There is some inaccurate information swirling around on the web about the maintenance of ISO/IEC 26300:2006 – Open Document Format for Office Applications (OpenDocument) v1.0.
For those following the story of document format standardisation, this blog entry sets out the current situation ahead of the upcoming JTC 1 plenary in Nara, Japan, where this very topic is likely to be discussed and, one hopes, get debugged.
The diagram above illustrates the current and planned major variants of the ODF standard.
The topmost is the OASIS standard 1.0, published by OASIS afters its approval in May 2005.
This OASIS standard was submitted by OASIS to JTC 1 for PAS transposition in October 2005. It passed its ballot with no dissent in May 2006, although a number of countries requested substantive fixes and improvements.
Because there had been no negative votes (only approves and abstention) in the ballot, the ballot resolution meeting (BRM) for the new standard was cancelled. (The UK objected to this decision at the May 2006 SC 34 plenary meeting in Seoul.)
Based on the comments from NBs, some substantive fixes and improvements were duly made to ODF, and ITTF incorporated these into the text of ISO/IEC 26300:2006, published in November 2006.
An equivalent text, an OASIS Committee Specification (not a standard, N.B.) called “OpenDocument v1.0 (Second Edition)”, had been published by OASIS in July 2006.
OASIS subsequently authored and published a new OASIS standard, ODF 1.1. This was published three months after ISO 26300:2006, i.e. in February 2007. OASIS did not seek cooperation in this from any part of ISO/IEC, nor did them submit the revised specification to JTC 1.
OASIS then began work on ODF 1.2, again without any ISO/IEC involvement.
In July 2008 the co-chair of the OASIS ODF TC announced in a blog entry: “[n]o one supports ODF 1.0 today. All of the major vendors have moved on to ODF 1.1, and will be moving on to ODF 1.2 soon.”
Throughout 2007 Japan, who were translating ISO/IEC 26300 into Japanese, fed reports of defects to OASIS via an OASIS mailing list. A formal set of Defect Reports was submitted by the Japanese National Body in December 2007 and circulated to SC 34 members and liaisons (including OASIS). The JTC 1 Directives state that the Project Editor must respond to a Defect Report for a JTC 1 standard within two months. SC 34 received no response until August 2008, when it was informed by the OASIS ODF TC that a register of errata in the OASIS standard had been published.
OASIS have produced errata document which apply corrections for some of the defects that have been reported. Note however that OASIS cannot amend the text which is the basis of ISO/IEC 26300, as this text has only the status of “Committee Specification” within OASIS. Hence they propose amending the defective OASIS 1.0 (“1st Ed”) Standard, creating a new fork of the ODF specification. SC 34 are expected to cross-apply these fixes to their corresponding locations within ISO/IEC 26300.
It is unclear whether the reported defects which also apply to ODF 1.1 are to be applied in any way.
Communications from OASIS make it clear that OASIS believes it has entered into an agreement with JTC 1 which allows it to maintain ISO/IEC 26300 in a way which exempts it from the maintenance provisions of the JTC 1 Directives.
OASIS’s continually restated stated intention in its communications with JTC 1 is to prevent divergence of ODF versions. This goal has clearly not been realised, with a proliferation of versions of ODF inside OASIS and pronounced marketplace confusion.
For example, it should be of concern to JTC 1 members that the OpenOffice.org product is promoted as supporting “features of the upcoming version 1.2 of the ISO standard OpenDocument Format (ODF)”.
OASIS’s continually restated intention in its communications with JTC 1 is to maintain a collaborative relationship. However there has not always been evidence of collaboration. Input from the ISO/IEC members has not been sought. Where input has been provided, it has sometimes been met with delay and dismissiveness.
The agreement that JTC 1 has reached with OASIS appears to be being operated in a way which breaches the JTC 1 Directives. The relevant portions of the Directives are given below (all emphasis mine):
Maintenance for a transposed PAS is also negotiated in the Explanatory Report. JTC 1's intention for maintenance is to avoid any divergence between the current JTC 1 revision of a transposed PAS and the current revision of the original specification published by the PAS submitter. Therefore, the Explanatory Report should contain a description of how the submitting organisation will work cooperatively with JTC 1 on maintenance of the standard. While JTC 1 is responsible for maintenance of the standard, this does not mean that JTC 1 itself must perform the maintenance function. JTC 1 may negotiate with the submitter the option of maintenance handled by the submitter as long as there is provision for participation of JTC 1 experts, i.e. the submitter's group responsible for maintenance is designated as the JTC 1 maintenance group. (Directives, 14.4.2)
For the maintenance of an International Standard of whatever origin normal JTC 1 rules apply. Such rules distinguish between correction of defects and revisions of or amendments to existing Standards. Note: The JTC 1 rules for maintenance are found in clause 15 of the JTC 1 Directives. For the correction of defects, JTC 1 provides for the installation of an editing group. Active participation of the submitter in such an editing group is expected and strongly encouraged. Depending on the degree of openness of the PAS submitter, JTC 1 will determine its specific approach. (Directives, M6.1.5)
Therefore it is clear that while maintenance may (in the lax wording of the Directives) be “handled” by the submitter, it is not possible for the submitter to exempt themselves from normal JTC 1 rules, as “for the maintenance of an International Standard of whatever origin normal JTC 1 rules apply”. From this it follows that a submitter’s “handling” of maintenance is limited, and that the decision-making procedures and time periods specified by the JTC 1 Directives must apply.
Obviously this is all an enormous mess and while it is tempting to blame lawyerly over-cleverness on the part of OASIS, or insufficient alertness on the part of JTC 1, in negotiating their so-called maintenance agreement, the true culprit is, in my view, the JTC 1 Directives – such an impenetrable document has, evidently, led to a completely different understanding of the situation from the several parties involved. This procedural mishap is, I argue, further evidence of the need to scrap and re-write the JTC 1 Directives as a short, clear and professionally drafted document. Already this year we have seen that when tough questions get asked, the Directives are not fit for purpose; we are seeing the same thing again now.
The immediate problem faced is, however, the future of ODF in JTC 1. This is not a matter for SC 34, or for the ODF TC (both of which groups are full of excellent technical experts wanting nothing more that to produce good standards) – this is something that must be resolved at a higher level between JTC 1 and OASIS. In the usual way of things, the developers are being hampered by the management.
The essence of the problem is that a central principle is being missed now: that only a standard that has a truly international dimension to its control should benefit from the ISO, IEC or JTC 1 “brand”. Some immediate remedies might include some mix of the following:
- Since there seems to be general agreement that ISO/IEC 26300 is an obsolete version of ODF, perhaps it should be withdrawn as an IS – maybe in parallel with a PAS submission of ODF 1.1. That would at least give the world an IS that was widely used and a veil could be drawn over the 1.0 standardisation mess.
SC 34 has already stated it is open to suggestions how future maintenance should be arranged in a genuinely collaborative manner. Patrick Durusau (the ODF editor) has drafted a proposed agreement in that spirit. Also, OASIS might well have a thing or two to learn by looking at how Ecma has managed to enter into a collaborative arrangement for the maintenance of ISO/IEC 29500 within JTC 1.
The immediate defects in ISO/IEC 26300:2006 could be resolved by the formation of an editing group in SC 34. Indeed OASIS itself seemed to expect this in the explanatory report which accompanied their initial PAS submission which stated: “OASIS requests that any corrections of defects or errata from the JTC1 process be re-presented to the OASIS Technical Committee.” Per the Directives, OASIS TC members should be encouraged to participate in any such group.
Ultimately, it is for the nations participating in JTC 1 to decide how this matter can be resolved. The current situation sells-out the nations by allowing their brand (“international”) to be perpetuated in a process from which they are effectively excluded. This is “standardisation by corporation” through the back door. Whatever is decided, this must not go on.