The conspiracy to save ODF from being so crappy

Rob Weir hears whispers, and they turn into Chinese whispers

By Rick Jelliffe
June 11, 2009 | Comments: 12

My devoted correspondent, Rob Weir (IBM's Chief ODF Architect) is hearing voices again. And he does not like what they say. I am sure I would not, either.

These whispers tell Rob There is an interesting disinformation campaign being waged against ODF. I don't want to deal with his points in detail here, Madame Arcati probably being a more suitable person for the job, apart from to say that complaining about FUD in a blog that uses allegedly secret documents and a made-up kind-of quote to allege a conspiracy is a bit...well...interesting. (And, as I pointed out for an incident by an IBM colleague, isn't making up statements and attributing them to rivals against IBM's Code of Ethics?)

Instead I want to briefly make a few points about comments that have made by Groklaw readers and Slashdotters: the Chinese whisperers in the echo chamber.

This is a good example:

Alex Brown and Rick Jelliffe are also by far the most prolific posters in the feedback for OASIS Open Document Format for Office Applications (OpenDocument) TC mailing list They seem to be trying to flood out comments by others on the mailing lists.

The sheer volume of posts these two put out would indicate that they aren't authoring these posts themselves, but rather there must be a large FUD team operating (presumably run by Microsoft) that produces the comments which are then channeled through the two.

This was too much even for Rob, who wrote:

For the record, I encourage people to post defect reports and proposals to the OASIS ODF TC's comment list. That is what it is there for. Some of the extraneous discussion that pops up occasionally is out of place, but for submitting defect reports, that is the place to do it. In fact, I particularly welcome criticism from ODF's most vocal critics. That's how we make it a stronger standard. Think of it like bug reports for a product. The bug reports don't create the bug. They just report it, and give you the opportunity to fix it.

So, although I think these same parties spout off a lot of FUD on their personal blogs, I would not fault them for reporting issues on the office-comment list.That is what the list is there for.

Remember, we still have not seen the public comments received on OOXML during its Ecma review. Not even Ecma members have been allowed to see it. My guess is there were very few comments received. So it is one of the major qualities of ODF as an open standard that our comment list is open for anyone to post to, and for anyone to read. This is a good thing.

Anyone interested should just look at the postings by Alex and me on the ODF TC comments list, which are supposed to be work of this large FUD team. Alex is systematically reviewing ODF, which is a duty from his British committee work, and is what happens when something becomes an international standard. I have raised several issues for ODF-NG and contributed to some discussion threads.

The things to realize is

  • this comments list is the forum designated by OASIS and the ODF TC by which ISO SC34 committee members should contribute;
  • the ODF TC has decided that the way it wants the maintenance of ODF to go is that problems get fixed in the next version, so the appropriate place to report problems in ODF 1.0 or ODF 1.1 or the draft of ODF 1.2 is for SC34 committee members to submit them as comments to this list;
  • maintenance is very important at ISO: only dead standards are perfect, so reporting and negotiating problems is not something nasty, it is the core business of a standards committee member;
  • the ODF TC is not open to comments involved discussion about drafts from the outside world during the early stages on the comment list: if you want to contribute (i.e., to detailed discussion) you have to pay your money and join up (the ODF TC). (See below.) At a certain stage, when the TC is happy with it, a draft will be released for public comments Public Review. So it turns out not to be the appropriate forum for raising those kinds of comments yet. (I have refrained from a systematic review of ODF 1.2, though I have more than flicked through the draft, to respect this schedule: trying to catch up with WG4, the SC34 OOXML working group, takes more of my time at the moment.) On the other hand, because it is a public forum, if a topic has been raised by someone, basic openness dictates that people can weigh in, if they have something technical to contribute. (Actually, when I find a little problem in the draft of ODF 1.2 that gets under my skin, I usually email a committee person.
  • During April and May, that list also had another function, in that it was used to gather requirements for ODF-Next Gen. As far as I can tell, I certainly was the largest poster to this: however, I note that some of my comments were also echoed by the SVG working group and by a Chinese vendor. (That there were so few other responses shows a deplorable passivity by the ODF-using population, I am afraid to say: a thing which previously I had thought was a characteristic of disenfranchised Microsoft users.)

So here is an example of what Alex (the supposed rabid anti-ODF pro-OOXML apologist) writes:

Well, the feature's in a bit of a mess in OOXML because of a (possibly competing) concept of "conformance class" that applies to the "strict" and "transitional" versions of OOXML.

Still, that's an opportunity for ODF to do better :-)

The problem you've still got in 1.2 is that is permissible for an implementation to omit any feature and yet still be 100% conformant. So (to take a hot-button example from the BRM) if a vendor decides to leave out accessibility features, then by the letter of the standard, that's still fine conformant behaviour.

And here is an example of me:

...So my proposal is that all document constraints (other than those that can be expressed simply in the RELAX NG schema or which require complex parsing) should be expressed in a normative Schematron schema. The schema should be processed so that the plain language assertions are made into numbered lists, and these put (informatively) in the conformance section of the ODF standard.
Regular readers will recall that this is the direction that the HTML5 specification has been going.

Getting adequate conformance is hard. It is in the interest of vendors to be flexible in areas which may not serve the public interest: it is natural that they want the standard to reflect their capabilities and druthers. But apart from balancing interests, documents standards have a very difficult time in specifying conformance tightly. To see Alex and my comments as part of some denial of service attack on ODF is laughable; indeed to see the volume of what we write as a sign that there must be some large team behind us (or even that we are in some way co-ordinated) is I suppose something we should take as a compliment.

So I ask readers, even those who Rob Weir wants us to call tin foil hat brigade (and here), to make a decent review of ODF 1.2 when the draft comes out for public comment. Just take one section, where you know a bit about the subject matter, and if you find some decent improvement, think of a fix and suggest it.

It would be great if the ODF 1.2 review was even 10% as thorough as the OOXML review was. OOXML had between 1000 and 6000 people participate in the review, as far as I can see. So getting a few hundred people in serious, but friendly, review of ODF would seem reasonable.

I would also issue a challenge to the FOSS people who spent so much energy complaining about DIS29500 only to find that, miracle of miracles and horror of horrors, many of their complaints were taken on board to improve DIS29500 (and continue to be taken on board): For every hour you have spent on OOXML review, spend an hour on ODF review. Join the conspiracy!

[UPDATE] For the word from OASIS on what the purpose of the ODF comments list is, see this message

... this list is intended to be "input only" - that is, one should not expect discussion from TC members on any of the posts on this list. The intent is that the posts would be discussed by the TC which would then decide what action, if any, to take. If individuals want to take an active role in the development of the spec, they should then join the technical committee itself.

I would like to make it clear to everyone commenting that the TC has not yet approved a formal 60-day Public Review of the specification; the approximate date posted in the call for requirements for "ODF-Next" was late April. At that point in time the TC will be required to log all comments received along with their resolution before proceeding to the next approval level. That said, OASIS encourages feedback at any stage of a specification's lifecycle; early feedback is typically much easier to react to than that provided late in the game.

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Rick, you say "the ODF TC is not open to comments about drafts from the outside world during the early stages: it you want to contribute you have to pay your money and join up. At a certain stage, when the TC is happy with it, a draft will be released for public comments."

This is not true. We post working drafts on new work frequently, sometimes every week or two. There is no "released" draft versus an "unreleased" draft. Any and all drafts that are shared with the TC are shared with the public. We have no ability to post a "private" draft only visible to the the TC. The only unreleased draft is the working copy that is on Patrick's machine, and in that case even membership in the TC does not get you access.

Also, we accept, record and process comments regardless of when they are submitted. In fact, sometimes we receive public comments on items that are not even in a draft yet, but just mentioned in meeting minutes or the wiki. You do not need to pay to make this feedback. It is absolutely free and open to the public and many people do this.

I hope you will verify these facts, if needed, and correct your misstatements regarding OASIS process and the ODF's TC's work. Then you can go back to telling us again how you and Alex are not spreading lies about ODF.


No "released" draft versus "unreleased" draft? I am referring to the formal Public Review period (readers see s 3.2) during which the draft is not allowed to be changed during review, and which has a formal disposition of comments.

Rick, that just says that the TC cannot change the text while it is being reviewed. That is so the public has a fixed text to comment on during the review period. That has noting to do with what you claimed. You said that the TC did not accept comments from the public earlier than that.

This is a false assertion and you should know that from direct and personal experience, since in this very blog post you link to comments that you and Alex have submitted on ODF 1.2, which has not yet gone to a public review draft. So you in fact have done exactly what your blog post claims cannot be done.

'Nuff said. Can you correct your error now?

It was obvious that the released draft I mentioned is the Pubic Review draft, but I have happily change the blog to clarify this. This draft is formally released and has a special status.

S3.2 is clearly more than "just" about not changing the text, as anyone who follows the link can verify.

I did not write that the "TC did not accept comments" I wrote that it "is not open to comments" which is an entirely different thing, and certainly is my experience from the runaround in March. I have change "comments" to "involved discussions" which I hope you will find more acceptable.

I see Rob put in the correction several hours before I noticed your post.

Rick, while it is the case that comments received during a public review period MUST be dealt with and there MUST be a response, the ODF TC has made it a practice to give serious attention to all comments received on the office-comment list at any time.

This is evident in the Public Comments Register that was used to manage all comments received up to the end of the year (my first one being #8 there, submitted in October, 2005, after ODF 1.0 was out for a while).

This practice is also now evident in the JIRA Issues Registry, where all public comments are being managed more carefully as well as the issues from SC34 defect reports and those issues opened by members of the ODF TC. There's a little turmoil on the JIRA as we prune out the redundant and non-public-comment items created after mining the entire archive of office-comment posts, but that will settle down quickly.

With regard to encouraging others to examine chunks of the drafts and make comments, whether during public review or not (a head start on OpenFormula might be valuable), thank you, thank you, thank you. The specification itself deserves to have more become conversant with it and willing to comment.

I am glad if serious attention is now being paid to all comments, and that the JIRA registry is up.

I am doubly glad it is your experience. If you remember my experience in April/March was being encouraged to get off the list (where Rob told me my comments were inappropriate and some kind of invitation to be party to a "conspiracy" rather than what was clearly a serious proposal on embrace, extend, extinguish), to be sent to a list which did not have any mechanism for joining, being sent back to the original list, being informed by one chair that committee people should avoid discussions (that it was all one way), and being told by the other chair that "comments on comments" were not welcome.

I will change the text to have Mary McRae's comment.

You're getting closer.

But here are two things that strike me as inaccurate.

First, even if you "pay up" you are still not welcome to discuss on the comment list. The comment list is not for discussion, period. It is for public submission of comments. If you become an OASIS member and join a TC, then you participate in TC discussions, which occur on an entirely different list.

Second, you are not required to join OASIS or the TC in order to "contribute". OASIS has a Feedback License which can be used by non-members who wish to make a concrete contributions. In fact we received a few rather complete proposals during the ODF 1.2 drafting which were adopted almost unchanged.

I think what you want to say is something along the lines of "The comment list is for submitting bug reports or feature proposals. Discussion is not permitted on the comment list. If you want to directly participate in the work of the TC, then you need to join the TC."

And my offer still stands Rick, I'd love you to join the ODF TC. I could probably get you in for free. At the very least it may improve the accuracy of your reportage on OASIS process. Who knows, it might even help ODF. Is that a risk you're willing to take?

When Jon Bosak asked me to join the original ODF TC, I did not do it mainly because of time (and the early effects of my tumours) and because of the OASIS membership fee. (I think it was only $10 or $100 at the time, but it was the principle.) I have never paid a fee for any standards work I have been involved in, though I have represented fee-paying members (e.g. Academia Sinica, at W3C) and sometimes had coroporate or NB sponsorship for T&E only (e.g. Allette Systems), usually I participate as an invited expert at my own expense.

So, yes, if you can get a fee waiver, I would be happy to participate in the ODF TC. Are the conference calls available over internet through Skype?

What would be even better would be a policy to say "We will always have a fee waiver available for 1) an accessibility expert, 2) an internationalization expert, 3) a security expert, 4) liaison members for all standards groups we need to have strong relationships with (W3C SVG, W3C MathML, SC34), 5) member to encourage more consumer/producer, corporate/non-corporate, US/rest-of-world balance should certain objective criteria for imbalance be met" (such as a FOSS person.)


We might have a toll-free number for Australia. I know we have them for most of the world. I assume Skype would work as well.

But note that I can only nominate people for these fee waivers. I'm not the person who ultimately decides, though I have a high success rate. But it would not be wise of me to make a general promise in this regard. Honestly, most XML experts are happy to pay the modest membership fee, since participation in OASIS is a good way to market yourself to potential customers and clients, internationally and from all sectors. Maybe not the ODF TC specifically, but I'm thinking the more vertically aligned standards.

Easiest way to bring you in would be as a rep of JTC1/SC34 Ad Hoc 3. We're already committed to accepting a delegation from Ad Hoc 3 as ODF TC members. Or, if you want to join as an individual, send me or point me to your C.V., and I'll start the request.


Rob: Actually I have more projects available than I can fulfill already. In any case, I don't really use standards work to market Allette's services (the company I work with), I do it to try to solve real and upcoming problems we face at the coalface: the participation is for technical purposes, not with a marketing agenda.

We used SGML and needed simpler XML, we used Omnimark and needed free XSLT, we used Rainbow and needed better-featured XSL-FO, we used DTDs and needed more powerful Schematron, we used HTML and needed XHTML, we used RTF and needed more accessible XML-in-ZIP, not that I was involved in all these.

Readers may be aware that Rob recently has been promoting the sleazy line in various public forums that I (and Alex Brown) take the technical stands we do in order to actually prevent interoperability and thereby to promote our (or our employer's) businesses, which he, not even bothering to check, claims involve conversions between ODF and OOXML (in fact, these are typically terminal formats for Allette's work, converted from more semantic-oriented languages.)

Why not just accept that we merely have a technical agenda different from his, as I, and I suppose Alex too, do of IBM? If we have different interests to vendors, then his cartel-friendly line --that a standards group only really needs vendor participation who can speak for their users-- falls.

Microsoft loves having these 'independant' analysts doing their hatchet jobs because it makes it seem unbias.

Anyone who knows how to use Google (or Bing if it floats your boat), can do a search for Rick's name and see what he is all about.

My ozzie developer friends call him Nipper or HMV (for those that dont get it, just look up it up on Google... or badabing)


Sticks and stones...

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