CyberTech Rambler

April 17, 2007

National Bodies Comments Are Not That Bad

Filed under: Uncategorized — ctrambler @ 8:21 am

First disclaimer, I do not know how ISO works, so if Bob Sutor says there is a lot of work to do, I tend to believe him. If Brian Jones says no as well, then I take the actual amount of work is what Sutor says and times 0.65 to 0.75. That’s my bias. I must as well admit it out front.

In reply to my previous post, Mr Jones says he will blog about National Bodies comments when it become available, so lets wait and see what he is going to say.

So, the slow wheel of ISO finally released the National Bodies comments, as they say the will do. My opinion is that the negative comments are not that bad. There are several big hills to climb, but the majority are surmountable.

One of the big hill is to justify the need for OOXML. Here, unfortunately for OOXML, as the second document format proposal to ISO, it needs  to justify itself against ODF. It is clear that a lot of National Bodies do not believe they are serving different purposes, and think that there are significant overlap. This depends heavily on the pursuasive power ECMA and OOXML proposer can muster. I will not put it past them to make their case.

Second, is the claim raised by several countries about the Patent issue. I do not really understand the issue here and the comments are too tesnse and short for me to make up my mind.

The third is perhaps a mountain. It is about missing specification on Windows Meta File. Singapore note that it is a proprietary format and claims it is hardwired into Windows OS. This point is important because it form part of the Patent problem discuss above and being proprietary and hardwired into Windows, can probably derail the whole process. However, it might be reworded as independent extension to the standard. Difficult and fraud with problems, but can be done. At the other extreme, the solution is to document Windows Meta File, but this will be difficult and definitely needs more that 5 months to do it properly.
A few countries pick up on the fact that there are undefined tags such as “footnoteLayoutLikeWW8”. In its reply, ECMA says complaining about this is like complaining that ODF have “office:config” elements. Unfortunately, this gloss over the fact that “office:config” elements are optional in ODF, exists in a different file and is normally used for different purpose. There is some arguments to be made here but it is not a big hill.

A lot of complain about the size of document and that a month period to review is too short. Norway is amused that despite the large size, Annex D is missing! We are now in the 5 month ballot process, so the size is less of a problem. Obviously ISO did not think so when it approve it for this stage.
Problems like inconsistency in using percentage are trivial to fix. Sometimes, it is trivial things like this that makes me think big gun members like British Library/Barclays Capital are sleeping on the job. I can understand that they came into the committee for different purpose than scrutinizing the actual XML syntax, but missing these are like failing to recite ABC.

Another easy to fix is Country Code, “Year 1900 is leap year” and color code. For the first and last, the simplest compromise is to adopt ISO  code alongside existing code. The same approach can be done for the second problem, using something like @date2() to represent “Year 1900 is leap year”  and @date() for “Year 1900 is not leap year” notation. It must be said, however, the more appropriate solution is for OOXML to adopt existing ISO standard. As for Microsoft, it’s simply means a bit of conversion of OOXML to whatever in memory representation of the document they do, rather than a one-to-one as it is currently. I cannot speak for Microsoft, but at least the percentage problem discuss previously, and the first and third are trivial changes, worth making to smooth the passage of OOXML through ISO.

Arguments like CGM should be used instead of Windows Meta File are and there are equivalents to OODrawingML such as SVG, in my opinion, moot. A standard is what its designer choose it to be. You do not like it and feel that it is important, then the only thing you can do is to vote against it.

Overall, surprisingly, the best prepared comment is from Kenya who seems to take the time to express virtually all the comments expressed by others, and compile it in such a way that is easily understood. Pity the failure somewhere in the PDF generation process where we did not have the figures.

Two interest comments are from Malaysia and UK. For Malaysia, it would not be interesting if not for the its national body (SIRIM) decision to sanction its working commitee on this subject. While it is not unlike IEEE sanctioning its “Son of WiFi” committee, it is regrettable that the director of SIRIM refusal to comment further rather than saying that there are serious infighting. In both cases, IEEE and SIRIM has to demonstrate that as the manager of those processes, they must demonstrate that they are “whiter than white” and impartial. Both IEEE and SIRIM claims that the committees are too biased. In the case of IEEE, IEEE went into specifics by saying that rival proposals are not rejected out of hand. In the case of SIRIM, the director did not give example of how ODF opponent’s view were suppressed. He simply give a broad statement that they are. Both IEEE and SIRIM sanction the committee but do it differently. IEEE replace the chairperson but leave the committee more-or-less intact, which is better than SIRIM’s decision to replace the whole committee. By removing the chairperson only, IEEE send a strong signal that everyone involved must work collaboratively as required by the charter of the committee and did not seek to unduly influence the composition of the committee to influence the outcome, but SIRIM’s decision to replace the whole committee open itself up to charges of unduly influencing the composition of the committee to influence the outcome and looks heavy handed. No doubt the new SIRIM committee will bear some resemblance to the old, but why not just insist of replacement of the troublemakers?  Before we read too much into it, SIRIM is unhappy about ODF adoption process in Malaysia. It is related to, but not the same as its comment on OOXML. I was hoping that SIRIM’s comment here will shade some light.Unfortunately it did not. Its comment is one of the better argued comments of the lot.

UK is interesting because Microsoft started an online petition. Interesting because it is the only country such a petition exists. It could mean Microsoft feels that it needs to get UK on its side and is not getting it. UK’s entry stand out because like classic good work from UK government and statutory body, they based all their comments by citing all the authorities they rely on to make the comments and where appropriate, list out what their standard are when judging the proposal. It also show their mastery of the language by providing the best organized document. Furthermore, they call a cat a cat and do not mince their words. For example, they says what others did not or dare not say, that it is their opinion that “N8455 [OOXML] cannot be fully understood or implemented by a typical computer programmer  without substantial technical assistance from Microsoft”

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