Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Such a long journey (OOXML, pronounced O O Hex ML)

The Bureau of Indian Standards committee on OOXML will be meeting up on 13th March 2008 to get a debriefing on the Geneva BRM. The BRM attracted a fair share of criticism from participants for the manner in which it was conducted. Malaysia issued a press release expressing their dissatisfaction with the BRM. The press release quoted Puan Fadilah Baharin, Director General of STANDARDS MALAYSIA as saying:

"Malaysia had submitted 23 comments and more than 70% of them were not addressed satisfactorily by Ecma's proposed dispositions. We intended to resolve these technical issues at the BRM, but we could only raise 2 concerns due to the time constraints imposed."

Microsoft's Brian Jones meanwhile announced on his blog that 98% of Ecma responses have been approved and I hear that Microsoft has shot off letters to Indian policy makers spreading this misinformation. I don't know what reality distortion field Microsofties are living in but it looks like they dragged ISO into the morass they live in. Let us go back to the Malaysian press release:

Last year, many countries raised concerns against the appropriateness of the voluminous OOXML draft standard submitted by the Ecma International to ISO for a Fast Track process. To date, our observation to these concerns have yet to be addressed better after the BRM. Malaysia's concern is currently being shared greatly by many other National Bodies from Asia including India, China and Korea; as well as from the US and Canada.

Andy Updegrove has some of the sanest comments on the OOXML BRM. Whatever Microsoft may claim, the fact is that emerging economies like Brazil, China, India, South Africa, Malaysia and others have voted against OOXML. Even the US, which had voted "Approve with Comments" in September 2007 voted "No" at the BRM.

What I predict is that Microsoft will apply heavy pressure on countries like Cyprus, Ecuador, Jamaica, Lebanon, Pakistan, Trinidad and Tobago, Turkey , Uruguay, Venezuela, which joined the JTC1 ISO committee reviewing OOXML just before the previous vote in September 2007 to make sure that they vote "Yes." I am sure that Indian policy makers are also under heavy pressure but many of them are smart enough to know a fraudulent standard when they see one. In the rest of the countries, Microsoft may have burnt another bridge and left themselves more isolated among policy makers.

Here is what others said about the BRM.

U.S. National Body Head Frank Farance

"Eighty percent of the changes were not discussed . . .It's a big problem .
. I've never seen anything like this, and I've been doing this for 25

Canadian National Body Delegate Tim Bray

"The process was complete, utter, unadulterated bullshit. I'm not an ISO
expert, but whatever their 'Fast Track' process was designed for, it sure
wasn't this. You just can't revise six thousand pages of deeply complex
specification-ware in the time that was provided for the process."

Brazil National Body Delegate Jomar Silva

"Here are the facts: 1) If [Microsoft] finds that the process functioned,
is because [they] really did not see the process! 2) Anyone who says that
we made rigorous revisions, his nose will grow 10 cm, and anyone that says
the countries had resolved only some important points, his nose will only
grow half as much (chalk it up to a wood shortage). I am even more
irritated when I see that people who had not been there, had not
participated at all, saying whatever they want."

Greek National Body Delegate Antonis Christofides

". . . the BRM was essentially confined to making changes that only
scratched the surface of the problems. . . I and my reviewers found 13
additional errors in the original specification. However, national bodies
were not allowed to submit new comments . . . Therefore, there was no way
to submit and correct them. . . the Ecma responses make the text slightly
better, but though slightly better it is still abysmal . . we did not have
the time to study one thousand responses . . . In fact, even the 80
responses that Greece studied, we did not study at the level of scrutiny
that is required when you inspect a standard. There was no time for that.
What we did was glance through, and make fast decisions based on what seems
right at a quick glance."

The last one year has been such a huge learning experience for me in how standards are created and how some are hijacked!

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