Even though the JTC1 ballot closes on September 2 on Microsoft’s product description for Microsoft Office, namely OOXML or DIS 29500, this will not become an ISO/IEC standard in 2007. This most pointedly means:
- At this time, you should make no policy decisions based on OOXML becoming an ISO/IEC standard this year.
- Given the huge number of technical issues exposed in the process, as in the earlier Contradiction Period, you should seriously question any policy decision to adopt OOXML at all.
The reason why it will not be a standard this year is that whatever the mix of votes, there will be some, possibly even a substantial number, of NO votes and these will have comments associated with them. These comments must be dealt with and would likely involve substantial changes to the specification, something I believe Microsoft would be loathe to do.
This goes all the way back to the original charter at ECMA where the intent was stated as “Produce a standard which is fully compatible with the Office Open XML Formats.” That is, do whatever you want, but don’t make any changes that are not what Microsoft implemented in its products.
These comments get resolved in a Ballot Resolution Meeting (BRM) which is now planned for early next year, 2008. The historical purpose of these meetings is to try to overcome issues that would prevent a specification from becoming a standard. That is, the BRM is highly asymmetrical in its intentions: turn NOs into YESes, but not vice-versa. The opposite could potentially happen, but it is not common practice and no one should try to sell that to you now. It’s just not how things have gotten done.
You should interpret “NO with comments” as meaning “we do not approve because at this point there are significant problems which must get fixed.” This is the way you should vote if you have such strong issues that must get handled. Conditional approval means “NO with comments” so that things get resolved, practice has not been “YES with comments.” The only sure way for you to ensure that your comments get addressed is to vote “NO with comments.”
This business about voting “YES with comments” instead of “NO with comments” is a bold attempt to snatch an approval from rejection by altering historical international standards practice. Don’t fall for it.
This process will go on for several months and so OOXML, if it were to become an ISO/IEC standard, would only do so in mid-2008. If that were the case, it is likely to be a very different animal than it is now. That is, given all the very significant technical problems with it, the final spec would most likely NOT be what is implemented in Microsoft Office today. Microsoft implements ECMA OOXML and not the possible future ISO OOXML, if that ever comes to pass.
Think version problems. Think compatibility problems. Think an Office Fixpack for this that must be installed everywhere. Think converters from ECMA OOXML to ISO OOXML. Think converters from everything else to the various flavors. Think you better brush up on your math to understand the possible combinations. Think a great big mess.
Or, rather, think about why the existing ISO standard ODF is a great idea now and will continue to be so. Think about all those arguments about why a single open document standard is preferable. Think about why those “we need multiple document standards” statements are sounding even more ridiculous than they did before.
I want to leave you with two more points on this.
First, when people start losing the logical or technical fight for something, they start playing procedural games and looking for loopholes. The recent attempt to try to get people to vote “YES with comments” is an example. Look for and publicize others that you discover.
Second, during the Contradiction Period we saw statements like “don’t worry, we’ll take care of that OOXML issue in the Five Month Fast Track Period.” Now we’re hearing “don’t worry, we’ll take care of your negative comments in the Ballot Resolution Meeting, just vote YES now.” My guess for what you’ll hear later if it possibly passes? “It’s a standard, so we can’t change it. Sorry.”
If there are any YES votes on September 2, expect a tremendous amount of spin from the pro-OOXML folks about its success, even if there are more NO votes and the ballot is defeated. I’ve been thinking that we need to put together a list of such spin statements just so we have a checklist. What do you think we’ll hear?