On the OOXML BRM (#2)

There is a new report on the events of last week’s BRM in Geneva from one of the delegates. It is articulate and, I can only assume by the language and tone, highly accurate too.

Rob Weir’s erudite description of the proceedings, and the results of having to process a stupid number of issues about a badly written specification, in 5 working days absolutely beggars belief. Please go and read it in full.

We are in the 21st Century. Surely we have better brains and know-how than this?

… As the meeting progressed into Thursday, the tension mounted. As new issues were identified, they were taken off-line and told they could be brought up “Friday morning”. But no one really believed that. It was clear that there was not enough “Friday morning” to go around.

Thursday 9:20am, a delegation objects that they were told only to review Ecma’s responses to their own comments, and that there was never sufficient time to review all 1,000 Ecma responses since January 14th. ITTF’s response: “Nothing we can do about it in the rules — Nothing we could have done in our judgement”.

2:18pm the Convenor announces “This is zero hour”.

There is clearly not even enough time to fully discuss in the meeting the resolution of items that were taken off-line for further discussion. The US is not allowed to present our multi-part proposals to the meeting. We are told get consensus outside of the meeting first, so it can be brought up for quick approval.

Into Friday the BRM spirals further downwards. The issue is not now that NB’s cannot raise new issues. The problem is now that NB’s who have been diligently working on issues off-line with other delegations, meeting over lunch, or early in the morning or into the evening, may not be able to have their proposals heard and acted on.

There simply is not enough time. The anxiety-driven, frantic delegates push even harder. More resolutions are approved with 2 or 3 delegations trying to raise objections, but without being recognized. Tempers grow short. One highly respected Head of Delegation, of unimpeachable reputation and experience started to voice an objection “I am extremely disgusted by the way procedures have been…” before being called out of order by the Convenor, saying that discussion of procedural issues will not be allowed. Another delegation tries to raise a new issue, as they had for the last two days without luck. “We’re using the public money from NNN to come here to speak on our issue. Can we speak on our issue?” Convenor – “We have run out of time.”

And so the BRM came to an end, with the announcement of the results of the paper ballot. Four delegations gave blanket approval to every Ecma comment (Cote D’Ivoire, Czech Republic, Finland, Norway) and three gave default disapproval positions on all undiscussed Ecma responses (India, Malaysia, United States). Most delegations gave a default abstain position, or registered no position. The net is that, although the discussions on Monday and Tuesday demonstrated that the quality of the Ecma responses was such that almost every one required substantial off-line work to make it acceptable, we gradually lowered our standards, so that by week’s end, we approved 800+ comments without any discussion, even in the presence of clear objections.

I want to make it clear that I in no way wish to criticize the Convenor. I think Alex did a remarkable job in trying to carry out his duties and be fair in this no-win situation. He was given an impossible task and had to find out how to fail in the least offensive way. There is an art to crash-landing an airplane and we must acknowledge that.

Here’s what I think should happen:

  • The ISO/IEC should be ashamed. They should apologise and instigate an immediate review of procedures and suspend all further activity until they stop this kind of fiasco from happening again.
  • Microsoft should be hung-drawn and quartered. Perhaps the EU will see to that in due course.
  • ECMA should be banned from submitting ANYTHING to ISO/IEC ever again.
  • ECMA-376 (DIS29500, OOXML) should be thrown out today.
  • Microsoft/ECMA should refund all delegations their expenses for this total farce.

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One Comment

  • Andre says:

    Why did they move forward after the Sept vote? 3500 comments to be resolved for a 5-days BRM, that was the invention of the ISO secretariat. It is time to say: “stop it”, Microsoft go home. The BRM could not fix it and ISO members gave them enough reasons why Microsoft OOXML is totally unacceptable as an international standard.

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