ODF – OASIS and JTC 1 Get It Together

by Alex Brown 16. November 2008 12:29
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.”

man wearing infoil hat
The tinfoil hat wearers are desperate to construct a a narrative
around ODF in which MS plays the villain; facts are getting
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 …

Comments

11/16/2008 4:57:12 PM #

orcmid

Hey, welcome news.  Thanks for providing a bridge to this activity.  Oddly (or perhaps naturally) at the ODF TC none of this brought to our attention so far, although there are a few ODF TC members that are also participants at SC34 and elsewhere.

It will be interesting to see how we forge an alignment of standard editions and versions and also ensure that there is a melding of defect reports and comments in a way that maintains synchronization.  It will be a very-interesting dance.  The successful outcome should be valuable to all stakeholders in interoperability and preservation using open, public standard formats.

orcmid United States |

11/17/2008 5:45:19 AM #

Tim Bray

There's another obvious precedent in the case of Unicode.  ISO and the Unicode consortium have arranged things so that ISO 10646 and the Unicode Standard are entirely isomorphic and stay that way while being regularly revised.  This doesn't cause any externally-visible friction and it certainly serves the community well.

Tim Bray Canada |

11/17/2008 1:11:40 PM #

carlos

Tinfoil hat... i prefer a not-so simplistic analysis of what happened around the OOXML "incident", for example:

www.tbray.org/.../My-Tinfoil-Hat

And , again, i give all my respect to people that don't doubt losing their job or damage their career to defend what they think is ethical and technical right (the name of Steve Pepper comes to my mind ).

Other people prefers the Pontius Pilate/strict bureaucrat role ... i respect them too.

Greetings

               Carlos

carlos United States |

11/18/2008 1:56:20 AM #

dbmuse

any old hat can read the facts called history... Microsoft is a convicted Monopoly.  Who trusts a con ?

dbmuse United States |

11/18/2008 1:56:59 AM #

trackback

Trackback from Doug Mahugh

Links for 11-17-2008

Doug Mahugh |

11/18/2008 9:41:41 AM #

Marshall

@Alex
I read your blog with interest.  A thoughtful piece as always, thank you.

@dbmuse
IBM is a convicted monopoly too. IBM supported ODF.  Does that make ODF better or worse than OOXML?  More or less trustworthy?  I am not sure that I understand your point.

Marshall Australia |

11/18/2008 10:03:06 AM #

Bjørn

As far as I can see the Sperry Rand vs. Honeywell decision in 1973 said that IBM had created a monopply. However - a monopoly is in itself not illegal, what is illegal is abusing it the way Microsoft does and was convicted of doing. They seem to be doing it still, unlike IBM that reinvented itself and came back as a trusted and respected company, instead of a bullying, threatening one.

Bjørn Norway |

11/18/2008 10:36:08 AM #

SP

ISO and SC34 is under investigation by the EU now over improprieties relating to the OOXML affair, and in relation to ballot stuffing, ballot rigging, buying of votes in national committees, and breaking of ISO and national committee rules to favout OOXML. This is not without good reason since there is clear and proved evidence if this. It is not Microsoft I am so much concerned about, it is ISO and SC34.

Until we get a clean bill of health fro the EU investigation, it is imprudent to put the SC34 committee in charge of ODF or ODF/OOXML interoperability. Far better the ODF committee OASIS deals with ODF interoperability while SC34 concentrates on getting OOXML fixed, fullt documented and published as it should have done within 30 days of approval and has still not done.

SP United Kingdom |

11/18/2008 11:14:00 AM #

Alex

@orcmid

Yes, welcome news ... I too am confident that a successful outcome will be on benefit to all.


@Tim

SC 2, yes - that is a good example of consortium/ISO synchronisation, and certainly something that can usefully inform the upcoming discussion.


@Carlos

What's this about Steve damaging his career?


@SP

"ISO and SC34 is under investigation by the EU"? news to me even that the EU had jurisdiction. The most I've heard is that some EU standards bodies were asked to confirm if things had been done properly. You will remember that the only time improprieties have been investigated with any weight is in the UK, where they played big in the blogosphere - however when they came before a High Court judge they were quickly dismissed for the twaddle they were.

Alex United Kingdom |

11/18/2008 3:42:02 PM #

todd blight

I think the tone of this post says all you need to know about the bias of the author.

When you have nothing to stand on, its time to make personal attacks.
Intellectually weak.
History both recent and not so recent has shown us the lengths Microsoft will go to and to NOT be wary of them would be sheer lunacy (You know.. fool me once, shame on you, fool me two dozen times, shame on me). Painting those whose views you dont share with a broad brush does nothing to change history.

I am old enough to remember when IBM was the evil empire and now I work on three GPLed projects where IBM employess are working with us. I have no problems with that because they play by the rules. They have shown over the last few years that they can be trusted working on free software projects and their help has been invaluable.
Microsoft has not shown this. Maybe over time they will of their own free will.

And I will wager on the integrity of people like Andy Updegrove and others who have taken part and written about this sordid saga more than I will on yours.

Since you like to show your Wikipedia skills, here is something you might want to look into:
en.wikipedia.org/.../Embrace,_extend_and_extinguish
It is one of the reasons why people are leary of Redmond collaboration. Throughout their history, their partners have often gotten screwed as often as their competitions.

Of course, you would rather just put your hand on your ears and just go "LALALALA, ICANT HEAR YOU!!!" which I believe is about right for someone who thinks name calling is mature.

todd blight Canada |

11/20/2008 4:03:11 PM #

André

There are no evil empires. It is time for a realpolitik of standards.

..., 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.

Which is perfectly in line with a realpolitik approach focused on the interests of the parties. Your diplomacy-style approach is unable to resolve them because it does not acknowlege conflicts of interest, furthermore as there are many players who are not represented at the table. And of course, there are only "nations" represented in the world where Taiwan belongs to China, Maria was a virgin and North Korea a democracy because it says so. Of course everybody knows that reality is different including yourself but you stage an inquisitor who enforces institutional truthiness.

Little surprise the partisan "tinfoil brigade" gets attention and trust. A bit more realism is advised, premature celebrations of universal peace do not contribute to reconcilement of interests.

And maybe the national interest is worth to get considered? When you as a British citizen show concerns to balance the interests of American companies I wonder where you defend the interest of your nation and its citizens, including those nuts who wear their tinfoil hat with proud. There is nothing wrong with beeing a collaborationist in times of occupation, but that is no good excuse to accuse the résistance of beeing the primary offender.

Or as Groklaw depicted the loss of trust:
    - SC 34 may wish to encourage NBs to engage with the broader community and submit defect reports.

They may. But I doubt they will. Should be a blast if they do, but really, why would anyone bother to submit a defect report, considering how many were totally ignored at the BRM and thereafter, even to today? Unless they decide to engage with us unwashed massed, you'll note that the formal process is for "member bodies" only. Us hoi polloi can just wait for "informal mechanisms" to be set up someday, if they decide to do so. That should keep the finger-pointing at mistakes down to the loyal few.

A message many persons who had insights in the ISO process would approve. But sure you can continue to defend the BRM procedure with technocratic arguments as if it was your fault.

André Belgium |

11/20/2008 4:49:11 PM #

Alex

André

You write of "the interests of the parties" and in this process the parties were of two kinds: nations (effectively), and U.S. (effectively) software companies - principally Microsoft and IBM. As far as the national decisions go, the interests of the commercial parties are irrelevant. In the UK, the process was extremely effective at keeping these commercial interests in check: I think we succeeded in upsetting them all at different times Smile

So far as the national interest is concerned, my own personal assessment is that given that these MS formats were going to become widespread, we had a choice between a situation in which they are under control of a U.S. vendor, and a situation in which they are under international control with the attendant documentation and stability benefits that brings. That made the choice (to use a phrase du jour) a "no brainer", once the technical objections had been sufficiently overcome.

(Also, being the UK, a more continental type of consideration - that nixxing OOXML might help foster the Euro tech industries by encouraging inward investment around Euro FOSS-based/ODF solutions - was never accorded any weight. Did this view feature on the continent, do you think?)

As for defending the BRM procedures, as I seem to write every day now, my own personal view is that accelerated standardisation procedures (i.e. PAS and Fast Track) are not suitable for large standards like ODF and OOXML. In other words, I don't think the process was very good. However, given that it happened, nations had to make an assessment of whether it had delivered an acceptable standard: by and large, they did.

Finally, on the questions of defect reports - since international standardisation is an inter-national process it is up to each nation to decide how it collects defect reports. Every process like this (even nominally "open" ones) needs to have checks and balances for filtering input and keeping the quality bar raised. It's not like anybody can just pick up the phone to Linus Torvalds and dictate code for the Linux kernel, now is it?!

As an aside, I note with interest that even though all the nations of SC 34 have had access to the 29500 final text for nearly two months now, only 12 defect reports have been submitted so far.

Alex United Kingdom |

11/21/2008 1:13:30 AM #

carlos

"even though all the nations of SC 34 have had access to the 29500 final text for nearly two months now, only 12 defect reports have been submitted so far."

I would say 13 defect reports; don't forget the OOXML beast itself; surely it can be considered a defect report ( a big one indeed ).

carlos United States |

11/21/2008 10:41:26 PM #

Alan Bell

"It's not like anybody can just pick up the phone to Linus Torvalds and dictate code for the Linux kernel, now is it?!"
Well yes, actually it is very much like that. Anyone can subscribe to and post to the Linux Kernel Mailing list. If you post a patch you are very much dictating code for the kernel to Linus. You are right in saying that there are checks and balances, these come from the fact that it is all done in public on a wide open mailing list so anyone can point out a defect in a patch. You can observe the process in action here http://lkml.org/lkml/last100/

Alan Bell United Kingdom |

11/24/2008 12:01:27 AM #

André

I agree with you, the UK did a pretty good job to keep these interests out. Sure transparency is also a two sides medal. But that professionality of process in the UK was not seen elsewhere.

"So far as the national interest is concerned, my own personal assessment is that given that these MS formats were going to become widespread, we had a choice between a situation in which they are under control of a U.S. vendor, and a situation in which they are under international control with the attendant documentation and stability benefits that brings."

Well understood. This was my early impression, but following a read of the specification I became aware the format is stuck in legacy conventions and not ready. The ISO alternative ODF although driven by competitors would provide a far better design choice and force Microsoft to adopt, support and help develop it via the government procurement leverage for its own benefit. It seems to me that Microsoft needs to clean up the base of Office history and parallel standardisation would reduce the incentive. Add to that the unclarity regarding the patent indemnification, OSP was translated as "Versprechen" to German, the company also aggressively lobbies against public "open standards" policies and advocates for RAND solutions instead which are of course unsatisfactory, in particular when it comes to ubiquitious data exchange formats. The logical move under a good will premise would have been to create a pooled patent indemnification with SUN etc. covering both formats and under SUN's terms.

After all the ISO standardisation process is all about government procurement and it is non-beneficial to have two formats. We don't even know whether ISO OOXML will really get implemented. The "don't kill our bugs" approach to aggressively strike down pre-BRM defect reports shows that an ISO adoption was wanted "as delivered" which would cause no software modification costs.

After all it is a negotiation process and a strong position pays off. The lesson was that you cannot expect good will without exercise of the power available.

André Belgium |

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