a 'mooh' point

clearly an IBM drone

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.