The Standards Blog

OOXML and ISO: Fact and Fancy

OpenDocument and OOXML


Given that there has been a fair amount of information, disinformation, and supposition flying around, I thought that I should share some additional details that I've learned relating to the contradictions received by JTC 1 regarding Ecma 376 (nee Microsoft OOXML). 


In doing so, I'll borrow Stephen O'Grady's trademark Q&A approach again, albeit not as skillfully as he does.  Here we go, starting with Stephen's traditional conflicts disclosure, which I try to remember to include from time to time for the benefit of new readers.

Q:  I hear you do work for OASIS, and that IBM is behind all of the contradictions activity.  Are these conflicts, and are there any others to report?

A:  Yes, I am counsel of record to OASIS, the developer of ODF, although in fact I do very little work for them.  Also, I've had no involvement with ODF at OASIS, nor been consulted in any way by OASIS regarding ODF, ever.  Neither IBM nor Sun, another ODF proponent, is a client, although each is a member of many consortia that I represent – as are thousands of other companies, governmental agencies, universities, NGOs and individuals.  Sun did fund the creation of the Standards MetaLibrary section of this site, but that was four years ago.

Q:  Got it.  So let's get down to business.  I hear that Microsoft's Tom Robertson was quoted in eWeek  saying that 103 nations have standards bodies "with the authority to act at the ISO on behalf of that country," and that ,"What we see is that only a small handful have submitted comments."   MS' Brian Jones also says at his blog that " It sounds like about 18 of the 100+ countries reviewing the standard came back with comments."  


So just how big a deal is that, anyway?

A:  Well, let's start with the denominator, which is really 66 –  not 100+ or 103.  Only Principle Members and Observer Members can offer contradictions under the JTC 1 rules, and there are only 27 Principal and 39 Observer Members.  By my count, that's 66 – less than 2/3's of Robertson's and Jones' numbers.  How about the numerator?  Is it 18?  Nope.  19?  Keep going.  It's actually 20.


Q:  Hmm.  That doesn't send so much like "a handful" when you put it that way.

A:  20 out of 66 is just over 30%.  What you might call rather a lot, actually. 

Q:  I grok the math.  But did they all supply contradictions?

A:  Good question, and I don't have a precise answer.  Jason Matusow wrote at his blog earlier this week, "Don't be misled by the number 19 - we suspect that many of these are either outright statements of support for Open XML or simple statements that there is no contradiction." 

What I've been told by someone that has seen some, but not all, of the responses  is that the most favorable comment may say that the process should just move straight into the next phase, so that everything can be addressed at once.  Some comments will be brief, flagging one or two things, while some will be more substantial.  We should find out the full story on, or shortly after, February 28, unless a delay is announced.

Q:  I hear they changed the page numbering on OOXML.  Is Ecma up to something there?

A:  My guess is "no."   I'm told that Sebestyen Istvan, the incoming Ecma Deputy General, has said that this was a "packaging" decision, compelled by the fact that the complete spec is too big to send as an attachment to a single email, requiring them to break it up.  That's a credible reason, because it's an accurate statement.  Making changes that affect pagination is inconvenient for all of the people at Groklaw and elsewhere that commented using the original pagination, though, so it is a shame that Ecma didn't think of this sooner.  This will also make it harder for those that are trying to reconcile comments made with the text to which it applied.

Q:  OK.  Lets get back to contradictions.  Numbers aside, I've heard that some people say that contradictions aren't that big a deal – are they?

A:  It depends on the contradictions.  They can be small, insignificant and/or easily resolvable, or they can be big, important and impossible to resolve.

Q:  Makes sense.  So what happens if there are some that are "big, important and impossible to resolve?"  Won't the fast track process be done in six months, regardless?

A:  Ironically enough, here's an email that went out of JTC 1 just a few days ago, relating to another Ecma Fast Track submission (26926).  That standard is more commonly known as the C++/CLI (Common Language Interface) Specification.  The email read as follows:

We have been advised that the comments accompanying the Fast Track ballot for DIS 26926 are not resolvable and that holding a Ballot Resolution Meeting (BRM) would not be productive or result in a document that would be acceptable to the JTC 1 National Bodies.  Therefore, our proposal is to not hold the BRM and to cancel the project.  

Q:  Bummer for whoever submitted C++/CLI for standardization.  But why "ironically?"

A:  C++/CLI entered the Fast Track process over a year ago.  I last wrote about it on February 9, 2006, reporting on how this specification (also submitted through Ecma) had hit a speed bump way back then.

Q:  OK, so it was slowed down.  That's pretty small beer in the irony department.

A:  True.  Would its Fe weight increase if I told you that a certain company in Redmond had submitted that specification to Ecma, and that it was also the only vendor of a C++/CLI compiler when I last wrote about it?

Q:  Got it.  I feel the weight. 

A:  Yes.  Spin can generate some pretty incredible G forces, can't it?  All you can do is hang on for the ride, wait for the ride to end, and then get on with it. 

For further blog entries on ODF, click here

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While I'm not at liberty to post the entire letter, I can say that Standards Australia's response to ISO ends with "Australia proposes that this document be referred back for discussion within SC34 before it goes to DIS ballot, given the many significant issues that need to be clarified." Graham