20 May: a day of anniversaries 
2008-05-20, 16:15
Two years ago today the first entry of this blog was posted. Eighteen years ago today I began a whirlwind romance with the woman who became my wife. It is probably more on account of the latter than the former that we are drinking Champagne tonight. But perhaps now, as the DIS 29500 project draws to a conclusion, a little blogging reminiscence is in order …

DIS 29500: some personal reminiscences


Looking back over two years of blog entries, it is clear that the dominant theme has been the standardisation of OOXML (ISO/IEC 29500). One of the first blog entries reported from the May 2006 Seoul SC 34 plenary, the meeting at which it first became evident trouble was brewing.

I remember the meeting well, how there were so many unfamiliar faces present. It was the first time I met Ecma’s Jan van den Beld and IBM’s Rob Weir (to name but two). I remember how, at the opening plenary Jan gave a presentation about Ecma and spent some time explaining how the name “Ecma” was not an acronym but a brand name, and how its capitalisation was important. SC 34 old-timers shifted uncomfortably in their seats – wasn’t this just the sort of corporate bullshit one came to standards meetings to avoid? I remember how Rick Jelliffe (struggling with the crapware on his new Dell laptop) got tapped angrily on the shoulder when leaving the room and told it was no surprise he was a “Windows user”. I remember how a pleasant conversation over lunch was interrupted by somebody scraping their chair across the floor to join our table and launching into a monologue about how we should be wary of OOXML, as it contained secret metadata fields the FBI used to track people down and shoot them.

Clearly something was up, and the forces of unreason were on the move. It was at that meeting that I resolved to do what I could to resist these forces – a route which led me to become convenor of the DIS 29500 BRM.

Looking back at my first blog entry, my overall reaction to what I wrote is “+1”. A couple of extracts are interesting in the light of subsequent developments:

The kind of fast-tracking procedures used for ODF and mooted for OOXML give very little time for a small part-time volunteer group to give such bulky documents adequate scrutiny. There is no doubt ODF is, right now, less good than it would have been if subjected to the full rigours of ISO standardisation. With OOXML predicted to weigh in as a behemoth 7,000 page standard the danger that OOXML will be inadequately scrutinised is greater still. […] [It] is ultimately in nobody's interest if the standardisation process becomes devalued to the point where it is delivering technology standards which are done quicky, but which don't provide a solid and useful basis for implementers and users.

This one counted against my claim to become BRM convenor. I personally believed the accelerated standardisation process were unsuitable then, and the following two years have merely reinforced that belief. Personally, I look forward to the day they (PAS and Fast Track) are scrapped as part of root-and-branch reform of JTC 1.

Many [SC 34 members] judge that having a locked-down standard version of the Microsoft Office formats could bring huge benefits when it comes to working with Office documents.

In the end, this turned out (I believe) to be a decisive factor in the approval of DIS 29500. Ecma made the road very rocky though, by initially producing a text that was so lousy with faults.

It is standards bureaucrats in our national bodies (ISO member countries) who will vote. Sure, these people will often take advice from their country's SC34 members, but ultimately it is their votes, not ours, which count.

As it turned out, technical experts generally had rather more input into the process than I predicted. However in the light of decisions such as Norway’s this is an interesting anticipation of the fact that generally standards approval is ultimately a bureaucratic process.

I expect to continue to hear the standardisation attempts of Microsoft being characterised into a dumbed-down narrative of “ODF vs OpenXML”.

Oh yes, for sure! Though there are signs the debate is maturing and that when it comes to document formats people are beginning to realise “it’s just stuff”.

Where is the final DIS 29500 text?


The final DIS 29500 text was meant to be submitted by Ecma, and then distributed to National Bodies by 29 March 2008. Ecma duly submitted a text on time but this text has remained with ITTF. National Bodies are unhappy about this, and at the SC 34 Oslo meeting 12 countries passed a unanimous resolution calling for the release of the text – to no effect.

The description of the Fast Track process in the JTC 1 Directives is generally pretty sketchy, but the closing stages of it are particularly poorly thought-through. Is it really sensible if Ecma’s efforts become, unchecked, the final IS text? Personally, I'd say not, and that an all-important QA stage has been omitted. ITTF are perfectly entitled to make special rulings (as they evidently have done, and not for the first time in this project) on the authority of the Secretaries General of ISO and IEC. It would be more sane, I believe, for them to have invented an FDIS stage for this project and have NBs submit editorial corrections. However I can see that the politics and practicalities of the situation make this difficult – it’s not hard to imagine every fault in the text being screamed about by the anti camp as a reason for halting the entire project.

Ultimately the situation raises questions which go to the heart of the relationship between JTC 1 as an entity, and its member bodies. Just who is in charge, the nations or the officials? The unfortunate state of the Directives have meant there have been too many occasions when officials have had to step in and save the nations from the folly of the Directives that they themselves approved. Like ODF and OOXML the Directives is (literally) a standard, a standard that has faults. Unlike ODF and OOXML, however, I am beginning to believe the Directives have got to a state where they cannot be redeemed by evolution and amendment. It may be time to start again from scratch.

domf 
2008-05-21, 00:57
Happy 18th \o/

max stirner 
2008-05-21, 13:53
"However I can see that the politics and practicalities of the situation make this difficult – it’s not hard to imagine every fault in the text being screamed about by the anti camp as a reason for halting the entire project"

and quite rightly so, as you admit!

Mikael Nilsson 
2008-05-21, 14:41
Finally someone who knows where the text is...

The remaining question is - in the face of this non-productive rule-breakage from the ITTF, what will JTC1 do? At the very least, one would expect the NBs to have their 30 days of review of the final text. Comments?

Joel Stobart 
2008-05-21, 15:01
A fair and reasonable assessment.

The fast-track processes appear to be not fit for purpose and should therefore be abandoned. Especially with ECMA's corporate self-importance.

It might also be a good time to move to the W3Cs approach on patents. http://www.w3.org/Consortium/Patent-Policy/.

At what point does this process break completely? "National Bodies are unhappy about this, and at the SC 34 Oslo meeting 12 countries passed a unanimous resolution calling for the release of the text – to no effect." - this seems to be an absolutely damning state of affairs?

- Joel

Keith 
2008-05-21, 17:30
"There is no doubt ODF is, right now, less good than it would have been if subjected to the full rigours of ISO standardisation."

ODF?

Administrator (Alex Brown) 
2008-05-21, 17:43
@Max

It's not realisitic to expect perfection in a standards text. If we did that nothing would ever get published.


@Mikael

The problem is the Directives don't allow for any kind of meaningful review. Even if the text had been distributed, it would be little more than a "FYI" for the National Bodies' private viewing.


@Joel

The patents issue is something else. Maybe in future standards could be more clearly categorised according to their IP regime.


@Keith

Yes ODF - you are quoting something I wrote in 2006.

- Alex.

The Open Sourcerer 
2008-05-21, 23:17
Alex, care to speculate on today's announcement from M$? http://www.microsoft.com/Presspass/pres ... atsPR.mspx

Seems to me like they don't really want OOXML anymore... lol.

Nathan T. Freeman 
2008-05-22, 02:38
@Alex - Actually, YOU quote something you wrote in 2006. And the process ODF went through was certainly more rigorous than the process OOXML went through.

Administrator (Alex Brown) 
2008-05-22, 06:40
@Alan

http://www.griffinbrown.co.uk/blog/Perm ... 164570109e


@Nathan

> the process ODF went through was certainly more
> rigorous than the process OOXML went through

Whatever makes you say that!?

- Alex.

Nathan T. Freeman 
2008-05-22, 13:08
@Alex - It's almost a shame that I gave you an opportunity to change the subject. But here: http://www.robweir.com/blog/2008/02/fas ... s-pas.html

Should we even discuss the comparative availability of things like meeting minutes of technical committees to the public?

Andrew Sayers 
2008-05-22, 15:42
Alex,

Could you tell us a little about what the debate about Directives will look like from the outside? Will it be something that rumbles on in public or will we wake up one morning to a cacophony of bloggers explaining that the new rules prove they were right all along? What events would this be discussed at? Will our input be sought? Would it be useful if it was?

- Andrew

Administrator (Alex Brown) 
2008-05-22, 17:42
@Nathan

ODF was seriously under-scrutinised: that was a big problem with its PAS passage. There's still a lot of fixing-up to be done.


@Andrew

Anybody can debate the JTC 1 Directives, but making changes to them is the preserve of the National Body participants in JTC 1. It is maintained just like any other JTC 1 standard. Typically the NB delegations participating at this level contain the most senior and wisest ICT standards people the NBs can muster.

Currently there is some ongoing activity to revise the JTC 1 Directives (a Special Working Group).

Certain documents from JTC 1 (e.g. meetings resolutions, agendas) are published openly in the normal way.

The way to influence anything in International Standardisation is through a National Body (in the UK, BSI, for example). Typically there are various routes in that are less demanding that committee membership (in the UK one can join a represented user group like UKUUG or XML UK and to be able to channel views into the relevant technical committee for example).

- Alex





zoobab 
2008-05-24, 08:52
Do you have an URL for this:

"Currently there is some ongoing activity to revise the JTC 1 Directives (a Special Working Group)."

I cannot find information on the ISO website.

We have to thank Jan for its wonderful contributions to changing the whole fast track rules only for one customer:

"this version of the JTC 1 Directives is dedicated to Mr. Jan van den Beld for his many years of service to JTC 1, specifically his unwavering dedication to the development and evolution of the JTC 1 procedures."



Administrator (Alex Brown) 
2008-05-25, 11:37
@zoobab

Googling for "SWG-Directives" will turn up a load of stuff ...

- Alex.

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