a 'mooh' point

clearly an IBM drone

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)


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.

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