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On OFE's Anti-BRM ..

I was one of the two Microsoft employees who attended Open Forum Europe's anti-BRM event (Nick Tsilas being the other).

When I thanked Graham Taylor, OFE's CEO, for allowing me to attend (in the past OFE hasn't been able to allow me to participate in some of its IDABC related events because its members have objected) Graham mentioned that he hoped that I'd be able to say that it was a professionally run event. I've thought hard about that for a few days now, but my conclusion is that it was, after all, a cynical attempt to undermine the DIS29500 BRM despite Graham's assurances that it aimed to be about the bigger picture.

Not Open

  • I asked Graham how one joins Open Forum Europe. He told me that membership is by invitation only.
  • The meeting is held under the Chatham House rule. I think this is to give the impression of serious discussion but I think it's more to give free licence to the speakers. I tried to correct one IBM speaker and was told to keep questions to the end - disagreement's clearly frowned upon.

Not a Forum

  • There was very little debate, and little appetite for debate either.
  • The panels were very one-sided, and one would have to conclude that no attempt to present a balanced overview of the issues had been made.
  • As far as I could tell, the OFE desk had exclusively anti-OpenXML literature. Admittedly it was the "same old same old" but again the story was entirely one sided

Not European

  • Well I can't be 100% sure as I can't find OFE's [invitation only] membership on their web site, but it seemed that the main protagonists were all from the US. (In this regard Open Forum Europe is like that other great European Institution ECIS which is made up of American companies and led by an American lawyer.)

The anti-BRM finished on the Wednesday I believe with the traditional freebies offered with OFE's more usual EU lobbying events. However OFE and its invisible members, together with some of the speakers, stayed in town through the end of the week for "meetings". From Eric Lai's piece in Computerworld it seems this involved briefing the press about how the BRM had failed and quickly establishing an element of FUD and misinformation.

My conclusion, the anti-BRM was in retrospect only ever about trying to bring the ISO and the process into disrepute. Sorry Graham - I think it was shabby.


andre said:

" the past OFE hasn't been able to allow me to participate in some of its IDABC related events because its members have objected)"

IDABC is a program from the EU Commission and OFE does not control it, right?

You are free to start with more openness for your own events. What was Jan van den Beld doing in Geneva etc.

# March 7, 2008 12:00 PM

Stephen McGibbon said:

Hi Andre. OFE organises events that coincide with IDABC PEGSCO meetings. The membership of PEGSCO is confidential but OFE seems to be able to invite them.

The events are OFE events *around* IDABC events just like the anti-BRM was *around* the BRM.

I think Jan was there with CompTIA, I'll ask Nick to confirm. I think CompTIA were in an adjacent building showing a demo of OpenXML interoperability on SuSE, OsX, Symbian, Palm OS and iPhone.

# March 7, 2008 12:09 PM

carlos said:

One suggestion:

Stop shooting the messengers ... and open your mind to what the world is saying:

. the creator of internet criticizes your format ( the fast-track process and the deliverable )

. the main co-creators of XML, Tim Bray and Jon Bosak,  criticize DIS 29500 ( the fast-track process and the deliverable )

. independent implementors criticize DIS 29500

. +80,000 independent people have signed a petition to not standardize DIS 29500 via fast-tracking

. many BRM delegations members have expressed concerns about the integrity and quality of the current fast-track process of DIS 29500

Stop the cheap talk !

just stop the rush and do some engineering to give us a truly open and implementable standard, useful to *everybody* in this world and not just by Microsoft partners via .NET libraries  !

# March 7, 2008 1:03 PM

Stephen McGibbon said:

Hi Carlos - that's quite a list, well done! I am happy to reassure you that I'd already read everysingle one of the items that you link to. Not one word in any of that disputes what I've posted as far as I can see.

As for Vint's comments. Well I was there, and I heard him openly admit that he wasn't familiar with the specifics, then he said soemthing like "but if what you tell me is correct ...". There's the rub Carlos.

>just stop the rush and do some engineering to give us a truly open and implementable standard, useful to *everybody* in this world and not just by Microsoft partners via .NET libraries

You see this is where the problem lies Carlos. You already have this - I don't know whether you can program or not, but I know for a fact that

  1. OpenXML is truly open.
  2. It's obviously implementable because there are several implementations already.
  3. It's useful to anyone who creates word processing documents, spreadsheets or presentations. Or who's interested in archiving these, or interoperability of same.
  4. You don't need to use .Net libraries. In fact you don't need to use *any* libraries from *anyone* if you don't want to.

So, how do we have a productive discourse when most of what you say is factually incorrect? Maybe you should spend some time looking at both sides of the debate too.

And all talk is cheap Carlos. That's why we say actions speak louder than words. It's interesting then that the ODF Alliance and OFE spend more time attacking OpenXML than they do promoting ODF.

Thanks for commenting though.

# March 7, 2008 1:37 PM

Jesper Lund Stocholm said:


Please stop taking my words out of context. I said that we the delegates would have opted for discussing all 1027 responses, but we didn't have the time for it. We therefore decided do vote ... and not a single country was opposed to it. You may not like the outcome of the vote, but the resolution to vote clearly shows that the BRM agreed it was the best way forward. If the BRM in general thought it was a bad idea to vote, the resolution wouldn't have passed.

I have not commented on DIS 29500 being suitable for FT or not.

PS: Does anyone have some of those stickers with "Do you have read all 6000 pages?" left?

# March 7, 2008 2:09 PM

Mark said:

Carlos makes a good point that Microsoft should listen to what "the world" is saying.  And for years, the world was saying to Microsoft, often quite loudly, that it should "open the file formats" and "standardize them".  This is what the European Commission recommended to Microsoft in 2004 (, and they were not alone.  Microsoft did listen.  Despite the selective list of the world's wisdom that Carlos presents, there are in fact many more people actually developing with and using Open XML (see links at and And by the way, Carlos, among the "main co-creators of XML" is Jean Paoli!

# March 7, 2008 2:10 PM

Graham Taylor said:

Steve, thanks for alerting me to your blog entry – you are right I would never have read it otherwise! You really do regurgitate the same old rubbish don't you? You know most of the answers so I won't repeat them again. As for your comments on the Conference well I'm not exactly surprised by your conclusions. Fortunately (for us) your views seem to be in a minority of 4 ( 2 x MS plus 2x ACT), and every other comment received has been quite exceptionally positive. And with greatest respect to you they are the ones that matter. A few points of fact. You say “There was very little debate, and little appetite for debate either.” Funny that since each of the four workshops each had 1 ¼ hours of open forum attached to the normal Q+As, and for the Keynote we had to extend the opening hours of the centre by an hour to allow for the extent of the discussion. But I know you weren't there for the second day so maybe your colleagues misled you. But glad to see you came back after the Conference had finished, I assume you had some internal meetings as well. And as for the “Anti-BRM” well you will have to better than that – the level of registration was excellent, the quality of the speakers was great, the level of debate and networking even better. And certainly nobody could or did ever complain that we disrupted the BRM itself in any way. From what I hear (second hand from the delegates) unfortunately ECMA/MS did that themselves in pushing an entirely inappropriate 'fast track' in the first place.

Regards Graham

Ps Don't forget to sign the Open Parliament petition at

# March 7, 2008 5:29 PM

Stephen McGibbon said:

Hi Graham and thanks for responding. We'll have to agree to disagree on the presence or quality of the debate.

Can you clarify who you members are? I imagine that's not a secret but I can't find it on your web site.

Of course it's up to you how you organise your events, but trying to find even a modicum of balance for the panels would be a good idea. I'm sure you're not worried that OFE's ideas won't bear scrutiny or challenge, but that's the impression one is given at the moment, at least IMHO.

I stayed until the end of the keynote and I saw people with their hands raised waiting to ask a question.

Regarding Thursday. Yes I returned for a lunch meeting at the request of one of the delegations. I left on Thursday afternoon. How about you? It now seems clear that the real purpose of the anti-BRM was simply a cover for IBM to try to discredit ISO and the process.

Regarding the OFE petition - I've just looked at it. I'll blog about it over the weekend, as usual the facts are wrong. Given your closeness to IDABC I'd have thought you could have checked them out first.

And finally, I've got to ask, what's the deal with the invitation only membership thing? Can I join? Even the Freemasons are more transparent than OFE Graham, which makes me wonder, does OFE have its own handshake and initiation ceremony thing too? Big Smile

# March 7, 2008 7:36 PM

andre said:

I think the idea that OFE controls EU IDABC PEGSO is very inspiring. However, I am not sure that this fame you try to build would be defamatory for OFE and Graham Taylor, as a new secret society behind the EU digital policy that frightens you. IDABC became quite famous for that reason.

You mistake their mode of operations for your own ;-)

After all you are just doing the Open XML ISO standardization because "IDABC PEGSO asked you to do it". haha. :-) So what if the call for ISO standardization was Graham's secret plan to finance his lobby campaign. I think I should also convince the BSA reopen the software patent debate as it would be quite profitable for them.  

Did you read what your OOXML supporter deIcaza recently talked about the silverlight/moonlight patent licensing? Uh, wasn't it also covered by the OSP?

> Given [Graham Taylors] closeness to IDABC I'd have thought you could have checked them out first.

It is just a petition. Graham Taylor does not need to consult the Commission for that.

You should also be aware of a presentation in the European Parliament this week.The frontal assault headline was from the MEPs.

And the funny thing is, you walk Brussels and you meet assistants who want to talk to you about ODF/OOXML and ask you if you can deliver their MEP some info on what can be done.

As far as I know the OFE does not eat children. But I can be wrong, need to check it first. And true, we need full transparency.

You are probably aware of the Stubb report on a lobby transparency register. You could finance a lobby transparency campaign to bring more light into notorious secret societies as OFE! What a pity the transparency radicals of Corporate Europe Observatory don't accept money from large corporations. But maybe start a lobby transparency petition with your new OpenXML community drones or naive university students from all across Europe. Commissioner Kallas will be excited and you know what: IDABC belongs to his sphere. Commissioner Wallström is already on your side:

"It seems like Microsoft is not alone in “bad company”. Google has agreed to exclude publications that the Chinese government finds objectionable." - What about a crusade against Google and OFE concerning privacy and transparency?

# March 8, 2008 10:05 AM

Stephen McGibbon said:

>I think the idea that OFE controls EU IDABC PEGSO is very inspiring.

I'm not suggesting the OFE controls the IDABC. I do however think that IDABC has some governance and transparency issues, which OFE exploits.

>It is just a petition. Graham Taylor does not need to consult the Commission for that.

A petition based on false information. What value is that?

Would I be correct Carlos in concluding that you have no problem that OFE is a closed, opaque, "invitation only" organisation?

# March 8, 2008 3:05 PM

Alan Bell said:

when I am speaking I like to encourage the audience to ask questions as I go along. Most speakers would consider that quite rude, I am surprised you attempted to interrupt a speaker before they opened to questions from the audience without being invited to do so. I seem to recall quite a lot of Q&A at the keynote. I certainly got to ask a question about whether in any field having two incompatible standards to achieve the same aim has ever benefited the consumer. I also seem to recall that the debate continued to the end of the evening when the conference centre was closing and security wanted to lock the doors. The panel was asked to provide a closing thought at the end, someone tried to interrupt this and Graham had to cut them off. I didn't see who it was, maybe you were sat closer to them than I was?

Personally I was quite pleased to have several American speakers along with the speakers from all the other countries. Microsoft is an American corporation and it was great to see it emphasised that their behavior is the exception rather than the rule.

# March 8, 2008 8:51 PM

Stephen McGibbon said:

Alan is the "Open Learning Centre" a member of OFE? Is there a membership list anywhere? Can I join?

On your blog you've posted

Here’s what I think should happen:

  • The ISO/IEC should be ashamed. They should apologise and instigate an immediate review of procedures and suspend all further activity until they stop this kind of fiasco from happening again.
  • Microsoft should be hung-drawn and quartered. Perhaps the EU will see to that in due course.
  • ECMA should be banned from submitting ANYTHING to ISO/IEC ever again.
  • ECMA-376 (DIS29500, OOXML) should be thrown out today.
  • Microsoft/ECMA should refund all delegations their expenses for this total farce.

That seems like rather an extreme and intolerant point of view Alan. Yet here you profess manners? I don't think it's rude to raise one's hand if one has a question, especially in an event billed as an "open forum" and promoted as a discussion.

I think the debate, indeed any debate, is better when based on fact rather than fantasy. I know many people in the open source community who entirely agree with that.

# March 9, 2008 11:03 AM

Alan Bell said:

That was actually a post by my colleague Alan Lord, but I don't disagree with him. Glad you read our blog.

The Open Learning Centre is not a member of OFE, I really don't get why you consider membership or otherwise of OFE to be an issue. Why do you want to join OFE? What do you think you are missing out on?

One thing I find really curious is that you are trying to "smear" OFE with the allegation that it is American. Apart from being patently false I don't get why you as an American are even going down that road.

I would agree perhaps that ECMA isn't as European as the European Computer Manufacturers Association used to be. I am pretty sure an American organisation is pulling the strings. Can you think which one that might be?

# March 10, 2008 11:53 AM

Stephen McGibbon said:

I'm not trying to smear [in the sense of slur] OFE Alan. I do contend that OFE is not what it presents itself as however:-

  • Open - but its invitation only memership seems to be secret.
  • Forum - It doesn't provide a "meeting or medium for an exchange of views", instead it offers a one sided view and doesn't [to me at least] seem open to debate or discussion.
  • Europe - again, here I don't know its membership, but if it is European it is only in the ECIS sense, that its raison d'être is to lobby the EU.

As for Ecma. Its membership is available here. Take a look - you might be surprised. Also its by-laws are available here.

# March 10, 2008 3:43 PM

Stephen McGibbon said:

Alan, you've got to admit that being a member of a "group of select IBM Business Partners" and "working together" with OFE somewhat colours the impression I have of our discussion above.

I don't suppose IBM or OFE had anything to do with did they? That would close the circle nicely wouldn't it!

# March 10, 2008 6:42 PM

Alan Bell said:

most people know me for my Notes and Domino work. I even spoke at Lotusphere in 2007, Gary Devendorf of Microsoft was sat in the front row. My session was on integrating Lotus Notes with Dominux consulting has been my business for several years, I am now doing more and more work with Free and Open Source software. I set up the Open Learning Centre along with Alan Lord as a consultancy company to do this kind of work. I still do some Notes and Domino work through Dominux but I expect that to tail off as we build up the Open Learning Centre business.

I set up in September 2007, I heard of OFE in December 2007 when they invited us to visit them, probably because they had seen, sorry, I know you would like it to have been the other way round.

I didn't need anyone to tell me to do it, I had a bit of spare time and I wanted to organise the comments that were published in a very inaccessable format so that I could see what on earth they were all about. It seemed a useful tool so I stuck a domain on it so that the community could work together to find the significant issues in a mountain of duplicates and editorial errors.

It isn't that hard to find a low Kevin Bacon number between me and IBM, I have never made a secret of it. That doesn't mean that IBM has the slightest influence over me.

As far as ECMA goes I was a bit surprised that there are only 4 SPC members. I wasn't surprised to find Microsoft and IBM and all the other usual suspects as ordinary members. I do hope Microsoft don't get a second vote if the hostile takeover of Yahoo goes through :-)

# March 10, 2008 10:47 PM

hAl said:

If you think your competitors are using cover organisations for a combined lobbying effort agianst Microsoft and or the Office Open XML standardization why don't you ask the EU to investigate that as a part of their ongoing investigations on the OOXML standardization proces.

It would be interesting to see how much money your competitors throw at ECIS, OFE, the ODF alliance, the FFII, the Opendocument Fellowship and other organisations and or individuals that seem to have some form of unknown independant funding in a battle against Office Open XML standardization.

Seeing the efforts of IBM you can see they aren't worried about a few million in their "war" on ISO standardization of Office Open XML. (as IBM's Rob Weir called it).

If anything the EU would see how many of those are actually independant organizations. Things like the FFII president sitting in an IBM funded forum does not make them a very believable independant organisation.

# March 11, 2008 2:04 PM

Mark said:

hAl, probably if the European Commission is really investigating issues with the ISO process, it would look at the actions of the groups you mention.  

The EU investigation started from a complaint filed by ECIS, an IBM group, and people already know that much.  It is not surprising that IBM would spend more than a few million to generate this unnecessary "war", since it wants to make even more money back through government contracts.  And it is not surprising that ECIS would do IBM's bidding, as they have time and again.  At least ECIS openly lists its members.  What is surprising is that "Open" Forum Europe has become such an attack dog for IBM, especially when it used to have a somewhat positive agenda.  OFE used to publish its members, but doesn't anymore -- who knows, maybe because some of its more reasonable members have left.  The funny thing is, OFE promotes a programme called "Certified Open".  Apparently this is a service to certify openness.  But whatever criteria it uses for that programme, it must be quite loose or imaginative, otherwise its own organization would not be able to get a certification.    

# March 11, 2008 8:38 PM

Brian Jones: Open XML Formats said:

Gray looks into some of the recent thoughts from Patrick Durusau:

# March 13, 2008 5:05 AM

Nicos Tsilas said:

Hi - I was the other Microsoft representative that attended the OFE anti-BRM event (I was there both days).  Below are some of my observations.

- the event was very sparsely attended.  All sessions (excluding the keynote session on the evening of the first day) had less than 30 attendees, with at any given time at least 8-10 IBM employees, and 4-5 FSF-related employees in the room.

- the event purported to include open discussions on cross-industry and IT industry specific issues such as open standards, IP in standards and innovation BUT the event did not include cross-industry attendees (telecoms, pharma, automotive, wireless, etc) nor a semblance of broad representation from the IT industry, let alone from EU IT companies.  The only companies present that I observed were iMatrix (represented by former founder of FFII), Red Hat, Google, IBM, and Microsoft (Stephen on the first day, and myself).  Notably absent were EU software companies, EU IT companies, EU telecom companies, and more generally participants from the IT industry.

- many in the industry affectionately refer to the OFE as “the Echo Chamber” :  a very small minority of like-minded people talking to each other, echoing their beliefs, and having very little tolerance and respect of outside opinions.  This event was definitely an echo-chamber and lived up to this nickname.

- The first day of the event was the “anti-ISO” day with speakers from IBM and Updegrove characterizing ISO and the ISO process as undemocratic and elitist (interesting how they did not take issue with ISO when ODF and PDF were standardized at ISO).  Updegrove went as far as stating that he was embarrassed to be an American because the US delegation was upstairs in the same building  deliberating on an open standard behind closed doors and in an undemocratic process that he deemed “unconstitutional.”

- The event was heavily influenced and controlled by IBM.  Two IBM representatives kicked off the event on the first day, populated several other sessions and the evening keynote.  In light of what recently surfacing re (that it is a web site run by IBM employee Rob Weir) makes you wonder who is behind OFE (see statement from Patrick Durusau, co-editor of OASIS and ISO ODF

- Re IBM – IBM was out in full force opposing Open XML and arguing that ODF should be the sole and exclusive ISO document standard (not commenting on ISO PDF).  When asked whether IBM will oppose China’s upcoming UOF submission to ISO on the same principles, IBM declined to comment or take a position.  Mr Sutor, please clarify IBM’s position on the need to have one and only one ISO document format standard – ODF – and whether IBM will also block China.

- Also re IBM, after having sold some governments on open standards as the cure-all (the best and only way to accomplish interoperability, innovation, and cure cancer), IBM now wants to dictate which open standards should be implemented.  Bob Sutor, their VP of Open Source and Open Standards campaigned at OFE for an “objective” standards rating system that would rate open standards organization and open standards specifications – a Michelin Guide or 5-star rating system of standards ( wonder which standards IBM will rate as 5-stars and which ones as inferior? ;-) ).  IBM must feel that most implementers are not competent enough to asses for themselves and need IBM’s help.  Related, OFE in parallel pushed Certified Open ( by dedicating an entire session to it.  Certified Open is another “objective” process to evaluate technical lock-in. Not disclosed of course on their web site is how lock-in is defined and who is evaluating.

- The second day of the event was the “anti-Open XML” day with speakers parading the usual alleged list of horribles from the script already published on and on ODF Alliance’s page (the need to have one and only one document standard (irrespective if we already have many, and certainly already two ISO stds), IPR issues with Open XML, the evil intentions from the Redmond-based company, the broken and undemocratic process of the ISO, etc).  

-  On several occasion during the comment and question & answer part of the sessions I raised my hand to participate in the discussion in vain.  Once it was known that I did not share the same views and I was from Microsoft, I was clearly ignored, including by Graham Taylor, the CEO of OFE and moderator of the first evening keynote session who turned his back on me to not see my raised hand which stood so for the 20-minute duration of the discussion part of the session.

- during the morning, lunch, and breaks through-out the day, IBM representatives were reaching out to BRM attendees to engage them in OFE sessions and private discussions.

- the OFE event was held in the lobby of the same building where the BRM event was held, with anti-OXML collaterals prominently displayed and handed out to all walking by (stickers, brochures, posters, etc).

-  In the interest of openness it would be nice to have a list of attendees from OFE, or a list of OFE members posted on OFE’s site, and a list of Certified Open members.  How about it Graham?

So to recap:  Open – no, not really.  Forum – definitely not.  Europe – also not (sorry IBM and Google as European companies don’t really cut it).  This OFE event once again proved the validity of the OFE’s nickname– “the Echo Chamber.”

A very small, vocal minority of like-minded people, talking to themselves in an anti-ISO, anti-BRM, anti-OXML event.  



# March 15, 2008 8:59 PM

hAl said:

Nicos, you are claiming Rob Weir is behind the No OOXML site ?

Can you (or Stephen) confirm this please ?

# March 17, 2008 3:30 PM

Stephen McGibbon said:

Nick's wrong in saying is run by Rob. It's registered to Benjamin Henrion (aka Zoobab) and is listed by FFII (Pieter Hintjens President) as one of their "campaign sites".

# March 17, 2008 4:06 PM

Nicos said:

Apologies, according to was started by Benjamin Henrion in January 2007 to campaign against Microsoft's push for ISO standardization of their captive document formats. This campaign was part of a global project by the FFII's open standards workgroup that reached standards campaigners in over eighty countries. We thank all those who signed the petition. We gratefully acknowledge the contributions of many, many people including the FFII open standards workgroup, which has worked on the issue of open document formats for many years, coordinators in many countries who helped communicate the issue to national boards and local standards experts, and standards groups and activists globally, who helped build into a global success. We thanks those who helped us eat and pay the rent while we did this campaign. was mainly funded by ESOMA, with support from the FFII, Shuttleworth Foundation, the Open Society Institute, OpenForum Europe, FTISA, and iMatix Corporation. We thank Microsoft too, who gave us such amusement with their capers that we were obliged to give them the FFII Kayak Award. But open standards are serious business, and the campaign has proven that the Community takes this business very seriously.

Benjamin Henrion  

Andre Rebentisch

Pieter Hintjens  

Alberto Barrionuevo

# March 17, 2008 6:29 PM