US technical committee reaches deadlock

Last Friday, the INCITS V1 technical committee had a meeting via teleconference to try to reach consensus on a position that we could recommend to the INCITS Executive Board regarding DIS 29500, the submission of Ecma 376 "Office Open XML" for consideration as an ISO/IEC international standard. The meeting follows the face-to-face meeting we had at IBM's office on K Street in Washinton, DC two weeks ago.

The ISO process is fairly complicated, and I'm no expert, but in general terms it works like this in the US: the technical committee (V1) reviews the proposed standard and recommends a position to the INCITS EB (Executive Board), and the EB then casts a vote for the US in the September 2 ISO/IEC vote on DIS 29500.

The main focus of V1's work has been to review technical, editorial, and general comments about DIS 29500, the spec for Open XML. We've talked through 96 comments in detail during our meetings, and all but a handful of those have been processed since the beginning of June. That's when we started to really dig into the comments, because most of them were submitted in the final two months of the 5-month DIS ballot period. That's also when the membership of V1 increased significantly, as organizations in the US that have hands-on Open XML experience got more involved in the process. As of May, only two of the V1 members (Microsoft and Mindjet) had any experience implementing Open XML, but now there are many companies with hands-on Open XML experience involved in the process. 

The comments we've been processing in V1 have come from several sources. IBM submitted 234 comments, and others in V1 submitted 66 comments. There were also 207 comments submitted by the public to the INCITS web site, including 171 letters of general support, 31 letters of general opposition, 3 general cautions, and 2 substantive comments. If you want to see the original submissions of these comments and the email discussions around them, check out the public V1 email reflector -- I've included the links to it in a previous post.

In Friday's call, Patrick Durusau (the chair of V1) explained to us the five positions that we could recommend:

  1. Approval
  2. Approval with comments
  3. Disapproval with comments
  4. Abstain
  5. Abstention with comments

We then discussed these possible positions. There were many opinions and perspectives represented in the discussion, and I won't characterize any specific opinions (everyone involved can speak for themselves), but there were three general groups of members:

  • Some V1 members felt that "Approval with comments" was the position to take, because it sends a message that Open XML should become an ISO standard, but there are some things that need to be corrected or modified in the spec. Many of these members didn't support "Disapprove with comments" because they believed it would allow anti-Open XML lobbyists on V1 to obstruct the process in the future. (Personally, I fall into this camp.)
  • Some V1 members felt that "Disapprove with comments" was the position to take, because it would force the resolution of certain comments. Many of these members didn't support "Approve with comments" because they believed it would allow critical corrections to slip through the process without being handled.
  • One V1 member (as you can see in the voting totals below) felt that V1 should abstain from recommending a position, and simply submit the comments.

We agreed to discard the "edge cases" in the list of 5 options above: Approval (unconditional) and Abstain. Nobody on V1 felt that the spec is ready for ISO standards status as it stands, with no changes, and there was also no motion to abstain from the process without even submitting comments. So we then tried to reach consensus on one of the other three options.

After strawman votes to gauge where everyone was at, we took three official roll-call votes on the three possible positions. The rules require a 2/3 majority to approve a position (66.67%), and here are the results of the votes we took:

Recommended Position YES NO ABSTAIN
Approval with comments 15 (60%) 10 1
Abstention with comments 11 (42%) 15 0
Disapproval with comments 10 (40%) 15 1

So we wound up in a deadlock. This means the matter passes on to the INCITS Executive Board, where they'll try to reach a decision on how to proceed. They have until September 2 to decide on a position that the US will take.  Stay tuned. 

P.S. I'm going to take a long overdue vacation for the rest of this week. I'll be back next Monday, tanned and relaxed and ready to get back to blogging on the technical details of Open XML. See you then!