Alex Brown, in ODF – OASIS and JTC 1 Get It Together, refers to those like me, who have been vocal in our disapproval of ISO’s handling of office-document standards, as the “tinfoil brigade” with a “crazed oppositional narrative”. He even provides an illustration of the use of a shiny silver fashion statement. Is this fair?
It should be noted that Alex is not alone. Back in July, Michael Sperberg-McQueen, one of the most balanced and thorough thinkers I’ve ever had the privilege of working with, noted with displeasure that some factions in the OOXML argument took positions that were not only passionately emotional but veered into the ad hominem.
Seems Conclusive · On the one hand, there is the International Organization for Standardization and the International Electrotechnical Commission coming together under to form Joint Technical Committee 1, which gathers the world’s experts (many of them being paid full-time to do this) to develop International Standards which in many jurisdictions effectively have the force of law. Neither passion nor anger is typically a feature of ISO/IEC JTC1 processes.
Furthermore, in the context of the OOXML discussion, the public statements made by the proponents of OOXML were even-toned, friendly, and couched in reasonable language.
On the other hand, a bunch of raucous Open-Source and Free-Culture crazies hissing vituperation about corruption, bullying, and treachery. Yes, and directly accusing individuals, companies and organizations (notably JTC1) of serious malfeasance.
To an outside observer, it seems obvious who should be lining up for the tinfoil headgear.
I’m Not an Outside Observer · I’ve put in years of my life in the standardization trenches, in the Web Consortium, the IETF, and most recently JTC1 (but never Oasis nor ECMA). I have a great deal of experience in designing and applying the technologies in question and a healthy degree of cynicism about the motives of, well, everyone. And I was in the room. So I may be wrong, but if so, the problem isn’t ignorance.
And I’m forced to say that, applying only a very modest amount of cynicism and paranoia, along with Occam’s razor, and the Really Big Question “Cui bono?”, I think the following conclusions, on the subject of the ECMA/JTC1 process around OOXML, are at least reasonable. I personally think they’re no-brainers.
There was substantial corruption brought to bear to influence the votes of certain National Bodies.
There was substantial bullying, directed in particular against individual members of certain National Bodies, with direct threats of career damage.
The procedure adopted by JTC1 was laughably inadequate given the size and complexity of the material under discussion.
The JTC1 process (in the bigger picture, not just this context) is badly broken. I need only state that National Bodies are routinely required to vote for or against draft standards that they have not had the opportunity to read. (I have to be careful or my tone will become shrill over this point).
Most but not all of the evidence which supports my conclusions is easily available on the public record.
I’m Angry · I can’t help it. I’m actually quite idealistic and believe that collaborative work which transcends the boundaries of nations and enterprises has the potential to benefit individuals, governments, and businesses everywhere. I cannot give an honest and complete account of my feelings about the ECMA/JTC1 process without resorting to coarse language and direct accusations against certain parties whom I believe to have acted at best unethically.
For the purposes of this little essay I will for obvious reasons restrain myself. I will, however, offer two assertions:
In the context of the process that led to the existence of ISO/IEC International Standard 29500, it is reasonable to be angry.
It is not reasonable to draw conclusions about the rights and wrongs of a complex and important issue, in which billions of dollars are at stake, based on who’s being polite.