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South Africa and the PAS Process: A Plague o' Both Your Standards

OpenDocument and OOXML
There's an old saying that pops up in a number of cultures that begins something like this: "When the elephants dance…" 
 
In Africa, the proverb ends, "it is the grass that gets crushed." Down Texas way, it starts and ends a bit differently, and goes as follows: "When the elephants dance in the hen yard, the chickens get out of the way." Either way, it means the same thing: when the big guys start mixing it up, the quality of life for the smaller folk starts to deteriorate. And so it has proven lately for the traditionally technical, mostly quiet, world of ISO/IEC standards adoption. 
 
Usually, but not always, representatives of national bodies can go about their business without too much fear of being molested, much less trampled. But when the economic stakes are high enough, standards committee members can become the subject of more attention than they wish, and start to feel like citizens of Iowa during a presidential year.
 

How bad can it get? Apparently pretty bad, according to the South African national body, which thinks that the Publicly Available Specification (PAS) avenue to ISO/IEC adoption is being abused. After being apparently subjected to the lobbying efforts of camps pro and con through both the ODF and now the OOXML adoption process, they have become down right testy. 

The following is the verbatim text of National Body Contribution ISO/IEC JTC 1 N 8494, titled South Africa Comments on the PAS Process, and dated February 2, 2007:
 
South Africa is concerned about what seems to be a growing number of standards submitted under the PAS process that, although publically [sic] available, do not seem to have any measure of regional or even national consensus. These therefore tend not to have been referred to any of the JTC 1 sub-committees, and have obviously not been discussed at [sub-committee] level.
 
Our experience is that the result of this is then a round of intense lobbying by various other stakeholders for us to vote negatively on the PAS. Often these other groups take the trouble to compile a list of contradictions that are also widely distributed in order to justify the request for the negative vote.
 
A recent example is the proposed PAS on Open XML/ODF.
 
It is our opinion that the submission of such "standards" directly to JTC 1 via the PAS route, where the standard has not been discussed within the relevant SC, was never the intention of the PAS System. The fact that some consortium has published a document that they refer to as a standard does not automatically imply that it has any sort of widespread industry acceptance. The fact that the publisher might claim international usage or acceptance is not longer a valid reason in these days of large multinationals, and the SABS [South African Bureau of Standards] has previously been approached by local branches of multinationals to vote in support of such PAS submissions, even if we have no local industry involvement or membership in the appropriate JTC 1 SC.
 
As result of this, South Africa will tend to vote negatively on all future PAS submissions to JTC 1 where they have not been appropriate SC. We would like to ensure that proper consideration be given to the PAS by technical experts. If the standard is indeed well known within the industry then this process might be very short.
 
This will be a change from our previous tendency to 'abstain' where we had no direct knowledge of the submission. 
What should we read from this complaint, besides the evident unhappiness? First, let's consider whether ODF and OOXML should be tarred by the same brush. To start with, the two specifications didn't both technically come in by the same door. ODF did indeed get process through the PAS process, while OOXML came in through the "Fast Track" door. The PAS process is intended to allow standards that have not been created through the accredited standards development process, but that have received wide adoption, to achieve global recognition through the ISO/IEC system. The Fast Track process, in contrast, is an historical artifact of Ecma lobbying years ago for, and receiving, special status with ISO and IEC as a "Class A Liaison," which allows it to submit its standards directly to ISO/IEC. Ecma creates specifications based on products, but those products need not in fact have actually been released into the marketplace.
 
Which brings us to the South African concern with untested, unanalyzed standards being thrust before it. In the case of ODF, there were already compliant products – many of them – that were available in the marketplace, in both proprietary and open source versions, at the time that JTC1 began its review. In the case of OOXML, there was not even one compliant product available at the time that the specification was approved by Ecma and submitted to JTC1 – Office 2007 had not yet been released. And now that it has, it will be a long time, if ever, before another product is based solely upon it, as compared to simply interfacing with it.
 
Be that as it may, the South African message is not at all a happy commentary. At it's request, the topic of non-accredited submissions is scheduled for discussion at the March 2007 JTC 1 Ad Hoc on Directives meeting, and it will be interesting to see what action, if any, the grass (or chickens, as you will) may be able to obtain before the elephants next waltz in their direction.

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South Africa and the PAS Process: A Plague o' Both Your Standards
Authored by: Anonymous on Sunday, February 25 2007 @ 03:28 PM CST

Your suggestion that the situation with ODF was any better then with OOXML is just not correct. ODF PAS proces started 6 months after standardization. ISO fasttracking of OOXML started only one month after OOXML standardisation but the comparable PAS procedure part of the fastracking has not even started yet as the fastracking procedure has an initial contrdications phase.

There will probably be more users of MS Office 2007 then users of all ODF products together at the start of the OOXML PAS proces compared to the ODF PAS proces.

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Areyou being paid by IBM over this ?
Authored by: Anonymous on Sunday, February 25 2007 @ 03:58 PM CST

Your stories on this particular subject are very subjective to say the least.

For instance you do not mention that the PAS proces used by OASIS is even shorter than fastracking

You do not mention that OASIS is an A-liaison to ISO just like Ecma and that that is also required for a PAS standardisation proces used by OASIS.

Also you might have mentioned that MS Office 2007 was released on 30-11-2006 which was actually ahead of Ecma standardization and therefore also ahead of the later start of the ISO standardisation proces with millions of copies already in use at that time. ISO submission was less than a month after the release of MS Office

Where I guess the OpenOffice 2.x version which probably contains 90% of all current ODF usage was released in 20 oktober2005. And OASIS managed to submit it to ISO on 16 november 2005. Less than a full month after that release.

I see blatant similarities between the way this has been handled by OASIS as with Ecma just as SA is seeing 

I also see you trying to describe the OOXML process as bad where ODF did the same but you try to make that look good.

I really wonder who is paying you... 

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Answers to the questions
Authored by: Andy Updegrove on Thursday, March 01 2007 @ 02:36 PM CST

To the first visitor:

Your suggestion that the situation with ODF was any better then with OOXML is just not correct. ODF PAS proces started 6 months after standardization. ISO fasttracking of OOXML started only one month after OOXML standardisation but the comparable PAS procedure part of the fastracking has not even started yet as the fastracking procedure has an initial contrdications phase.

Response:  I'm not quite sure what your issue is, as this isn't inconsistent with what I wrote.  A few corrections, though to your statement.  First ODF started six months later because OASIS had to be approved as a "PAS Submitter" first, which takes six months.  OOXML could get a faster start because Ecma has a special status as a "class A liaison."  Like a standards organization that was already recognized as a PAS submitter, this allowed it to submit to ISO promptly after completing its own process.

Will there be mroe Office 2007 users?  Maybe not.  There have been over 100 million downloads of OpenOffice alone.  There are over 120 million Notes users, which will be ODF compliant this summer.  Most consultants wouldn't recommend being an early adopter of Office 2007, although of course many millions will be users within a year.

To the second visitor: 

You have many errors in your statements.  Here are a few:

"For instance you do not mention that the PAS proces used by OASIS is even shorter than fastracking"

>>Wrong.  Same length (see above).  Note also that the ODF spec is thousands of pages shorter than OOXML, so it's a much smaller meal to digest.

"You do not mention that OASIS is an A-liaison to ISO just like Ecma and that that is also required for a PAS standardisation proces used by OASIS."

>>Wrong again.  See above answer

"Also you might have mentioned that MS Office 2007 was released on 30-11-2006 which was actually ahead of Ecma standardization and therefore also ahead of the later start of the ISO standardisation proces with millions of copies already in use at that time. ISO submission was less than a month after the release of MS Office"

>>Once more, see above answer

I won't address the rest of your comments here, as I've covered them at great length in over 100 previous posts (you can find the folder of responses through the link at the left of the page, which is also here.  I will point out that no one is paying me, though.  I always find it amazing how often people make that type of accusation at blogs.  After reading many rationale posts, and many inaccurate comments, I've concluded that it likely says far more about what the visitor would be willing to do than what the blogger has in fact done.

  -  Andy

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