Secrets and anonymous comments

Every once is a while I get an anonymous comment or a tip about something that happened in “closed” standards meetings. This is especially true lately where the various national bodies are deliberating whether they should support Microsoft‘s OOXML product specification for Microsoft Office. I’m not going to publish this information, but I appreciate your trying to get the information out.

I urge you to directly request that the voting rules on this important issue are made public immediately. The bizarre variety of rules needs to be made known and, moreover, all citizens of all countries involved need to understand:

  • Who is able to vote?
  • Who is not able to vote?
  • What are the voting rules that will govern a YES, ABSTAIN, or NO vote?
  • Are the rules balanced to equally decide to accept or reject the proposal, or significantly leaning toward accepting it?
  • How were the comments processed? Were they all given due consideration or were they discarded without proper review?
  • What was the schedule and procedures and were they adhered to carefully and fairly?

Slanted, inappropriate, and biased behavior (in any way in any direction and for anyone) is not allowable, in my mind, when deciding this and other important standards issues. I repeat: All this information must be made public and those running the processes must be accountable to each other, their fellow citizens, and the various standards organizations and committees in which they participate.

This is transparency, this is good community behavior, this is openness. Anything else is a sham and an embarrassing scandal in the making.

All this information will be public eventually. It’s best to just do the right thing now.

Also See: An “OOXML is a bad idea” blog entry compendium

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8 Responses to Secrets and anonymous comments

  1. len says:


    Transparency with respect to processes and competence with respect to technical decisions are the sine qua non of international standards.

    Good call.

  2. orcmid says:

    I’m definitely with you on this one, Bob.

  3. Rick Jelliffe says:

    Secret anonymous tips about things that happened in closed meetings. Scary one, Bob!

    Transparency, motherhood, etc. +1

    Of course, it is difficult for all citizens of all countries to understand all rules if they get their reports from websites that either don’t know or don’t care to know the difference between a chair at a table and a seat on a committee, to take last week’s example.

    But we can answer “Are the rules balanced to equally decide to accept or reject the proposal, or significantly leaning toward accepting it?” right away. The whole ISO process is biased towards bringing a draft standard to an acceptable editorial state (and technical and editorial state if is an internally developed standard) and then get acceptance. It is not remotely “equally balanced”.

    ISO is an organization designed to help people who have identified a market requirement for a standard develop it, document it, and publish it. The neutrality of the process is that it is designed to minimize the chances of one gang from stymieing another gang: fairness to all is something that standards people take very seriously. In fact, as Andy Updegrove’s pages on antitrust make clear, it is cartelization (where one group of people who have their own standard try to prevent another group from getting a standard they need) that is strongly disallowed (Allied Tubemakers, etc.)

    For example, the ISO POSIX and ISO Linux ABI standards overlap and contradict. But they are both standards now, because it is better to reflect the reality and progress from there than to pretend the real world does not exist.

    Ultimately the process is geared to win/win not win/lose. Once you understand that the process is geared to win/win, the clouds clear and you realize that what seemed sinister in the nightmare world that Bob is pushing is (often) just a sensible approach. Fixed-size tasks forces? No more sinister than a jury, especially when there is an intention that all members need to see all material to get the big picture.

    Instead of becoming armchair detectives, I recommend that people who make their livelihoods from using standards should try to get involved with their local standards bodies or coding. If all the effort that has been put into fighting Open XML had been put into improving open source ODF implementations, ODF would be in a different competitive position today.

  4. Bob Sutor says:

    Rick, next time I recommend that a simple link to one of your many other postings on your pro-Microsoft positions will suffice.

    If all the effort that had been put into creating OOXML and fighting ODF had just been put into further evolving and widely implementing ODF, well … then maybe we would have a better world. But that’s not what happened and not for good, logical reasons. Nevertheless, many, many people will now be working and fighting for better and more open standards, just as some will keep fighting for pseudo-standards that protect dominant market shares.

  5. >Slanted, inappropriate, and biased behavior (in any way in any direction and for anyone) is not allowable, in my mind, when deciding this and other important standards issues.

    Bravo Bob, but aren’t you the head of IBM’s standards engagement? A good start might be for you to allow your colleagues participating in DIS29500 around the world the intellectual freedom to vote according to their conscience, and in their national interest, rather than require them to follow the Armonk line.

    As for the anonymous tips you’re getting and secret conversations you’re having, IBM’s management competencies might help you with that – there used to be one called “straight talk” – why not have the courage of your convictions and just come out and say what you mean? As you say, “This is transparency, this is good community behavior, this is openness. Anything else is a sham and an embarrassing scandal in the making.”

    But what do I know? I remember IBM’s first management principle as “The marketplace is the driving force behind everything we do.” I struggle to square IBM’s position against OpenXML with the expressed wishes of a great many of your customers large and small welcoming it and calling for it to be an ISO standard.

  6. Chris Ward says:

    One of my children nagged me for a copy of Microsoft Publisher again today.
    “OpenOffice cannot open the documents I bring home from school”.

    It’s not really surprising; it would be quite heroic if, IBM Lotus Notes, Sun StarOffice, or any of a number of other products, open-source toolkits, or XML parsers that I might write myself could reliably do anything with a document saved by Microsoft Publisher.

    Maybe I should suggest that the school should join forces with Sun Microsystems in producing a load/save utility which will cause Microsoft Publisher to work with ISO26300 ODF XML files. That’s the right standard to aim at. It may not be perfect, but we should identify any imperfections and collaborate to resolve them. Or maybe I should suggest that the school should get hold of , IBM Lotus Notes, and Sun StarOffice (all current software) and have a go themselves. I’d be happier buying him a copy of Microsoft Publisher if I knew the school was deploying software from more than just one producer.

    I wouldn’t insist on IBM Lotus SmartSuite. I think that’s like IBM Selectric Typewriters, a burnt-out stage of the profit ‘rocket’, will do its job.

    There is a fair variety in the market. Microsoft do not have a monopoly of the distribution channel for software which is available at a price that schools can credibly afford. If the school think it’s too expensive, they should try negotiating for discounts, or ask if the parents would chip in.

    My wife also gripes about the number of different plugs and sockets, transformers, connectors, that all the cameras, mobile phones, toothbrushes, and other portable electrical gadgets around the house seem to need. She wonders whether all the various manufacturers could get together and agree on a standard for those, too.

  7. Bob Sutor says:

    It’s pretty simple, Stephen, sometimes people leave comments here that I do not consider appropriate for publication, per the original entry content. You would be amazed at the darndest things people say and expect others to believe.

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