a 'mooh' point

clearly an IBM drone

Day one of IS29500?

On August 15th 2008 ISO/IEC gave their "Go ahead" on the appeal against the IS29500-approval and the process leading to it. The decision was covered almost everywhere and the phrase that caused the most speculation was this:

According to the ISO/IEC rules, DIS 29500 can now proceed to publication as an ISO/IEC International Standard. This is expected to take place within the next few weeks on completion of final processing of the document, and subject to no further appeals against the decision.

(my emphasis)

So the battle was clearly not over since the appeal itself could also be appealed. The question was: until when? Then on September 1st news broke that the appealing countries would not appeal the decision to overthrow the appeals. Since it is my understanding that only the appeallants could appeal overthrowing the appeal (confused, anyone?), I suppose the case was finally closed.

But we are still waiting for the revised text from ITTF. I would imagine that they would hold the text until the period for appealing the appeal-overthrow was over with ... but when is that? This morning it occured to me that if the period was 30 days - today is the first working day after the deadline.

Could this be it then? Could today be the "Birthday" of IS29500?

ISO says: continue with ISO/IEC 29500

This just in ...

The two ISO and IEC technical boards have given the go-ahead to publish ISO/IEC DIS 29500, Information technology – Office Open XML formats, as an ISO/IEC International Standard after appeals by four national standards bodies against the approval of the document failed to garner sufficient support.

Source: http://www.iso.org/iso/pressrelease.htm?refid=Ref1151

As I think you can imagine, I think this really good news ... more information to come.

Smile

EEE - the SC34-way

In my recent post about the outcome of the AHG1-meeting in London, IBM's Rob Weir pointed out, that

What everyone is missing is the fact that Microsoft is not obligated to participate in SC34/WG4 maintenance, or to do maintenance exclusively in SC34/WG4. Ecma is fully capable of submitting any future version of OOXML under Fast Track rules directly to JTC1 (not SC34) for another 6-month ballot.

Well, as I have said repetedly before, when Rob is right, he is right, and this is no exception. As JTC1 Class A Liaison (there are actually only three of those, the other being ITU and the European Union, if I remember correctly), they can do pretty much what they want. So if we wanted to ensure maintance of OOXML would take place completely in SC34, we couldn't rely on JTC1 directives for help. We had to do something else.

One way would be to strong-arm ECMA into signing a binding, legal letter in which they committed to exclusive maintenance of OOXML in SC34. I you ask me, I don't think that is a good idea. I think most of us will agree, that this process has seen too many lawyers already.

Another way would be to indirectly make sure that ECMA does all their activities within the SC34-sphere. Like all organisations, people with the right skills are a constrained resource and it is in no way different for ECMA. As Rob pointed out, there is only limited time available for everyone, and we all need to prioritize our resources. So even though we did not discuss this particular angle with respect to ensuring maintenance in SC34, this was in effect what was the result.

SC34 needs to appoint resources to two areas when setting up WG4:

  1. The editor of the project
  2. Who should run the secretariat for the working group


ECMA volunteered to manage both areas, and we discussed quite a bit about that being a good idea or not. Come to think of it, I think it is.

ECMA (here Rex Jaeschke) has been the editor throughout the process - first in ECMA itself and next in ISO. It is clear that he has the right skill-set to follow the process and he has a clear interest in a fast-paced process. ECMA also volunteered to run the secretariat for the WG. As I wrote in my previous post, the work-load of the WG will be quite big, and a secretariat is really needed to keep track with everyone, to coordinate meetings and to create meeting reports, agendas etc.

So what we essentially did was a "Tripple-E" on ECMA. We have embraced ECMA and their OOXML-resources and we have sure, that given the amount of resources they are to put into SC34/WG4, they are not likely to have their own work run in parallel in ECMA. Now, at some point WG4 will be presented suggestions for additions to the specification. These could be from ECMA, but they could be from just about any member of SC34 - including countries opposing OOXML or competing companies represented in their favorite country. This is really the "ISO-model" at work.

So, you might say, this is just a load of good intentions and wishes for the best possible outcome ... and this is perfectly correct. Sadly though, these were our only options given the JTC1 directives. You might also say that it is highly likely that ECMA will be the only entity that will show up with additions to the specification. I have absolutely no idea of the propabilities for this to happen, but I think it would be very sad. We need other stakeholders and participants in the work with OOXML than ECMA and the national bodies' standards people and I think it would be unfortunate if the only stakeholder in WG4 with real, hands-on experience with creation of Office applications was ECMA. As Rick pointed out the major participants in ODF TC all develop applications based on the same code base and rumour even has it that development of additions to ODF is largely driven by Sun's development of OpenOffice.org in a "we need this element for our implementation - please put it in the specification"-kind-of-way. I have no idea if it is only a theoretical issue or if it is a concrete problem, but I would imagine that a document format to be used by a variety of implementations would benefit from different implementations being present at the development table. This is indeed also true for OOXML. We need the competitors of Microsoft at the table as well.

(ECMA TC-45 already consists of major office suite developers (Apple, Microsoft, Novell etc), so you already have the diversity of vendors present, but I have collectively referred to them as "ECMA". I would still, however, prefer to have participants present not associated with ECMA)

Side-note:

Luckily, you should brace yourselves that even in the event that everything mentioned above falls apart and ECMA litteraly goes their own way, the net effect will "just" be that maintenance of OOXML will be as with ODF where OASIS ODF TC works on maintenance completely seperate from JTC1/SC34.

I missed you, Rob

So today was the last day of the two-day meeting in the, in Oslo created, Ad Hoc Group 1-committee (AHG1). It has been a couple of interesting days and also rather productive. We managed to cover quite a lot of ground and I am quite pleased with the outcome of the meeting. Note, that we have not made any decisions at the AHG1-meeting. All we did was to suggest a possible structure for future work on OOXML in a new Working Group under SC34, Working Group 4 (WG4). SC34 will have to decide themselves (or, ourselves) on what to do in the event that the appeals on OOXML-approval are overthrown.

There were a total of 18 people attending the meeting – of these were nine people of either ECMA or Microsoft. The rest was comprised of representatives from British Standards Institute (BSI) and Dansk Standard (DS) and a couple of “neutral” people, herein myself, Francis Cave (UK), a guy from NL-net Foundation in the Netherlands, Keld Simonsen (NO), a guy from IBM (HUN), the convener Dr. (*giggles*) Alex Brown (UK) and Murata Makato (JPN). The meeting took place in the pleasant surroundings of British Library near St. Pancras Station in London.

The meeting report is available from the SC34 website.

I think the content of most of the discussions of the meeting can be summed up in these three words: “Openness”, “transparency” and “participation” – with the latter perhaps being the most important.

Participation

Murata Makato is currently the convener of SC34 WG1 – the WG that currently holds responsibility of the 29500-project in SC34. He will therefore be acting convener of WG4 as well until SC34 formally points out who should hold the position. We have suggested to SC34 that Murata Makato be pointed convener of WG4, but as with all positions in JTC1, it is at the discretion of the NBs and I encourage each NB to think hard on whether they have someone who could fill the position (I should note that I personally think that Murata is an excellent choice as convener).  Since the work-load of WG4 quite possibly will be rather large, we have also suggested that WG4 should have a secretariat. It is at the discretion of the convener to point out who should run the secretariat – it could be an NB, but in theory just about anyone. ECMA has offered to run the secretariat for the W4.

We have suggested to SC34 that an editor of OOXML should be appointed to oversee and coordinate the overall process of work on OOXML. ECMA has offered to continue to fill out this position, but it will ultimately be up to SC34 to decide. We talked quite a lot about how to structure editing of the 29500-project. In ISO-terms, maintenance is defined as “revision, withdrawal, periodic review, correction of defects, amendment, and stabilization”. We discussed having multiple editors (possibly one for each of the IS 29500-parts (four in total)), we discussed multiple editors sharing responsibility of editing the whole text as well, but we ended with a suggestion to have a single editor for the project and assign an “editorial team” to him/her. We agreed that this was the most flexible way to structure this task. The editorial team should consist of SMEs (Subject Matter Experts) of either the NBs or ECMA or any other expert invited/nominated by an NB. This will allow WG4 to adapt the resource-level in terms of body-count to the specific work-load being thrown upon it.

Now, if you ask me, it is crucial that the NBs step up to the task and participate in the work on maintenance and future development of IS 29500 – should the appeals have a favorable outcome. If we don’t step up, SC34 – and WG4 - will in effect simply be a new place for ECMA to meet and work on OOXML. But it is a daunting task – at least compared to the normal work load of some WGs under the JTC1 umbrella. We talked a lot about the possible magnitude of work, but since none of us were able to predict the future, we have suggested the following as initial meeting schedule and work-load:

  • Weekly teleconferences
  • Quarterly face-to-face meetings
  • Overall communication via, possibly, email

The first face-to-face meeting should take place in early 2009.

If the work-load is not as big as we fear (or hope), the activity-level will quite possibly be adjusted really quickly to a more infrequent level.

But this work-load is rather big - at least if you ask me. Even if you don’t count the quarterly meetings in, we are talking about weekly teleconferences of maybe 2 hours each – and with preparations for them of at least a couple of hours for each, initially. This amounts to between a half and a whole work-day each week. Note that none of this is funded by ISO. This effectively means that you don’t want to join the WG4 (or the editorial team) unless you really mean it. I don’t think there is any way to sugar-coat this – participating in standards work, be that in OASIS, ECMA or ISO is serious business and it takes up a lot of time. That being said, we need the NB-participation in this – otherwise the whole ISO-process regarding OOXML becomes, well, ‘moot’.

We actively encourage the NBs of SC34 to participate in the WG4 [and on a personal note; this should be regardless of position on OOXML itself]. The 29500-project drew an enormous amount of attention throughout the last months, and especially the feedback from those opposing OOXML has been extremely valuable. It would be sad, if all those good resources chose not to participate.

Openness

Openness is here referred to as the ability of participating in the process. This was sadly one of those areas, where not much was changed – mostly due to JTC1 directives. The members of SC34 (and the subordinate working groups) are national bodies, so if you want to participate in maintenance of OOXML, you need to join a national body. In some countries there is a fee, in some not. In Denmark, as an example, it is free for NGOs and private persons to participate and there are discounts for SMBs if they should choose to join. For “regular” companies as CIBER or IBM, the annual cost is about €3000.

We talked about setting up an informal channel for feedback from the community, but we ended with a decision about a closed NB-website for submission of comments to WG4 – essentially an electronic edition of the “Defect report” form from ISO.

I am thinking about creating an open, informal channel for feedback and comments on IS 29500. It should allow everyone to submit comments to the site about the spec and allow “comments on comments” to facilitate discussions on the feedback. The channel (a website, really) will be REST-enabled and allow any NB to use the contents of the website in their own work on IS 29500. The idea is to create a single point of feedback to enable not only the community to provide feedback but also assist the NBs with their technical work on IS 29500. The website is not a direct channel to SC34 but an informal place to discuss issues with the text. If anyone would like to contribute to this work with either ideas, funding (website costs etc) or technical expertise, please let me know.

Transparency

And what about transparency? Well, this will follow the rules of JTC1 which means that meeting reports and attendance-lists of face-to-face meetings will be posted on the SC34 website and be accessible for everyone. We will have to find a specific form in doing this, but I will do whatever I can to have the meeting reports be as much as possible like the meeting minutes from OASIS ODF TC. This means that not only will any decisions be recorded – details about the discussions around them should also be available. We will also likely be posting intermediate drafts of the specification for everyone to see – in exactly the same way OASIS ODF TC and ECMA TC45 has done until now. This will allow everyone to follow not only the work going on in WG4 – but also what the result of the work in the actual specification will be.

Participation – a final note

I missed a lot of people in London – the people and organizations opposing OOXML. I had expected a stronger representation from some of the big companies that have criticized DIS 29500 and I had also expected more of the opposing countries to attend. In effect, by not participating in the meeting, they contributed to the alleged “Microsoft stuffing”. I think it calls for a bit of after-thought on their part. They might not have had their cake (to eat) in Geneva, but not participating in the work is the sure road to an ECMA/Microsoft dominated WG in SC34. I will not begin to speculate (much) on possible reasons for not attending – maybe it’s just much easier to sit on one’s hands and claim “Microsoft stuffing” than actually attending the meeting. Just note, that it’s hardly “Microsoft-stuffing” when no one but Microsoft participates.

The happiness of solitude

Oh the lonelyness ... oh the solitude.

They say that parting is such sweet sorrow, but I beg to differ. Things have really, really cooled down in the otherwise warm and cozy OOXML/ODF-blogsphere. Rob and Arnoud seem to have gone back to their day-jobs and Brian has somehow completely dissapeared from the face of the Earth. Doug is mostly writing about what other people are writing about and Groklaw has gone back to their original angle - the SCO-Shenanigans. The only active blogger at the moment seems to be Rick, but even here, the normally so loyal Rick-bashers in the comment-threads seem to have gone AWOL.

Nothing seems to happen here in Denmark as well. The Danish NSB met about a week ago, and we decided to make the working documents public that formed the foundation of the arguments and decisions that took place in the last year. We formed a small technical sub-committee that did the technical work on first the responses to the Danish public hearing in Spring 2007 and later the responses from ISO to the Danish 168 comments to DIS 29500. The group consisted of CIBER Denmark, Ementor, IBM, Microsoft, ORACLE and the County of Aarhus. The technical group was an advisory group to the Danish SC34 mirror-committee. The working documents were made to allow us to keep up momentum and to document the progress we made. In short, for each meeting we made a list of the ISO editor responses that we could accept and those the we could not accept - and they were sent back to ISO editor for further processing. The documents are in Danish, but it still gives a good idea (regardless of native tongue) of what we did in the technical group and how we dealt with each issue. The documents are available at the Danish NSB website (last 7 documents at the bottom of the page in the section "Arbejdsgruppe-notater").

I have also more or less gotten back to my day-job as an Engineer with CIBER. I am currently investigating how to generate documents (ODF and OOXML) using .Net and is actually kind of fun. With that in mind I was interviewed for a video-cast by Microsoft for a small discussion about ODF and OOXML (they conveniently cut out the part where I said that I prefer the markup of ODF over the markup of OOXML but still prefer the tools for OOXML over the tools for ODF (for generating documents on e.g. a webserver or ERP-system), but what can you do?). One of the points I made in the interview was, that the tools were really important. If there are no good tools to create documents - it will slow down the adoption-rate of the particular file type. Regardless of SW-political view, the .Net-platform is rather large on a world-wide basis and the install-base of .Net-technology makes it a platform that should not be ignored (by size alone, if nothing more). And this puzzles me. If you look at the developer-hub of OOXML, you wil find libraries, scripts and tools for just about any operating system and programming language available. But if you want to generate an ODF-file using .Net technology - what do you do? Well, you will propably find that the only (OSS) library available is AODL, a project under the ODF Toolkit umbrella. Unfortunately, the project is not a priority of OpenOffice.org. I wrote an emails to the lead of the project (Dieter Loeschky from Sun) and he suggested that I joined the project as contributor. I have thought a bit about it, and I just might do so. I find it really important for the adoption of ODF that there are tools available for it, so if no one else will, I just might do it myself. I wonder if that will help everyone realize that I am a true ODF supporter.

And finally - the SC34 Ad Hoc Group 1 will convene in London in the end of July. We will meet and talk about what to do with both ODF and OOXML in the future. I am really looking forward to the meeting. The initial mail list reveales that there will be delegates from all over the world:

 
Country
 #
Austria  2
Canada  1
Chile  1
Czech Republic
 1
Germany  2
Denmark  3
Finland  3
India  4
Japan  3
Republic of Korea  2
Malaysia  2
Norway  3
New Zealand
 6
United Kingdom
 3
United States

 2


I hope we will have a couple of productive days in London. As Alex Brown wrote about after the Oslo plenary in April 2008, transparency of the process is a key point and any input from you, dear reader, to how this could be achieved would be appreciated.

And finally-finally, I seem to have been struck by a bad was of "YABS" - Yet Another Blog Syndrome. Within the next few weeks I will begin blogging on the best IT-website in Denmark, Version2.

Should the appeals stop all work on IS 29500?

Well, you tell me. All kinds or rumours are circulating amongst SC34-members of what the consequences of the appeals of approval of IS 29500 could be. The latest rumours are dwelving on the possibe outcome that all work on IS 29500 will be suspended until appeals are sorted out. These rumours are quite possibly fed by the email from the JTC1 chair to the members of SC34. Amongst other things it said

At its recent plenary meeting in Norway, JTC 1/SC 34 established 2 ad hoc groups concerned with the collection of comments on and maintenance of ISO/IEC 29500. Adjudicating these appeals will necessarily delay ISO/IEC 29500, at a minimum, and this delay could have a significant effect on the work of these ad hoc groups. SC 34 and its ad hoc groups should take this into account when planning their future work.

I am a participant in AHG1 (maintenance of IS 29500) and the purpose of the group is to plan and define the future work onIS 29500 in SC34 in, quite possibly, SC34 Working Group 4. We will meet in London in the end of July 2007 to start our work. From the roster/mail list of the group, I see quite a lot of "big cahunas" of SC34 and indeed in the debates of the last year or so. All these people have signed up to contribute to the onwards development and maintenance of IS 29500.

Now, let's pause for a second to look at the possible outcome of the appeals and their impact on the work in e.g. AHG1:

Approval is overturned

This will mean that IS 29500 no longer exists and that the work in the two AHGs have been a waste of time. We will spend two days in London and these days could then have been used more productively on other matters - like contributing to development of ODF 1.2 .

Appeals are dismissed 

If the appeals are dismissed - we will already have started the work on IS 29500. We will already have an idea of what to do and a preliminary view of what to do in the near future.

The outcome of the appeals is currently blowing in the wind, and I would not be the one to predict the outcome. However, I will say, that I would much rather start the important work on IS 29500 maintenance as soon as possible. This is in fact the core of the worst-case scenario: we just loose two days of work. I think most will agree that IS 29500 needs proper maintenance and I would prefer to get that work started - even though the work might be wasted. If all work in the AHGs are suspended and the appeals are dismissed, we will not be able to start this important work until Spring 2009.

For those of you being worried that allowing the AHGs to proceed with their work could be interpreted as some sort of bias towards dismissing the appeals, I think you are wrong. Allowing us to start the work on a provisionary basis does not in any way impact the decision of JTC1/ITTF regarding the appeals. It simply allows us to get a head start on maintenance of IS 29500 ... nothing more.

So please, let all the distinguished people in Ad Hoc Group 1 and 2 get at chance to start the important work they have volunteered to participate in. 

Only fools rush in

In the past weeks the OOXML-battleground has been covered with buzz, rumours, and innuendo about the missing IS 29500. Rob kicked it off with him revealing the little secret that he was actually in posession of a preliminary edition of the not-yet published final text.

Today I was told that ITTF was frantically (my interpretation) rushing to get the text done and have it published.

That scares me a bit.

When ITTF/IEC publishes IS29500 - that will be the IS29500 we will use in the foreseeable future. Yes, there will likely be an errata-sheet, but that is the edtion we're gonna use. Rushing to finish it could impose errors in the text (yes, I am aware of the irony).

So dear ITTF, please take your time to finish putting the spec together - there is no rush. ODF was approved on May 8th 2006 and was not published until November 30th the same year. That is more than 6 months from approval to publication. Granted, there are differences between the ODF-case and the OOXML-case. ODF was not changed during the approval-phase of ISO whereas substantial changes were made to OOXML. Never the less, I would much rather wait another month to have it done right.

At least we are all equal here - it is to the advantage of no single perty to have publication delayed ... so shouldn't we wait until it is ready? 

Official complaint on OOXML-procedures in Denmark

I just wanted to let you in on a bit of information here from sunny Copenhagen.

Denmark has joined Norway in the strange sense that the Danish NSB (Dansk Standard) has received an official complaint regarding the Danish vote on March 29th 2008. I am sure the news will spread to the rest of the blog-sphere soon, so be the first to get the information here (my translation)

The Municipality of Aarhus, who was a member of the OOXML-committee in Dansk Standard, has now complained about the "Yes"-vote in the ISO-approval [of OOXML]. The reason: No one knows the real content of the specification. [...] . "It is strange to vote 'Yes' to a standard, that could still be filled with flaws and defects. In principle, it might say that the Moon is made of Swiss cheese, and they voted 'Yes' to that, explains Jens Kjellerup to Computerworld."

Check it out here (in Danish): http://www.computerworld.dk/art/45835?a=fp_2&i=514

(D)IS 29500 ISO process F.A.Q.

Due to the still overwhelming interest of the now done ISO DIS 29500 process, ISO has created a small F.A.Q. to answer some of the more frequently asked questions.

My excerpts from the F.A.Q. are listed here:

Q: How could a 6.000-page document be fast-tracked?

Because the information technology (IT) sector is fast-moving, the joint technical committee ISO/IEC JTC 1, Information technology, introduced the "fast track" process for the adoption as ISO/IEC standards of documents originating from the IT sector on which substantial development has already taken place.

(...)

The number of pages of a document is not a criterion cited in the JTC 1 Directives for refusal. It should be noted that it is not unusual for IT standards to run to several hundred, or even several thousand pages.

ISO/IEC 29500 has spent a total of 15 months being processed within the ISO/IEC system, from its submission in December 2006 to the deadline of 29 March 2008 approving it.

Q:  Why would ISO and IEC allow two standards for the same subject?

(...)

In this particular case, some claim that the Open Document Format (ODF), which is also an ISO/IEC standard (ISO/IEC 26300) and ISO/IEC 29500 are competing solutions to the same problem, while others claim that ISO/IEC 29500 provides additional functionalities, particularly with regard to legacy documents.

The ability to have both as International Standards was something that needed to be decided by the market place. ISO and IEC and their national members provided the JTC 1 infrastructure that facilitated such a decision by the market players.

Q: What about hidden patent issues?

(...)

Microsoft, the holder of patents involved in the implementation of ISO/IEC 29500, has made such a declaration to ISO and IEC. If, after publication of the standard, it is determined that licenses to all required patents are not so available, one option would be to withdraw the International Standard.

Q: What about contradictions with other ISO and IEC Standards?

(...)

A number of such claimed contradictions were identified during the one-month JTC 1 fast-track review period, prior to its release for voting and comment. The submitter, Ecma International, responded to these comments at the end of the review period.

Some of these comments were reflected in national body comments on the fast-track Draft International Standard (DIS). These comments, e.g. the non-alignment with ISO 8601, Data elements and interchange formats – Information interchange – Representation of dates and times, were dealt with in the ballot resolution meeting (BRM).

It is possible that others may still remain, but these can be taken care of during the maintenance of the standard.  In all cases, the final decision on whether there are contradictions and how to resolve them rests with the national members of ISO and IEC.

Q: Will ISO and IEC review how ISO/IEC 29500 was adopted?

We reviewed the process before it started, all the while during its course and afterwards as well. While the voting on ISO/IEC 29500 has attracted exceptional publicity, it needs to be put in context. ISO and IEC have collections of more than 17 000 and 7 000 successful standards respectively, these being revised and added to every month. This suggests that the standards development process is credible, works well and is delivering the standards needed, and widely implemented, by the market. (...)

Three monkeys - one was Håkon Lie

(corrected quote of Håkon Lie) 

After the demonstration in Oslo yesterday (damn I wish I had been there) the CTO of Opera Software, Håkon Wium Lie was interviewed by Norwegian newspaper VG. The interview is in Norwegian but let me translate a bit for you:

Håkon Lie: What might happen if Microsoft gets this [OOXML ISO-approval] [OOXML added to the list of approved mandatory document formats in Norway, JLS addition ] through is that Norwegian authorities may be forced to use it, and this means that if you receive an email with an attachment and you don't have a program to read this attachment - it could be a message from a teacher of your child that attends a Norwegian school - when you cannot open this attachment, you will have to buy software from Microsoft. So this is really a "Microsoft-tax" that may be the consequence if Microsoft wins here. We are against this.

Dear Håkon, I love the software you guys make - I use it every day on my cell-phone ... but are you out of your mind? I would expect those kinds of arguments from the typical Tux-f**kers (or in reverse, from the usual Microsoft fan-boys whose coding-skills evolve around point-and-click in Visual Studio Web Developer). I would not expect this from the CTI of the third-largest browser-producer in the world and your argument here makes it all so much clearer for me why Standard Norge discarded your arguments.

I am sure Gene Amdahl would be proud of you.

Smile