The Standards Blog

The Contradictory Nature of OOXML (Part II) – 19 Nations [make that 20] Respond

OpenDocument and OOXML

Last week I reported that the United States body reviewing OOXML had decided to take a conservative approach to defining what  "contradiction" should mean under the ISO/IEC process.  Since then, a few stories have appeared indicating that Great Britain and Malaysia would each identify at least one contradiction in their response.  The actual results would only become known after the deadline had passed on February 5.

In that first blog entry, I concluded that Microsoft had won the first point in the contest over whether its document format would become a global standard or not.  With the deadline past, who would be found to have won the next?

Well the results are in, and an unprecedented nineteen* countries have responded during the contradictions phase - most or all lodging formal contradictions with Joint Technical Committee 1 (JTC), the ISO/IEC body that is managing the Fast Track process under which OOXML (now Ecma 376) has been submitted.  This may not only be the largest number of countries that have ever submitted contradictions in the ISO/IEC process, but nineteen responses is greater than the total number of national bodies that often bother to vote on a proposed standard at all. 

[*Update:  make that twenty]

When it is recalled that any national body responding would first have had to wade through the entire 6,039 pages of the specification itself, and then compose, debate and approve its response in only 30 days, this result is nothing less than astonishing.  Truly, I think that this demonstrates the degree to which the world has come to appreciate the importance of ensuring the long-term accessibility of its historical record, as well as the inadvisability of entrusting that heritage to a single vendor or software program.

The countries that chose to respond on this expedited schedule are as follows:

Australia
Canada
Czech Republic
Denmark
Finland
France
Germany
Hungary
India
Italy [later added]
Japan
Kenya
Malaysia
Netherlands
New Zealand
Norway
Romania
Singapore
Sweden
UK

In all (to quote Monty Python once again), "Rather a lot, actually."

According to one story, at least one of these countries (India) was considering responding by abstaining from voting, in protest over the extremely short amount of time provided to review the voluminous specification.  Instead, it appears that it opted to knuckle down, finish its review, and submit contradictions instead.  In some cases, I am told, the contradictions submitted are brief, while in others they are substantial.

Ordinarily, contradictions would be posted at the JTC1 site relatively quickly.  However, in this case I am told, Ecma will be given the opportunity to prepare responses before the contradictions will be posted, with a deadline of February 28.  On or before that date,  Ecma will respond with its proposed "resolution" for each contradiction.  Once this has been received, JTC 1 will publish the response, accompanied by the text of the contradictions themselves, as submitted by the national bodies.  At that point, a decision can be made on the next step. 

[Update added 2/9/09:  What significance should we attach to this many comments being received?  See Rob Weir's post on that topic here, in which he does the math.]

All in all, not a very auspicious start for OOXML.  And not one that augers well for a very fast Fast Track experience.  It will be interesting to see how Microsoft deals with this slap in the face.  One possibility would be to push the national bodies more aggressively than ever to vote for adoption.  Another might be to withdraw the specification and prepare a less controversial submission, that is responsive to the many early objections offered, even before the opportunity has been offered to submit technical objections, as compared to contradictions with existing ISO/IEC standards and rules.

Meanwhile, ODF continues to move forward, with version 1.1 being adopted as an OASIS standard, and bills being submitted in both Minnesota and Texas to require open document formats.  I'll be posting a blog entry on that topic later tonight.

For further blog entries on ODF, click here

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Comments

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How many other countries could have voted?  I found ISO/IEC JTC 1/SC 34 Membership. Is voting restricted to SC 34 members, or open to all JTC 1 members?

China, Hong Kong, Ireland, Italy, Kazakhstan, Korea, Switzerland, Thailand, USA are SC 34 members but didn't respond.

Finland, Kenya, Malaysia, New Zealand, Singapore and Sweden responded without being SC 34 members.

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In Switzerland, the national standards organization has apparently delegated this kind of questions to a committee which happens to be led by the deputy secretary general of ECMA.  That explains why no "contradiction" was raised by Switzerland, even though they were requested to do so, e.g. by <a href="http://siug.ch">SIUG (Swiss Internet User Group)</a>.

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What I'm looking a is the downstream process.  Assuming that ISO rejects MSXML in its present form, could ISO resolve them by (for instance) making 1900 <i>not</i>  a leap year and using ISO language codes?<P>

If so, we have the amusing prospect of Microsoft not being compatible with their own format!

The whole point of bringing something to a standardization committee is so that any flaws and limitations that you missed are corrected. You know that what you've proposed won't be identical to what actually gets approved (e.g. ODF went through many changes before becoming official). If Microsoft were sincere, they would have had a version number in their OOXML document that would allow them to support "legacy nonstandard OOXML" in addition to (assuming it's approved) "ISO standard OOXML", so this shouldn't be a big deal no matter how much Microsoft might balk at it. Standardization doesn't mean much if Microsoft is not sincere. They could easily address all concerns (except for the size of the OOXML standard) and simply hide the MS-specific parts in undocumented comments or metadata (embrace and extend). Even though their file format would be nonstandard, any other app that supports the "cleaned up OOXML" would be able to read it, but it would be displayed improperly. OOXML documents from other applications would display properly in MSOffice since they'd follow the standard and not use the comments/metadata to hide formatting info. In that case, as far as the user is concerned, MSOffice would be correct and all other apps would "be buggy" and would have to be "fixed", so MSOffice would be the only "reliable choice" for OOXML.

Hello Andrew,

Not that I want to steal the thunder from Captain Europe but he has apparently found out that the Ecma website has update the webpage related to the OOXML specifications (http://www.ecma-international.org/publications/standards/Ecma-376.htm) during the "approval" process. The "last modified" date for this page is now

07-Feb-2007 09:23 (see http://www.ecma-international.org/publications/standards/).

I have no idea what changes have been made and what are the potential repercussions but I have to admit that it does not look too good for Ecma.

Regards,

An anonymous frenchman

Andrew,

Sorry, follow up of my previous post.

Apparently, Captain Europe has actually found the changes made to the Ecma webpage for the OOXML specifications:

According to him:
-they have updated some documents to the docx format,
-they have changed the way the specifications is split,
-all documents are now dated from the 01/02/2007.

This is just a quick translation of his post as I have not taken the time to check for myself.

Regards,

An anonymous frenchman

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From Captain Europe,

Sorry, it's not a summary but a development  :-)

Wednesday, I asked a question on this website
http://www.formats-ouverts.org/blog/2007/01/30/1088-guerre-des-formats-quelle-est-la-position-de-la-france#c3303

What think about ECMA ? Are they fairplay ?
My response is NO.

You can to go on ECMA website and you can see that the webpage
http://www.ecma-international.org/publications/standards/Ecma-376.htm

has change since last monday (5 february 2007).
Yes, they have add 5 documents at "docx" format but,
 and it's important, they have change the name of specification, and perhaps,
the dispatching of specification.

Example :
The main document was named : "JTC001-N-8455-1.pdf"
size 48106 ko, created 26 nov 2006, modified 11 dec 2006,
containt 6039 pages (the famous 6039 pages !!!!!).

Now, the main document is named : "Office Open XML Part 4 - Markup Language Reference.pdf"
size 34080 ko, created 1 feb 2007,
containt 5220 pages.

When you go to the webpage
http://www.ecma-international.org/publications/standards/

you can see that the webpage Ecma-376.htm has been modified at « 07-Feb-2007 09:23 »

During the "approval" process of ISO, the specifications MUST BE freezed, no ?

Best regards,
Captain Europe.