Where is there an end of it? | SC 34 WG meetings in Paris last week

SC 34 WG meetings in Paris last week

The croissants of AFNOR

Last week I was in Paris for a stimulating week of meetings of ISO/IEC JTC 1/SC 34 WGs, and as the year draws to a close it seems an opportune time to take the temperature of our XML standards space and look ahead to where we may be going next.

WG 1 (Schema languages)

WG 1 can be thought of as tending to the foundations upon which other SC 34 Standards are built - and of these foundations perhaps none is more important than RELAX NG, the schema language of many key XML technologies including ODFDocBook and the forthcoming MathML 3.0 language. WG 1 discussed a number of potential enhancements to RELAX NG, settling on a modest but useful set which will enhance the language in response to user feedback. 

A proposed new schema language for cross reference validation (including ID/IDREF checking) was also discussed; the question here is whether to have something simple and quick (that addresses the ID/IDREF validation if RELAX NG, say), or whether to develop a more fully-featured language capable of meeting challenges like cross-document cross-reference checking in an OOXML or ODF package. It seems as if WG 1 is strongly inclining towards the latter.

Other work centred on proposing changes for cleaning up the unreasonable licensing restrictions which apply to "freely-available" ISO/IEC standards made available by the ITTF: the click through license here is obviously out-of-date, and text is required to attach to schemas so that they can be used on more liberal, FOSS-friendly terms. (I mentioned this before in this blog entry).


WG 4 had a full agenda. One item of business requiring immediate attention was the resolution of comments accompanying the just-voted-on set of DCOR ballots. These had received wide support from the National Bodies though it was disappointing to see that the two NBs who had voted to disapprove had not sent delegates to the meeting. P-members are obliged both to vote on ballots and attend meetings in SCs and so these nations (Brazil and Malaysia are the countries in question) are not properly honouring their obligation as laid down in the JTC 1 Directives:

3.1.1 P-members of JTC 1 and its SCs have an obligation to take an active part in the work of JTC 1 or the SC and to attend meetings.

I note with approval the hard line taken by the ITTF, who have just forcibly demoted 18 JTC 1 P-members who had become inactive.

Nevertheless, all comments received were resolved and the set of corrigenda will now go forward to publication, making a significant start to cleaning up the OOXML standard.


The other big topic facing WG 4 was to the thorny problem of what has come to be called the issue of "Strict v Transitional". In other words, deciding on some strategy for dealing with these two variants of the 29500 Standard.

The UK has a clear consensus on the purpose of the two formats. Transitional (aka "T") is (in the UK view) a format for representing the existing legacy of documents in the field (and those which continue to be created by many systems today); no more, and no less. Strict (aka "S") is viewed as the proper place for future innovation around OOXML.

Progress on this topic is (for me) frustratingly slow – ah! the perils of the consensus forming process – but some pathways are beginning to become visible in the swirling mists. In particular it seems there is a mood to issue a statement that the core schemas of T are to be frozen, and that any dangerous features (such as the date representation option blogged about by WG 4 experts Gareth Horton and Jesper Lund Stocholm) are removed from T.

This will go some way to clarify for users what to expect when dealing with a 29500-conformant document. However, I foresee needed work ahead to clarify this still further since within the two variants (Strict and Transitional) there are many sub-variants which users will need to know about. In particular the extensibility mechanism of OOXML (MCE) allows for additional structures to be introduced into documents. And so, is a "Transitional" (or "Strict") document:

  • Unextended ?
  • Extended, but with only standardized extensions ?
  • Extended, but with proprietary extensions ?
  • Extended in a backwards-compatible way relative to the core Standard ?
  • Extended in a backwards-incompatible way ?

I expect WG 4 will need to work on conformance classes and content labelling mechanisms (a logo programme?) to enable implementers to convey with precision what kind of OOXML documents they can consume and emit, and for procurers to specify with precision what they want to procure.

WG 5 (Document interop)

WG 5 continues its work with TR 29166, Open Document Format (ISO/IEC 26300) / Office Open XML (ISO/IEC 29500) Translation Guidelines, setting out the high-level differences between the ISO versions of the OOXML and ODF formats. I attended to hear about a Korean idea for a new work item focussed on the use of the clipboard as an interchange mechanism.

This is interesting because the clipboard presents some particular challenges for implementers. What happens (for example) when a user selects content for copying which does not correspond to well-formed XML (from the middle of one paragraph to the middle of another)? I am interested in seeing exactly what work the Koreans will propose in this space ...

WG 6 (ODF)

Although I had registered for the WG 6 meeting, I had to take the Eurostar home on Thursday and so attempted to participate in Friday's WG 6 meeting by Skype (as much as rather intermittent wi-fi connectivity would allow).

From what I heard of it, the meeting was constructive and business-like, sorting out various items of administrivia and turning attention to the ongoing work of maintaining ISO/IEC 26300 (the International Standard version of ODF).

To this end, it is heartening to see the wheels finally creak into motion:

  • The first ever set of corrigenda to ISO/IEC 26300 has now gone to ballot
  • A second set is on the way, once a mechanism has been agreed how to re-word those bits of the Standard which are unimplementable
  • A new defect report from the UK was considered (many of these comments have already been addressed within OASIS, and so fixes are known)

Most significant of all is the work to align the ISO version of ODF with the current OASIS standard so that ISO/IEC 26300 and ODF 1.1 are technically equivalent. The National Bodies present reiterated a consensus that this was desirable (better, by far, than withdrawing ISO/IEC 26300 as a defunct standard) and are looking forward to the amendment project. The world will, then, have an ISO/IEC version of ODF which is relevant to the marketplace while waiting for a possible ISO/IEC version of ODF 1.2 – as even with a fair wind this is still around two years away from being published as an International Standard.


I'll update this entry with links to documents as they become available. To start with, here are some informal records: :-)



Comments (11) -

  • Fernando Gebara Filho

    12/10/2009 12:11:12 AM |

    Disclaimer: I am a Microsoft employee in Brazil and also the Regional Standards Officer for the Latin American region.


    As a previous Head of Delegation for Brazil, I have to disagree with your assertions about our participation in SC 34 meetings. I have been part of the Brazilian delegation since the BRM in Geneva including the Jeju (Korea), Prague (Czech Republic) and Seattle (United States) meetings, appointed Head of Delegation for the the Jeju and Seattle meetings.

    We have appointed 4 of our commmittee members to be part of WG 6 (you are free to confirm this with SC 34 secretary) but due to the voluntary nature of the work we all do in ABNT (Associação Brasileira de Normas Técnicas, the Brazilian National Body) we could not obtain the necessary funds to the Paris meetings and were not informed that we could participate remotely (as you did) in the WG 6 meeting.

    Your (not so subtle) threat regarding the JTC 1 rules and a possible downgrade from P- to O-member in SC 34 is unsupported since we sent delegates for all SC 34 Plenary Meetings after BRM, sent votes for the 2009 ballots and have already plans to attend the next Plenary Meeting in Stockholm.

    Please re-check the SC 34 information with the secretary before make statetements about country participation.

  • Alex

    12/10/2009 1:12:56 AM |

    Hello Fernando

    I am well aware Brazil has sent representatives to some recent SC 34 meetings - that is indeed a matter of record. I am also - as a convenor - aware of who has registered to attend meetings.

    However, my comments are confined to the fact that there was no Brazilian representative attending at a time when comments were being addressed on 4 ballots on which Brazil had voted to disapprove (i.e. DCOR comment resolution in WG 4). In my view voting to disapprove a ballot and then not participating in the comment resolution process is unacceptable. How is consensus to be reached on your points when the Brazilian view is not even represented?

    Is Brazil participating in the WG 4 work programme, or not?

    Downgrading to O-member status is not something decided within JTC 1 but takes place (so far as I can see) on the say-so of ITTF; so you are quite wrong to detect any "threat" - subtle or not - in my observations.

    So far as I am aware, no remote participation facilities were advertised or guaranteed (or even requested) for these Paris meetings -- which is just as well since my ad hoc attempt to participate in WG 6 remotely wasn't very smooth. In any event, an important matter like ballot resolution really requires - in my view - the physical presence of stakeholders.

  • Rob Weir

    12/10/2009 3:03:23 AM |

    Alex, your "In my view" is not the same as what JTC1 Directives require.  In some places, such as voting on a DIS, the Directives are quite clear that who vote disapproval are expected to attend the BRM.  But a negative vote on a DCOR comes with no such requirement.  A smaller NB is not expected to attend a face-to-face meeting for every WG in SC34, although the rules do permit an NB to vote for all proposals sent out to ballot in SC34, even those involving work in WGs which they do not participate.  

    If WG4 was unclear about any Brazilian comment, and needed clarification, I'm sure that if WG4 members put their heads together and brainstormed for a few hours, they could devise a method of communication that would have a high probability of securing a response.  Maybe email?

    In any case your idle threats concerning P-member demotion and ODF withdrawal are childish.  This is the kind of roguish behavior that makes some question the judgment and continued relevancy of SC34.  The world has moved on, beyond the corrupt institutions of cold war era relics like JTC1.

  • Jesper Lund Stocholm

    12/10/2009 5:11:24 AM |

    Hi Rob,

    If WG4 was unclear about any Brazilian comment, and needed clarification

    It was not their comments that were unclear - in fact, most of them were as clear as ice. But it would have been nice to be able to talk in session to Brazil about our disposition of comments and if they were acceptable or not.


    PS: Say hi to Morten from me.

  • orlando

    12/10/2009 11:19:19 AM |

    "The world has moved on, beyond the corrupt institutions of cold war era relics like JTC1."

    Yes, welcome modern standards efforts ( for example WHATWG )!

    You are having physical meetings to make some advance in one corrigenda of one of many WG of an hyper-patched pseudo standard ( known as "29500", transitional? strict? with or without iso dates? with or without VML, i give up Smile.

    Meanwhile, the web is evolving "in real time":

    We are in 2010 people. Welcome to the future , ISO JTC1!

  • Rob Weir

    12/10/2009 10:22:13 PM |

    The point is that ISO was formed as an idealistic NGO in the ashes of WWII. It served a useful purpose in 1970's and 1980's.  During those years tariffs came down and a strong international standards authority was needed to ensure that the trade barriers were not merely replaced with non-tariff technical barriers, i.e., parochial national standards.  One country/one vote made sense for that effort. It was an attempt at fairness.  But with the rise of the modern multi-national, inter-national IT corporation, this is anachronistic, ineffective and merely festers corruption.  A large company can project its influence over many or all countries,and make a mockery of fairness.  The one country/one vote is a thin facade when the majority of meeting participants are Microsoft employees.  A large portion of NBs are essentially serving as Microsoft suzerains.  It is a technological neo-colonialism.  We give you jobs or reduced price licenses and you give us your vote.  I know it is not polite to point that out, but that does not make it less true.  

    The ISO institution, however laudable its original goals, has failed to adapt and protect itself from utter domination by corporations.  And if it is to merely be "standardization by corporation" then there are other organizations that can do this faster and more effectively, and are better at producing high quality, market relevant standards.  Remember, there is competition for standardization venues, just as there is competition for goods.  If ISO does not distinguish itself on quality, fairness, transparency or market relevancy, then what competitive advantage does it have?  

  • Jomar Silva

    12/11/2009 4:10:46 AM |


    I've published my thoughts about your text on my blog.

    Regarding Brazil's participation on WG4, I would recommend that you ask SC34 for our official position about it, stated when the ballot for the creation of the WG4 was conducted. Unfortunately I believe that information from our ballot cannot be disclosed, but as an English delegate you may have access to it.


  • piope

    12/11/2009 4:51:25 AM |

    ISO should be dissolved.

    Only large corporations can afford to travel to those meetings at the end of the world.

  • Alex

    12/11/2009 5:44:11 AM |

    Hello Jomar

    You are mistaken - there *was* no ballot for the creation of WG 4, so I can hardly consult the result.

    WG 4 (OOXML maintenance) was created by a plenary vote in Jeju in 2008, and the open record shows Brazil did not oppose its formation. I remember Fernando was there and when the Chair asked if there was any opposition to the resolution to create WG 4, his hand stayed down (as for everybody).

    However since then Brazil has not generally been represented in WG 4 meetings or teleconferences, and has never (IIRC) posted to the WG 4 mailing list -- so I'm still confused about whether Brazil is committed to WG 4 or not; and Fernando has not answered me.

    As to the DCORs, I believe the substance of the Brazilian ballot comments on these ballots was recorded as a public document here:

    (and at adjacent URLs) -- Rob Weir helpfully linked to this page from his blog some weeks back.

    The Brazilian comments were duly addressed by WG 4 in Paris -- but in the round-table discussions where was Brazil? Nowhere.

    Is this Brazil's idea of participation? You don't participate in technical discussions (and so are ignorant of the details of the evolving consensus), vote to oppose ballots from this position of ignorance, and then do not even show up to discuss the resolution of these issues!

    I now see Brazil was the *only* country to vote against the just-completed FPDAM ballots on OOXML. If Brazilian experts had attended the relevant meetings (and phone conferences) earlier in the year they would have known that the comment that they made in theses ballot was irrelevant. Again - lack of proper participation risks wasting the time of other NB participants.

    I am glad to hear Brazil has committed to send experts to attend the Stockholm WG 4 meeting, to help resolve their comments. Can WG 4 expect Brazil to attend its teleconferences also?

  • Jomar Silva

    12/14/2009 11:25:21 PM |

    Brazil decided almost a year ago to not attend any WG4 meetings or get involved with WG4 work, but we'll keep analisyng and voting anything SC34 sent to us.

    It's also good to know that we analysed the whole DCORS and FPDAM to sent "irrelevant" comments. This shows to the world how "irrelevant" is anyone that disagrees with you, and also that "respect" must have a different mean on UK.

  • Alex

    12/15/2009 12:26:52 AM |


    I thought you were claiming on your blog that lack of time/funding was the reason for Brazil's non-attendance of WG 4. Thank you for now clarifying that ABNT *policy* is not to send delegates to meetings of WG 4.

    The JTC 1 process is designed to accommodate differing points of view, and, through the meeting process, to arrive at consensus. As the Directives state in their introduction: "the objective in the development of International Standards should be the achievement of consensus between those concerned rather than a decision based on counting votes".

    By refusing to attend WG 4 meetings, and yet voting on WG 4 work, Brazil is behaving directly counter to this objective. Brazil seems to want to have the authority of a P-Member, but is behaving more like an O-Member.

    By voting "NO" and not attending meetings or phone calls, Brazil is in effect saying: we will not help in this work, and we reject this work, and nothing can be said or done which will cause us to reconsider our position.

    So I'd say this looks suspiciously like a case of bad faith on ABNT's part.

    (Note it is quite usual for a NB to absent itself from the work of one or more WGs within an SC -- for example, the UK does not track the work of WG 2. In this case a NB will vote to *abstain* on ballots arising from WG's it does not participate in).

    What I want to see is (preferably) Brazil participating fully in WG 4. The next best option would be Brazil not participating. But Brazil's current stance towards WG 4 just risks wasting everybody's time.

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