I’m confused, and I’m not alone

by Italo Vignoli on March 3, 2008

Matthew Aslett of The 451 Group comments about the Geneva BRM. He is probably confused as much as I am, but he reports a number of opinions (including those that I’ve mentioned in my previous post).

I point out Matthew’s last two paragraphs:

Admittedly I am quoting selectively, but you have to wonder whether a “standard” that has been through a process that divides opinion so much is worthy of the title, whatever the result. The most damning indictment, in my personal view, comes from Yoon Kit of the Malaysian delegation:

We eventually found out that if any changes affected current implementations it would certainly be rejected. This seriously compromised any elegant solutions, and it forced us to be mindful of the “existing corpus of documents” in the wild. I don’t believe that that should be our problem, but there was a large and vocal voting bloc which would oppose any changes to the spec which would “break” Ecma 376. [...]

From my informal talks with Sam Ramji of Microsoft I’ve understood that the company has already started working at the code of Office 2007, in order to make the product more interoperable. This is confirmed by the following statement, which is included in the press release distributed on February 21 to support the conference call with Steve Ballmer, Ray Ozzie, Bob Muglia and Brad Smith (you know, they use Excel to sort the list alphabetically ;-) , and the software includes a non standard “hierarchy filter”):

Enhancing Office 2007 to provide greater flexibility of document formats. To promote user choice among document formats, Microsoft will design new APIs for the Word, Excel and PowerPoint applications in Office 2007 to enable developers to plug in additional document formats and to enable users to set these formats as their default for saving documents.

As a logical consequence, once ECMA has started the standardization process for Microsoft OOXML it should have been clear that the process itself could have asked for substancial amendments to the document format, and that refusing or opposing such changes would have been simply not coherent with the process.

Therefore, I’m quite surprised for Yoon Kit statement, because – if completely true (the only problem I see is the language one, as writing in English when it’s not your mother tongue is a daily challenge) – it goes not only against the principles of the standardization process but also against any reason.

The fact that during the BRM there were substantial changes to the specifications seems to be confirmed by this short sentence from Microsoft James Matusow (which I find otherwise biased, and this is the reason why I decided to ignore his post before):

After 5 months of ongoing communications about the dispositions with NSBs around the world, the constructive, positive adoption of changes to the specification was the outcome of the BRM.

This sounds logical to me. And it sounds logical that Microsoft is going to implement the changes once they have been approved, although this doesn’t mean that OOXML – once all the changes have been implemented – it’s going to be an interoperable standard, as the changes – many of them – are just one of the necessary steps in the right direction.

I’m puzzled and confused… Any help?

UPDATE: ECMA has issued a press release about the Ballot Resolution Meeting, with a couple of paragraphs which clarify the outcome of the BRM:

The final DIS 29500 text includes updated dispositions to a number of key comments, such as multi-part standard; transitional vs. strict conformance classes; more strict date system in spreadsheets based on the ISO standard; flexible units of measurement and very significant advances in accessibility, internationalization (BiDi) and multi-platform support.

Several of the issues which will not be reflected into the final DIS text have been deferred to consideration during the maintenance phase, which, if the standard is approved would be managed by ISO/IEC JTC 1 with the active collaboration of Ecma International.

Although I understand that a huge effort has been put by all the participants in order to get to this stage, I think that this is a result that doesn’t allow the standardization of OOXML, as there are still several issues unresolved.

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