2008-10-06, 18:19This is my last post on this blog.
Service will be resumed on my new blog. I will keep this old blog running in parallel for the forseeable future.
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SC 34 plenary
I had slept deeply, I had slept long, and awoke in showroom condition ready to face the excitements of an SC 34 plenary: this is the forum in which all SC 34 members present meet to discuss and pass resolutions. In the event this went extremely smoothly: all resolutions passed with unanimous consensus by the attending NBs (Brazil, Canada, China, Côte d’Ivoire, Denmark, Finland, Germany, India, Italy, Japan, Korea, Norway, South Africa, UK, and USA). Only one issue had caused contention, and that was smoothed away amicably over lunch.
The two most significant resolutions established two new working groups, WG 4 and WG 5.
WG 4 was the result of my recommendations following the work convening (the now disbanded) Ad Hoc Group 1. We had met in London in July and decided how we thought OOXML should be maintained. The recommendation was essentially very simple: this should be a full ISO/IEC standard under purely International (i.e. National Body) control. WG 4 is the forum in which that will happen. Although Ecma’s existing individual experts will participate in this group, Ecma will have no voting rights and has been constrained to a purely administrative role – the SC 34 Secretariat (Japan) has decided to retain Ecma’s services as a subordinate secretariat for the new Working Group. WG 4 will be convened by the eminent Murata Makoto (Japan), who’s strict impartiality (and strictness) will I’m sure keep WG 4 on the straight and narrow.
WG 5 is the home for “Document Interoperability” (a tweet I received on the subject from Simon Phipps, questioning whether documents could be said to interoperate sparked quite a discussion – in the end it was decided that yes, they could be said to). The immediate work for this working group is the new project working on 26300/29500 translation, but it’s likely I think that a number of new projects will start here before long. WG 5 will be convened by the excellent Dr Jaeho Lee (Korea).
With the arrangements made for WG 4, a vacancy arose for the convenorship of WG 1, and I was pleased to accept the honour of taking this role. It is a great responsibility, following in the giant footsteps of preceding convenors Charles Goldfarb, Martin Bryan, and Murata-san himself.
On a personal level it must also be said it is a relief to step away from the standardisation of OOXML. Whatever one’s views about the merits of the spec, I think there can be no disagreement with the thought that being heavily involved with its passage is both tiring and stressful. For now, I’ve had enough.
Impressions of Jeju
Jeju is a beautiful and charming place, whose people are unfailing kind and helpful. We experienced a full gamut of weather from sunny skies to driving rain and high winds as we experienced the outer bands of Typhoon Jangmi.
I took some snaps throughout these meetings to decorate this blog, but for a much better impression (and a sight of real photographic talent), Dough Mahugh’s photos of Korea are a must-see.
SC 34 celebrates
After the plenary, a few of us headed out to Jungmoon for some sightseeing and a bite to eat. After marvelling at an ooh-inducing sunset (aided in spectacle, it is said, by the air pollution from China) we toured some of the luxury hotels and casinos in the area before reaching consensus (with no dissent) that we’d prefer to eat a more rustic-style Korean barbeque. That we did, washing it down (naturally) with some more Korean vodka.
So, after a tough year, what is the mood in SC 34? Positive, is my impression. The tensions surrounding ISO/IEC 29500 have dissipated and all agree that we have made the best arrangements we could for stewardship of the Standard and progression of work around it. With two new working groups now established the character of SC 34 is bound to change, and it’s possible future meetings will be double, or even triple the size we are used to as we attract more International interest. The future is bright, and we look forward to meeting up again for our “Prague Spring” in March 2009.
Preparing for the Plenary
This Korean bog is so computerized it has an appreciable boot sequence;
brings a whole new meaning to the term “core dump”
WG 1 met in the morning and its business was mainly consensus-building and drafting on topics already covered, in advance of tomorrow’s plenary. The plan is to create a new working group dedicated to document interoperability, and many NBs participated in a drafting panel to get the terms of reference for this group just right. There were also liaison statements to be written: to OASIS (concerning ODF maintenance), and to JTC 1 (concerning ODF maintenance) – again there was wide interest in making sure these communiqués exactly expressed the consensus International view.
Meanwhile, back in Blighty, our tireless and most excellent experts were scrutinizing the new ISO/IEC 29500 (OOXML) text to ensure all the UK’s BRM changes have been properly implemented. Three problems have been found so far and submitted to SC 34 as defect reports. I am sure there will be many more.
Bye bye IBM?
Following the threat made last week by Bob Sutor (VP, Vice President Open Source and Standards, IBM) that IBM would, as its first stated “principle”,
Begin or end participation in standards bodies based on the quality and openness of their processes, membership rules, and intellectual property policies.”
a question being asked along the committee corridors by perplexed NB members is whether IBM has withdrawn its staff from participation SC 34. I have no idea, but IBM people are certainly conspicuous here by their total absence.
In reaction to Bob Sutors’s post, the headlines (some from sources who really should know better) suggested that IBM would “leave ISO”. They can of course do no such thing. IBM is not a member of ISO (or IEC, or JTC 1, or any of its subcommittees) – mere vendors are not accorded the privilege of being members of an International organisation; only National Bodies (effectively, countries) are — hence the “nation” in “international”.
The next steps in IBM’s plan is to hold a secret meeting (invitation only; secret member list; opaque funding) to discuss – would you believe – openness, perhaps before waltzing off to create a brave new standards world in Second Life: maybe there, IBM can be a nation!
For myself I know first-hand that IBM does have some great people who have a lot to bring to International Standardization in all kinds of ways. Indeed IBM has made a historic contribution to SC 34 and its predecessor groups – no less a person than Charles Goldfarb, the “father of SGML”, was himself an IBM man. We need people of that calibre. But even if IBM is blasé about (what might sentimentally be termed) a betrayal of its heritage, they might take a hard-headed look at the benefits of being a full, good-faith player in International Standardization: I wonder how long, especially in these troubled economic times, IBM stockholders are going to tolerate the kind of valueless, out-of-control escapade the company is currently indulging in.
Charles Goldfarb, markup languages titan and sometime IBM man
That’s what they call it here, and – in season – this resort is throbbing with newlyweds. Right now though, it has a something of the ghost-town about it, as it is half-deserted apart from us standards wonks.
Today was a solid 9-till-5 meeting day, and for me the jet lag is beginning to take its toll. Luckily our Korean hosts have a steady supply of coffee – and that keeps us all in the game; that, and the ineffable fascination of every topic we discuss in WG 1. Take the topic of character registries for example. Now, even for WG 1 diehards this is a somewhat recondite subject area – so I am sure a few eyes glazed over when we addressing the question of whether to include a normative reference to ISO/IEC 15897 in our own CREPDL specification (FCD 19757-7). However, after an eloquent argument from Hideki Hiura there was a clear consensus not to include it. Or, at least, no one (except the original proponent of the inclusion of the reference) contradicted him …
Yet more ODF and OOXML
… were the main topics of today, both separately and in tandem. Of most interest, perhaps, was the discussion surrounding the start of work on a project setting out to describe the mapping between ISO/IEC 26300 (ODF) and ISO/IEC 29500 (OOXML). This had received wide and decisive voting support from countries in its ballot, though some countries had objected to its commencement due to the non-availability of the ISO/IEC 29500 text. That hiatus is now happily behind us and the project is set to proceed with a powerful three-person editing teams (from Germany, Korea and China).
It is always pleasing to see widening participation in SC 34 and in these meetings we have been honoured with the presence of a large Chinese delegation. Word is that UOML may be coming our way shortly, and there are even rumours that there may be an opportunity for SC 34 involvement in UOF. Wow – if so, that would be a really positive opportunity for work on truly International document interoperability work, and would further strengthen SC 34’s role as the centre of the Office document format universe.
ODF – Our work here is done?
Day 0 had been concluded with a tasty Korean meal (washed down with possibly a tad too much Korean vodka) and it was very interesting to hear some of the views from NB members on how they thought the office formats future will play out (and no, there were no Microsoft, IBM or Ecma people at the table). One view was that ODF had served its purpose (to get MS formats out into the open) and should now declare victory before fading away gracefully; another was that OOXML would surely become the default format of the OpenOffice.org suite, and that this would crystallize the real option users had: to use FOSS or commercially-licensed Office packages. I’m not sure I’d go with either of these but still, it was refreshing to get some new perspectives rather than the stale repetitions that have too often characterised the exchanges of the past months. It will be interesting to see what really happens ... personally I think ODF is more likely to emerge as a kind of “default choice” than OOXML (not perhaps, that most users care).
Into the meetings proper
Sunday (Day 1) was a busy day of WG 1 meetings in the excellent facilities provided by our Korean hosts. In the morning we covered a number of DSDL topics, including Part 8 (DSRL) and the part I am editing – now called “Extensible Datatypes” – which has a new draft which will progress to FCD ballot. Rick Jelliffe, who sadly isn’t with us, had sent a voice message talking us through his fascinating proposed enhancements to Schematron – the Part of DSDL for which he is responsible. Very much business as usual for WG 1. However …
The afternoon was devoted to OOXML matters. Evidently, the sudden appearance of the final text of ISO/IEC 29500:2008 has come as something of a surprise for many; and the appearance of the first defect report (from Japan) shortly thereafter was a shock. Suddenly it’s all real; the clock is ticking and the Project Editor is obliged to respond to Japan’s report in eight weeks. Murata Makoto (the convenor of WG 1) carefully explained the details of the maintenance regime and took us through an example of one of the Japanese defects, which centred on a BRM-mandated change (from Finland) that had not been properly implemented in the final OOXML text. No doubt other NBs, as a priority, will now scour OOXML to make sure “their” changes have been implemented, and submit defect reports accordingly where they have not. The UK, with its 600 or so accepted changes, has a lot of checking to do …
I look on this though with a certain grim satisfaction, for two reasons. First because by insisting on timely defect handling SC 34 is compensating for a deficiency of the Fast Track process: the lack of National Body review of the final text. Secondly because one of the many problems of the JTC 1 standardisation of ODF in 2006 is the lax maintenance regime, which boils down to OASIS declaring: we’ll fix your reported ODF defects if we want to in our own good time, thank you very much. Partly as a reaction to this SC 34 was determined to hold OOXML’s feet to the fire and make sure the JTC 1 maintenance regime (one of the better processes described by the Directives) was fully applied and that this time, it was got right.