:

The 1 month contradiction phase of the 6 month fast track process is now complete. It sounds like about 18 of the 100+ countries reviewing the standard came back with comments.

And finally, an eWeek article, quoting Tom Robertson, Microsoft GM of interoperability and Standards:

There are 103 countries that participated in the ISO process, and each country has a national standards body with the authority to act at the ISO on behalf of that country.

Obviously, these are their talking points. To see why this misleading, we first need to have a quick refresher on how votes are counted, according to the JTC1 Directives.

First, remember that this is not ISO per-se. It is JTC1, a Joint Committee between ISO and the IEC. Not all 100+ ISO members are members of JTC1. So it is not relevant to talk about how many ISO members there are in total. Only the JTC1 members were eligible to raise contradictions.

Second, the critical number to look at is the count of Primary Countries of JTC1, the so-called P-Countries. There are only 30 P-Countries in JTC1. You can see them listed here. If you compare the list that Andy Updegrove posted you will see that 16 of the 19 countries on his list are also P-Countries of JTC1. So 16 of the 30 P-Countries raised contradictions. The other three are Observers, or O-Countries.

Why is the P-Countries designation important? During the 5-month ballot, approval of OOXML will require that two-thirds of the voting P-Countries approve, as well as that no more than one-quarter of all votes cast are negative. This requirement for two-thirds approval from P-Countries is what makes them so critical.

Do the math. One-third of 30 P-Countries is 10. Add 1 to get 11, the magic number. If 11 P-Countries vote against OOXML during the 5-month ballot, then OOXML will fail. If some countries abstain, then this magic number goes proportionately down. Since some NB’s have a consensus voting procedure for determining their vote in JTC1, the lack of consensus could lead them to abstain from the 5-month ballot, just as it may have lead some NB’s to abstain from the contradiction ballot. So this magic number will likely be less than 11 because of these abstentions.

So, with 16 P-Countries already expressing concerns about OOXML, Microsoft clearly has an uphill battle. If the vote were held today, OOXML would fail in JTC1. To portray the reception of 19 contradictions, 16 of them from P-Countries, as being an average occurrence, or par for the course, or insignificant, is pure spin and and denies the magnitude of the rebuke OOXML has received.

{ 14 comments… add one }
  • GaryEdwards 2007/02/08, 1:37 pm

    Hi Rob,

    Thanks for putting things in the proper context.

    I’ve heard through the webvine that there were some interesting remarks in the German and Canadian contradiction vote. Remarks to the effect that Microsoft should explain exactly why they didn’t use ISO 26300 (ODF) as the basis of their XML file format effort; making the necessary eXtensions if needed, and submitting those issues to the OASIS ODF TC.

    You know, the “X” in XML problem Microsoft has yet to explain.

    Could you verify and perhaps post a comment on the phrasing of what i take to be a challenge to Microsoft to finally come clean with their objections to ODF?

    I have to say, if the webvine is right, Germany and Canada are cutting to the chase in a way that ought to clear the air of smoke, billage and confusion. And do so rather quickly.


  • Ben Langhinrichs 2007/02/08, 2:04 pm

    You missed my favorite part of the Brian Jones post, “It will most likely turn out that some of comments are in support…

    It will be interesting to see how many comments are “in support”. I have a guess, but it is just a guess.

  • Anonymous 2007/02/08, 4:07 pm

    Hi Rob;

    As much as I enjoy your writting, I think your math is flawed in favor of MS.

    From what you’ve got, I understand for OOXML to pass, it must:
    a) have at least 66.66% members approved
    b) have no more then 25% against

    Let’s say all 30 members vote.

    In order to fail the first requirement, 11 members need to vote against or abstain.

    In order to fail the second requirement, 8 members would need to vote against.

    MS actually only needs 8 members to vote against for their OOXML to fail.

    That is – of course – if my math is correct ;)


  • Rob 2007/02/08, 4:53 pm

    Hi RAS,

    The 2nd requirement (no more than 25% negative votes) counts votes of more than just P-Countries. In the 5-month ballot, O-Countries, and even the broader list of ISO countries can vote as well.

    Certainly I’d expect that the core of NB’s who vote will consist of P-Countries, since they are the ones with the interest and the expertise and the commitment to review standards of this type. So if there is not significant broader participation in the ballot, then the 25% might be the binding constraint. But if there is broader participation, then the 2/3 P-Country constraint might be the killer.

  • Ben Langhinrichs 2007/02/08, 5:13 pm

    For what it is worth, Andy Updegrove reports that the count of 19 is actually incorrect, and the JTC-1 forgot Italy, so the count is really 20. Just an unconfirmed FYI.

    See http://www.consortiuminfo.org/standardsblog/trackback.php?id=2007020812133683

  • Anonymous 2007/02/08, 5:26 pm

    Thanks for the clarification.

    I had read right past the “…of all votes cast…”

    Darn ;)

    Ah well… guess I’ll have to live with MS trying to sway 6 out of 16.


  • omz 2007/02/08, 5:42 pm

    brian jones said :
    “The ISO submission was something that a number of governments had requested, which is why Ecma went that route.”

    we must read ECMA == Microsoft to understand this? mmm i get it :-)

  • Anonymous 2007/02/08, 9:49 pm

    “There are 103 countries that participated in the ISO process, and each country has a national standards body with the authority to act at the ISO on behalf of that country.”

    this is classic microsoft speak.

    they are masters at redefining processes to meet their needs.

    I hope this fails like a ton of bricks.

  • Stephen Samuel 2007/02/09, 1:39 am

    Only 19 members responded, but they were (almost^w)all negative. … and that’s just among the members that responded. MS may have much more than just 6 votes to sway. Other members might have declined to comment simply because they figured that there was already enough mud being raise, or because the 6000 page document was too big to slog through in the alloted time frame.

    With 16/30 (53%) on the record as having problems with the OOXML proposal, I’m going to guess that another 50% (i.e. 77% total) are quietly having problems.

    I thing that MS has a lot of lobbying to do just to prevent an embarrassing rout.

  • hAl 2007/02/09, 4:44 am

    I think your analysis of the voting seems incorrect according to JTC1 documents.

    As far as I understand from the JTC1 directives the ballot is commbined
    “Section 13.3 specifies the vote as “combined” and section 9.5 defines that a “combined vote” includes the P-members of JTC1, all ISO member bodies and IEC national committees.”

    That means the ballot will be all 103 voting members and not just the P members.
    “To pass, at least two-thirds of the respondents voting (not “all P-members”) shall have approved and not more than one-quarter of the votes cast are negative (per section 9.6).”

    For reference:

  • Rob 2007/02/09, 8:26 am


    Take a look at the JTC1 Directives.

    Section 9.8 “Votes on Fast Track DISs” says “The criteria for approval are given in 9.6”. And according to section 9.6, approval requires, “At least two-thirds of the P-members voting shall have approved.”

    You are correct that this is a “combined vote”. But the structure of the approval rules is such that the two-thirds approval of voting P-Countries are required. The votes cast by any other countries, not matter how many votes, cannot approve the ballot if the P-Countries don’t agree.

    However, the combined vote of non-P-Countries could prevent the approval of a DIS even if the P-Countries are voting for a DIS. So the effect is the larger membership has veto power if they vote in numbers, but they have no ability to advance the approval of the ballot. They only have the power of a negative vote. Only P-Countries have the power to positively approve a DIS.

    I think the SC34 document, by saying “not all members” is making the point that the requirement is for two-thirds approval of all P-Countries who cast a vote, not two-thirds approval of all P-Countries.

    These is the same voting rules that applied to ODF in its ballot last year. In that case we had 23 P-Countries voting plus an additional 11 other NBs. All 34 votes were for approval.

  • hAl 2007/02/09, 10:21 am

    Thanks for the clarification.

    Oh, btw, I just reread your last sentence. It starts with:
    “To portray the reception of 19

    I would suggest to tone that down a bit as the exact nature of the 19 reactions (or 18 or 20) is not fully known as far as I know.

  • Nick 2007/02/09, 12:34 pm

    It looks as if there’s a good chance that this ploy to get a proprietary format anointed as a “standard” will fail.

    But never underestimate Microsoft’s determination and wealth, or its willingness to act unethically, even illegally, to get what it wants. The maneuvers to get this thing rubber-stamped as a “standard” will go on out of public view. That, my friends, worries me.

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