SC 34 meetings, Copenhagen


Last week I attended meetings of SC 34 working groups in Copenhagen. A lot had changed since the last time we had such meetings here.


Then, the OOXML controversy was as hot and sticky as the mid-summer weather, and the conference room at Dansk Standard was amply filled by experts and standards wonks; but now, just a small group of us huddles together at the end of the conference table. The document format wars are over – the big standardization battles of the moment now are fought elsewhere: around cloud computing, for example.

Still, the feeling is that now OOXML contains no great lurking underhorror. Some big issues have been addressed, and what remains is still a highly faulty document – but the faults are many and minor, and reasonably easy to “read around”. There is however one part of the Standard, Part 3 – Media Compatibility Extensions, or “MCE” – that is undergoing a major re-write, as the current text has proved, ultimately, incomprehensible. Conceptually simple, but technically tricky, MCE is a generic technology that allows XML-based formats to be extended in ways which gives hope of forwards- and backwards-compatibility. It is a technology that Microsoft uses heavily: anybody buying a recent version of Office™ will find that the effects of using new features are persisted in the saved files as extensions, using MCE. In order to understand how this is done you will need to read Microsoft’s own implementation notes: these extensions are not covered in the OOXML Standard itself.

Within SC 34 there has been discussion about whether Microsoft’s extensions should be taken into the Standard. The consensus has been not to: the market doesn’t care so we will not care on their behalf – the world will get the Standard it deserves. Does this matter? I think it does … but that will have to be the subject of a separate post …

“ISO Zip”

The Project informally known as “ISO Zip”, and formally known as ISO/IEC 21320-1 “Document Container File — Part 1:Core” – currently a working draft – was the subject of a discussion in Working Group 1.

This Project is a tidying-up exercise. Zip has of course become well-established as a file format over the previous few decades, but has never become a formal standard. This raises a number of questions, e.g.

  • How to reference the specification from other standards?
  • How to know what intellectual property considersations apply to Zip features?
  • What subset of current Zip features is most likely to be interoperable?

The approach taken is to profile version 6.3.3 of the Appnote published by PKWARE®, Inc. – the company that takes its name from Zip’s inventor, Phil Katz, and which maintains and enhances the format. Balloting on the first draft is expected to begin soon.

EPUB 3.0

During the meeting, the news came that – as planned – Korea had submitted EPUB® 3.0 to be fast tracked within JTC 1. Rather than being fast tracked to become an International Standard, EPUB is aiming to become a slightly rarer thing, a (multi-part) Technical Specification (TS), as provided for in the ISO/IEC Directives:

“When the subject in question is still under development or where for any other reason there is the future but not immediate possibility of an agreement to publish an International Standard, the technical committee or subcommittee may decide … that the publication of a Technical Specification would be appropriate.”

The principal reason for submitting EPUB 3.0 as a candidate TS, rather than a fully-fledged Standard, is that EPUB 3.0 is built on some unfinished technology – notably HTML 5 – and so lacks the stability of reference that International Standards require. Nevertheless, this is a high-profile project – three committees are involved: from ISO, TC 46/SC 4; from IEC, TC 100/TA 10; and from JTC 1, SC 34 – playing a coordinating role. National Bodies are (or should be) ramping up efforts to comment on the text in preparation for the forthcoming ballot (with following ballot resolution meeting). Certainly in the UK there is considerable interest and comment gathering is underway.


ODF 1.2 became an OASIS standard over 16 months ago. It has still not been submitted to JTC 1 for International Standardization, a process likely to take at least a year. No hurry then. But, as I wrote above, the document format wars are over. For now anyway.

Day 2
A glass of Carlsberg “Special”
Whatever would Lars say?

Comments (2) -

  • Juha Vartiainen

    2/14/2013 8:02:51 AM | Reply

    Alex, thanks for good summary!

  • Lars Marius Garshol

    2/14/2013 8:50:25 AM | Reply

    Lovely photo, shame about the beer. Smile

    Good to see EPUB becoming a standard.