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Microsoft’s Stephen McGibbon updates us on the OOXML Ballot Resolution Meeting (BRM), now scheduled for February 25-29 in Geneva. He ends his otherwise informative post with a little jab:

I hear that IBM is still telling national bodies that a BRM isn’t guaranteed. I am unsure how IBM reached that conclusion but this seems to be concrete evidence to the contrary.

Well, let me help refresh Mr. McGibbon’s seemingly repressed memories.

First, scheduling a BRM does not guarantee it will be held. For example, have you heard of DIS 26926 “C++/CLI”? It was another Microsoft/Ecma Fast Track, just last year. The BRM meeting announcement went out on 25 October 2006, saying the BRM would be held 13-15 April 2007 in Oxford, England. Stephen, do you recall that BRM by any chance? Of course not, because it was canceled in February 2007 with the following message from the SC22 Secretariat:

We have been advised that the comments accompanying the Fast Track ballot for DIS 26926 are not resolvable and that holding a Ballot Resolution Meeting (BRM) would not be productive or result in a document that would be acceptable to the JTC 1 National Bodies. Therefore, our proposal is to not hold the BRM and to cancel the project.

So there is one example of a BRM that was scheduled and then canceled.

Want another? Sure, I can do that.

Take the case of DIS 26300 “Open Document Format.” A Ballot Resolution Meeting was scheduled for May 29 to June 1, 2006 in Seoul, Korea, concurrently with the JTC1/SC34 Plenary. But was the BRM actually held? No. It was canceled by the Plenary:

Following the advice of the JTC 1 Secretariat, JTC 1/SC 34 cancels the previously-scheduled ISO/IEC 26300 Ballot Resolution Meeting and the SC34 Secretariat will forward the revised DIS text and accompanying disposition to SC34 national bodies for a 30-day default ballot when ready.

Why? Because ODF received no Disapproval votes. Although 8 of the 23 NB submitted comments with their ballot, these were all “Approval, with Comments” votes rather rather than “Disapproval, with comments. So a BRM was not deemed necessary. Only comments that accompany Disapproval votes must be addressed at a BRM.

So there you go, two examples of BRM’s that were scheduled, but then canceled. The SC Secretariat has some discretion here. JTC1 Directives, Section 13.5 says, “In some cases the establishment of a ballot resolution group is unnecessary and the SC Secretariat can assign the task directly to the Project Editor.” The two examples given show that if a ballot passes by large margins, or fails by large margins, a BRM may not be necessary.

How about another example from the recent past, the Fast Track DIS 29361 “Information technology – Basic profile.” Their ballot closed on June 18th. Its ballot passed with 17 of 20 P-Members voting in favor of it. All Disapproval votes were accompanied by comments, as did one of the approval votes. Since there were Disapproval votes surely there must have been a BRM, right? No, that’s not how it worked. The JTC1 Secretariat decided a BRM was not necessary and the comments could be forwarded directly to the Submitter of the Fast Track for them to “review and respond”. So even having Disapproval votes does not guarantee a BRM will be held.

Does this make more sense now?

Of course, Microsoft already knows all this, and no doubt that is why they are working so hard to urge NB’s to vote “Approval, with comments” with promises that their comments will be addressed at the BRM, a BRM that might not even occur. In fact, if everyone listened to Microsoft and followed their advice then that would almost guarantee that no BRM would be held and no NB’s comments would be adopted.

{ 8 comments… add one }
  • Ed 2007/08/28, 8:10 am

    Rob, I entered a comment on Stephen McGibbon’s website shortly after you posted this, linking back here. You probably did the same. I think it’s funny that 20 hours later, he still hasn’t approved these comments. It’s not the first time Mr. McGibbon has used a “slow count” to ensure his flawed position stands unchallenged.

  • James 2007/08/28, 10:24 am

    Quoted from stephen’s blog:

    Thanks Ed – I don’t think he so much answers it as confirms it. DIS29500 is recieving a far more robust review than IS26300 ever did … and will benefit from it I am sure. I think the fact that OASIS went along with the BRM being cancelled is indicative that thay knew there was so much more work to be done – formulas, accessibility, interoperability support.

    I guess IS26300 will get the same level of thoughtful and good faith review from IBM and supporters when it comes back to ISO for revision one day?

    I understand that Ecma have confirmed that they expect there to be a BRM and will address all comments at it.

    Um funny doesn’t look like he read your comment at all Rob. OASIS went along with a BRM cancellation because they knew there were so many issues? Then why were there no comments to resolve…..

    Sometimes spinning makes one dizzy I guess….

  • Rob 2007/08/28, 11:05 am

    I’m not sure what “OASIS went along with BRM being canceled” is supposed to mean. OASIS doesn’t have a voice one way or another on whether the BRM was canceled. OASIS has liaison status in SC34. It can’t vote. But I can say that I attended that Plenary as well as the ODF Project Editor and the OASIS Liaison representative. So if anyone wanted to have a BRM, we were all there in Seoul ready to have it.

    As for the robustness of the review, I see it otherwise. The fact that OOXML has such a large number of clear defects shows the insufficiency of the Ecma review and the overall poor quality of that process. If ODF had this quantity of problems you would surely have heard Microsoft already listing them.

  • Sandy 2007/08/28, 8:23 pm


    If Microsoft’s OOXML gets a yes vote from at least 2/3’s of the P members and no votes from less than 1/4 of the total voting members, does OOXML automatically become an ISO standard? Or does Microsoft/ECMA also have to resolve all of the comments that accompaniied no ballots at the Ballot Resolution Meeting in February to procure ISO standard status for OOXML?

  • Rob 2007/08/28, 9:42 pm

    Sandy, the JTC1 Directives merely say, “In some cases the establishment of a ballot resolution group is unnecessary and the SC Secretariat can assign the task directly to the Project Editor.” It doesn’t give any set numeric criterion for deciding this, so this is at the discretion of the SC34 Secretariat.

    (Yes, it is ironic that one of the most important standards organizations in the world has rules written so vaguely. On the other hand the Fast Track procedures were pretty much written by Ecma, so maybe this isn’t a surprise.)

    Also, don’t fall into the trap of thinking that Microsoft/Ecma can resolve any comments. Only JTC1 can resolve comments. It can only do it via a Ballot Resolution Meeting or by assigning this task to the JTC1-appointed Project Editor.

  • Gopal 2007/09/01, 8:48 pm

    Assuming the BRM meeting agrees to incorporate say majority of the comments into the standard, by when (what date) does ECMA/MS have to make the required changes. Will the changes be subject to another review to confirm that they have been done.

  • Rob 2007/09/02, 11:00 am

    Hi Gopal,

    To be precise, Microsoft/Ecma does not produce the new version of the standard, but the Project Editor does, according to the BRM’s instructions.

    The final text is due one month after the BRM. If an NB notices a clerical error in the Project Editor’s work, e.g., the BRM agreed to a change but the change is not transcribed into the final DIS, then this should probably be raised directly with the SC Secretariat and the Project Editor. That’s what I would do, though the case is not explicitly covered in the Directives.

    Note that the BRM is being asked to “agree to a text.” So changes voted on at the BRM should be very specific, word for word changes, not open ended requests to “clarify” or such. So the Project Editor’s work after the BRM should be entirely clerical.

  • Anonymous 2007/09/05, 2:26 am

    Rob, as a follow up to Gopal’s question.

    I believe that ECMA/MS have until Jan 14, 2008 to provide their suggestions on how to resolve the comments. The individual NBs then have six weeks to accept the ECMA/MS suggestions or make suggestions of their own on how to resolve the comments.

    Then, ideally, at the BRM the NBs would work together, through the project editor, to achieve consensus on how to resolve the comments as you stated in you post.

    David Farning

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