a 'mooh' point

clearly an IBM drone

OASIS to JTC1: Bye, bye ...

Ever since the hoola about OOXML-approval there has been quite some discontent in the ISO community regarding how ODF TC has fulfilled its obligations after IS26300 approval. A few meetings have taken place to "amend the harsh feelings" and now some preliminary results have been sent to the NBs for consideration. For those with ISO privileges the documents [1], [2] can be found in the SC34 document repository.

There has been a lot of debate as to where maintenance of ODF should take place, be it in OASIS via ODF TC or via some construction as with OOXML, where the originating TC is included (assimilated) into SC34 and maintenance and development takes place there. I really don't care where these activities take place. I just want the best qualified people to do it.

Now, the documents deal with a definition of principles and a more specific definition of "who takes care of what?"-items. When reading through the documents, I couldn't help getting the feeling that what OASIS was essentially telling JTC1 was "It's my way or the highway".

JTC1 and OASIS have come to the following agreement around maintenance: 

  • OASIS ODF TC takes care of maintenance and development of ODF. 
  • National body participation in this work is encouraged to take place in ODF TC by either direct membership, via the "Comment mail list" or via TC Liaison (I didn't know JTC1/SC34 had one of those in ODF TC)
  • OASIS will submit each approved edition of ODF to JTC1/S34 for approval to make sure that approved standards are equivilant.

I completely agree on item 1) and 3) above, but item 2)? In the paper there is not a single sentence on how the procedures in JTC1 fit into all this. Why are there no wording regarding voting procedures in SC34? If ODF TC comes up with something new and "substantially different", it should be submitted using the "PAS submitter status" of OASIS (similar to the Fast track procedure ECMA used with OOXML). But a PAS submission requires voting in SC34 and if the vote fails (or substantial concern is raised), a BRM is scheduled. If the comments are fixed, the result of the BRM will be an "errata-sheet" and a new vote takes place.

Suppose the post-BRM vote approves the submitted ODF edition

  • what will OASIS do with the errata-sheet?
  • what are the principles for getting them back into the OASIS-approved edition of ODF?
  • what is the time frame?

Is the truth really, that OASIS doesn’t want JTC1/SC34 to do anything to ODF but rubber-stamp it when it comes our way?

When the original ODF 1.0 was submitted to JTC1, a maintenance plan was agreed upon. It had two small but really important words in it: "as is". The maintenance agreement said (AFAIR) that JTC1/SC34 was expected to approve future editions of ODF "as is". In other words, what OASIS managed to get JTC1 to agree to was essentially: "Don't look at it, don’t' open it, don't flip through it, just - don't touch it. Get a hold of the ISO-approval stamp, stamp it and send it back to us".

The only possible conclusion is that OASIS does not want any direct ISO-involvement in development of ODF.

That is fine - the ODF TC should do what they find best. But I am wondering if that also means, that OASIS will not send future editions of ODF to JTC1 for approval? Surely, OASIS can't live with the reputation of having their standards simply rubber-stamped by ISO? 

You may also ask why it is not good enough for JTC1-members to contribute to ODF through ISO. Well, OASIS is a vendor-consortium and the interests of the vendors seem to be somewhat different than the interests of the national bodies. If you look at the contributions of Murata Makato and Alex Brown through the ODF Comment list, it is clear that their interests in quality in schemas, constructs and the specification itself was not prioritized in the TC at all. To me a mix of vendor interests and national bodies is the best way to ensure high quality in any specification, but the proposed agreement between JTC1 and OASIS seems to cut out the national bodies acting as "national bodies"

I think it is a good idea to ISO-approve ODF in the future. But JTC1 needs to send a clear signal to OASIS saying, that is it fine that they want the “Seal of ISO” and we welcome them. But in order to have the cake, OASIS must eat it too. The ISO package must come with two items, 1) the ISO quality stamp and 2) national body involvement. You cannot just have the stamp! It should be emphasized that it is the prerogative of the national bodies to process the standards that come their way and that cutting them off and have them do nothing but rubber-stamping the specification is completely unacceptable.

The proposed maintenance proposal will be discussed at the JTC1/SC34 plenary in Prague on Friday, and I hope all national bodies have understood the ramifications of approving the maintenance agreement. I suggest the plenary responds by saying to JTC1/OASIS: "Thank you for your suggestion for a maintenance plan for ODF, but come back again when we as  national bodies have a solidly founded role in the maintenance of the specification".

Post WG4-meetings in Okinawa


Last week (week 4 of 2009) we had the first face-2-face meeting in SC34/WG4 on the Japanese island of Okinawa. Since there is quite a big overlap between the participants of WG4 and those of WG5, the two groups meet at the same time and place to minimize travel costs and time away.

Quite a lot of people had chosen to take the "small" trip to Okinawa, and at roll-call the first day, a total of 22 people sat around the table in the meeting room. Of these were 6 from ECMA and 14 represented various national bodies (of these were 3 employed by Microsoft)

How's that for full disclosure, eh?

The purpose of the meeting was to get started maintaining OOXML and to discuss what to do in the future. We were also to discuss the already submitted DRs and see what we could do about these.

One of the first things I realized on that morning was, that by participating in standardization in ISO (and from what I hear, also most other standardisation organisations) you need to accept following a certain number of rules. As it turns out, we are in no way free to fix problems in the spec, we are in no way free to make new additions of the spec etc. As it turns out, there are rules constraining all of these activities. So the project editor (Rex Jaeschke) took us on a lengthy trip down "ISO-regulation-lane". The idea was to give us all some knowledge of the rules and terms (as in 'nouns') used in the directives so that we would all be on the same, first page moving forward. The basis for the walk-through was a document prepared by the editor and it is available on WG4's website.


Quite a lot of DRs were submitted to WG4 before the meeting. I think the total number was about 25-30, and they ranged from fixing spelling errors to clarification of the text and schema changes. The first thing we discussed was how to categorize the DRs. The "buckets" were "defects" and "amendments" and how to distinguish between editorial defects and technical defects. We quickly agreed that focus should initially be to verify and aprove any DRs relating to decisions from Geneva that had not made it into the final text. ECMA also had quite a big batch of DRs submitted before the meetings, but since they were not submitted in time for everyone to look at them, we did not make any decisions about these - ECMA just went through them in detail and we discussed each of them.

Details we discussed were certainly of world-changing importance, such as the difference between the text fragments "nearest thousands of bytes" and "nearest thousand bytes", the allowed content of string-literals and intricate details of the xml:space-attribute in an XML-element based on the XML 1.0 specification. Still, it was quite entertaining and it was delightful to sit back and simply overhear the discussions of people that really know what they were talking about.

Comment collection form

ECMA has set up a comment collection form to submit DRs from interested national bodies. It has already been set to use by the Japanese national body and it seems to serve its purpose just fine. Hopefully it will enable us to improve data qualityof the incoming DRs. We gave feedback to the application to Doug Mahugh from ECMA and hopefully he will see to that the suggestions are implemented (especially mine!)


We discussed at length the concept of "openness" and how we should apply it to our work, and I will cover my feelings for this in detail in a top-post a bit later.

Last minute impressions

This was my second trip to Japan and I must say that I am getting more and more excited about it for every trip. The culture is fantastic and it is a good challenge to be in a part of the world, where you don't speak the language and is incapable of reading almost any signs. I did get a bit of "Lost in Translation"-feeling on my trip back (+40 hrs!), but it was really a good trip. Two thumbs up for the convener, Murata-san who showed us how a splendid host acts and shows their guests a great time.

All in all I also think we had some productive days on Okinawa. We managed to deal with quite a few DRs and to set up work-processes for the future and I am sure we will benefit in the near future of the work we did. It was also interesting to watch the "arm-wrestling" between the national bodies and ECMA. We were on the same page in most cases, but it was interesting to be part of the discussions where we were not. It will be interesting to see how this will evolve in the future. ISO is a bit different than, say, OASIS because of the involvement of national bodies. Where the basis for most of the groups in OASIS is "vendors", it is quite orthogonal to this in ISO where this concept does not really exist. Some of you may remember Martin Bryan's angry words at the plenary in Kyoto about vendor participation and "positions" vs. "opinions" and I am looking forward to take part in these discussions in WG4 as well as here.


Additional resources

Below are a couple of links that might be of interest to you

SC34 WG4 public website

SC34 website

(and for Okinawa-related activities)

Alex Brown's write-up about day 0, 1, 2 and 3-4 of the meetings

Doug Mahugh's summary of what took place

Pictures taken by the secretariat

Picture-stream from Doug Mahugh

Picture stream from Alex Brown

Picture stream from Jesper Lund Stocholm (me!)

Twitter stream from Doug Mahugh

Twitter stream from Alex Brown (notice the l33t-speek Twitter-tag Alex uses!)

Twitter stream from Jesper Lund Stocholm

Bonus for those of you waiting for the credits at the end of the movie:

The day I arrived I was met by Murata-san and Alex Brown in the lobby of the hotel. They were on their way to dinner at a restaurant called "Kalahaai" in the "American Village" of Naha. The dinner took place in a restaurant with live Japanese music from a group called "Tink Tink". Their music was really amazing. The last evening we went there again, and Shawn and I were listening completely baffled to the music and on-stage talks of the performers. It was an amazing experiance to sit in the restaurant not understanding a single word they said - and still not being able to stop listening to them.

(courtesy of Doug Mahugh)

And look at this picture. Thanks to Doug's tele/wide/fish-eye-whatever-lense on his camera, I look like an absolutely mad-/maniac man! No girls were hurt during this, I should point out.

(courtesy of Doug Mahugh)


JTC1/SC34 WG4 appointed Danish expert

On Friday, October 24th the Danish mirror-committee to JTC1/SC34 had its bi-monthly meeting. On the agenda was, amongst other things, assignment of participants to the newly created working groups in JTC1/SC34, WG4 and WG5.

For those of you not familiar with the establishment of these two groups, WG4 will deal with maintenance and development of OOXML. WG5 will work to "Develop principles of, and guidelines for, interoperability among documents represented using heterogeneous ISO/IEC document file formats." So the latter WG is not really about translating between document formats such as ODF and OOXML. No, it is about creating some guidelines that all (future or present) document formats could use as inspiration when designing the formats to be "interoperable".

I think the prospects of this could be really, really good and I hope as many stakeholders as possible chooses to join the work. It would be great to have som kind of guidelines for interoperability comparable to the Accessibility-guidelines from W3C (those that was added to OOXML during the BRM in Geneva).

We did not get any confirmed pledges to participate from the members of the Danish committee, but I was very pleased to hear that both ORACLE Denmark as well as the Technical University of Denmark would investigate if they could join the working group.

More interesting to me was assignment of participants for Working Group 4 to develop and maintain OOXML. Not surprisingly (since most of the participants of the committee are much more "anti-OOXML" than "pro-ODF" this point of the agenda received far less attention. We have in CIBER Denmark discussed for quite some time if we should join the working group, and we have reached the conclusion that we would. We do this of the following reasons:

  1. We believe that we would be able to deliver some technical skills that would be valuable to the work around OOXML
  2. We believe that it is important that development and maintenance of OOXML is not done exclusively by ECMA under the "ISO brand" and
  3. we believe that it is important to create a Danish "foot-print" on the development of the document format
So when the committee was asked if anyone would join, CIBER stepped up to the plate. I am happy to say that both the potential commitment of ORACLE Denmark and Technical University of Denmark and the confirmed commitment from CIBER received unanimous support from the other committee members.

So now what?

well, the first draft of the agenda for the meeting in Okinawa has been posted on the SC34-website. At present the agenda is this:

Draft agenda

  1. Opening - 2009-01-28 10:00
  2. Roll call of Delegates
  3. Adoption of the Agenda
  4. Defect Reports
  5. Any other business
  6. Closing

I think we will also talk about what to actually do in the foreseeable future both with respect to handling of defect reports and future maintenance. One of the things I will not accept (and I hope nor will the other appointed experts) is that the working group will primarily focus our time on defect handling - all while ECMA works on new stuff for OOXML and eventually dumping this on our table. So we will need to establish some sort of agreement around this.

Also we will need to talk about future places to meet. Next meeting will likely be held in Pragh, and I would like to some how make sure that future meetings are held in cities near major airport hubs around the world. It will take me about 24 hours to travel from Copenhagen to Okinawa, and that travel period would be cut in two, if the meeting was held in e.g. Tokyo or Kyoto. This is not a criticisme of the Japaneese decision to have the meeting in Okinawa, but I believe we would indirectly encourage more participation if the required travelling was not so extensive.

Oh ... and did anyone notice that I was only mentioned in the "Small news"-section of Alex Brown's recent post "More Standards news"? This really helps keeping both feet solidly on the ground and not thinking too much of myself.