In Nara, Japan, at the just-finished JTC 1 plenary meeting, significant progress has been made on some of the issues surrounding ODF development which I highlighted recently. A resolution was passed, the pertinent part of which reads as follows:
“JTC 1 recognizes the timely response (JTC 1 N9398) from OASIS to the SC 34 liaison statement (SC34 N1095 […]), and thanks OASIS for the new draft errata to ODF 1.0. JTC 1 particularly welcomes OASIS's proposal to confer with JTC 1 and SC 34 to forge a genuine partnership for collaboratively handling the maintenance of ODF/IS 26300. JTC 1 requests SC 34 and OASIS to develop a document specifying the detailed operation of joint maintenance procedures, with a common goal of preparation of technically-equivalent documents, and taking into account the requirements and constraints of both standards bodies. SC 34 is requested to consider this document at its March 2009 plenary and report the results to JTC 1 following this meeting.”
(See the SC 34 chairman’s Business Plan, as presented in Nara, for
this and other interesting information.)
The prelude to this resolution is a sequence of exchanges between SC 34 and OASIS. Now, while highly selective leaking to unwitting and credulous sites may have succeeded in producing a fuss in the blogosphere (see, for example, groklaw's “The Microsoft-Stacked SC 34 Committee Makes a Move”) the truth is rather less sensational, and speaks more of parties of good will wanting to make progress, than of the crazed oppositional narrative of “MS vs the world” that the tinfoil brigade seems increasingly desperate to try to perpetuate. The liaison statement from SC 34 to OASIS out of Jeju was, of course, not leaked to/by groklaw because it did not fit with that crazed narrative. I don’t believe it is giving too much away to reveal its concluding words were: “SC 34 is open to suggestions as to how to reach a resolution of this issue that is mutually acceptable to OASIS and SC 34.”
The tinfoil hat wearers are desperate to construct a a narrative
around ODF in which MS plays the villain; facts
in their way. (Photo credit: Rob Watkins. Licence.)
OASIS duly replied indicating in the course of their communication that they too were interested in such a mutually acceptable resolution, in particular for the maintenance issues (of errata and defects) that had arisen from the current unsatisfactory maintenance agreement.
And so it was that in Nara representatives of JTC 1, SC 34, OASIS and some of the commercial stakeholders in ODF worked hard and hammered out the text above, which was duly amended and blessed by the JTC 1 members (nations) – who are, ultimately, the decision makers in charge of international standardisation.
Reading the Runes
The first two sentences of the resolution set out the background. The third contains the meat:
“JTC1 requests SC34 and OASIS to develop a document specifying the detailed operation of joint maintenance procedures, with a common goal of preparation of technically-equivalent documents, and taking into account the requirements and constraints of both standards bodies.”
The three key phrases here are, I think, these:
- “joint maintenance procedures” – critically maintenance (in JTC 1 terms “maintenance” includes the following activities: revision, withdrawal, periodic review, correction of defects, amendment, and stabilization) will now be a joint activity, rather than one conducted exclusively in isolation.
- “technically-equivalent documents” – so, documents must be the same (apart from such non-technical things as cover pages). By keeping the OASIS and International Standard versions in step-lock with each other, marketplace confusion can be avoided by eliminating doubts about version differences
- “the requirements and constraints of both standards bodies” – OASIS and JTC 1 have different ways of doing things; some way will need to be found so that all concerns are properly met.
Now, I have no idea what the final maintenance agreement is going to look like. SC 34 people and OASIS are going to keep working hard over the next few months and it is anticipated these negotiations will culminate in a face-to-face summit to be held in Okinawa at the end of January 2009, to coincide with the meetings of WG 4 (dedicated to OOXML) and WG 5 (dedicated to document format interop, particularly ODF/OOXML). Any agreed text will ultimately need to be blessed by the two top-levels of the organisations … this is, after all, an agreement between JTC 1 and OASIS, and not between SC 34 and OASIS, or SC 34 and the ODF TC. Okinawa certainly looks like it is going to be the site of a vibrant meeting, with OOXML and ODF folks attending in numbers…
My personal hunch about the shape of the final maintenance arrangement is that it will be less like the one SC 34 arranged with Ecma, in which the Ecma TC was absorbed into a new Working Group, and something more akin to a parallel-running process, with mechanisms for exchanging information and synchronising key activities. But that is just my personal hunch.
Spreading the Love
Via Doug Mahugh, from Redmond, comes the happy announcement (even IBM’s Bob Sutor called it “excellent news”) that Microsoft will be participating in OASIS’s ODF Interoperability and Conformance TC (see Rob Weir’s post for background on this activity). This is really good to hear. With the release of Office 2007 SP2 Microsoft are suddenly going to find themselves stewards of by far the biggest installed user-base of ODF office applications, so it is vital for users they are part of the conversation developers and vendors need to be having about making their implementations interoperate.
From the uncertainty that marked the beginning of the year, these latest pieces of news are very positive indications of progress in the document format space. So much has been accomplished in 2008, and I have every confidence 2009 is going to see this positive progress continue …