CyberTech Rambler

June 10, 2008

ISO on why we still did not have ISO OOXML published

Filed under: Uncategorized — ctrambler @ 1:19 pm

ISO release a Press Release confirming that four countries are appealing OOXML approval in ISO. That’s not news, we know it already. This Press Release simply confirm it.

What is interesting, however, is the last paragraph. We have cries that ISO haven’t published OOXML according to its rule. I was not sure what ISO rules are so I had refrained from commenting. After all, “publishing” can mean anything from circulating carbon-copied typed text to selected members (ISO own committee members, National Bodies) that can be created in days to a nicely printed and bounded book that takes months to prepare. ISO have not said it failed its own schedule. It still, in my opinion, have not. What  ISO did is to admit that it has not published the standard. It blames it on the appeal process. It says it cannot publish the standard until the appeal process is completed.

On the surface, that sounds fair enough. The standard is being appealed. If we can avoid “repealing” a standard than we should do it. The confusion created by “repealing” a standard is arguably more costly than delaying its publication. Hence, I accept that as soon as an appeal was officially lodged, ISO will not publish the standard until the appeal is resolved.

However, this explanation is flawed when it comes to explaining why we do not see any ISO OOXML publication yet. Unless ISO has the ability to look into the future, it cannot know that there will be an appeal. It can foresee it, in fact, we all foresee it. But as far as ISO machinery is concerned, it has to work as if there is no appeal until the first appeal was officially lodged to it. After all, if no appeals were lodged, then it will be sad that ISO OOXML would not be a ISO standard because of this silly error on ISO part.  ISO OOXML passage is by far the most politically charged and most controversial approval. For ISO to add unnecessary problems to this mix of volatile ingredient is unacceptable.  In short, the first appeal letter is the “stop work” order. Before that, ISO must continue working according to its own rule, i.e., publish the standard.

So, the crucial date is the day of first appeal. In this case, South African official appeal on 28 May 2008. Unfortunately for ISO, they should had published the standard at least a month ago. Therefore, ISO current explanation does not explain why it is not published for at least a month.

My believe is that there is simply too much changes in the BRM approved OOXML standard that the one month date line is unrealistic, therefore, it was not delivered. What this tell us what we already know, OOXML is not suitable for fast track.



  1. In ISO terminology, “publication” is the final step, when the standard is made available to the general public as a printed booklet (or in PDF format). And indeed, it is normal that the text is not sent to the publisher if there is an appeal.

    The current delay (where JTC1 did not followed its own directives), is to make the “endorsed text” available to the NBs. This process is well described by Rick Jelliffe in a comment on Jesper Lund Stocholm’s blog (

    “The BRM produces Editor’s instructions. The NBs vote on the basis of those instructions. The Editor makes a revised text based on those instructions and submits to ITTF. The ITTF checks the revised text that it accords with the Editor’s instructions and makes any fixes that it sees are required. ITTF then sends these back to the Editor for confirmation. The Editor then sends this back as the “endorsed text”. This is then sent to the NBs in case they have comments. If it is a complete showstopper where the resulting text is out of any reasonable discretionary interpretation of the instructions, there might be an appeal, but this is extremely unlikely that the ITTF and editor could get it so wrong that they could not justify their edit against the instruction; NB comments at this stage would probably be funnelled through to the maintenance effort.”

    Comment by Luc Bollen — June 10, 2008 @ 5:45 pm | Reply

  2. Dear Bollen

    Thanks for the clarification on what “publication” in ISO means. It is my understanding that when Rob Weir, Pamela Jones and others refers to the publication of ISO OOXML, they got the “publication” as you described in the first paragraph, not “endorsed text” or “Editor instruction”.

    Presuming this is the case, i.e., publication means having the final standard text available to public, I am sure everyone can see that one month from BRM to paper publisher is very short. It will be safe to assumed that in pre-electronic publication days, this is a practical impossibility UNLESS it is an already published standard where the publisher simply has to change the heading/cover page etc.

    The one month deadline is still extremely tight for electronic publishing. After discounting simple and trivial editorial edit from the discussion, acknowledging your point that the secretariat is unlikely to seriously diverge from Editor’s instruction, the one month does not give time for major reshuffling of the pre BRM text, which I understand had happened.

    It is therefore my speculation that the “one month” deadline for publication is inserted to ensure that the final standard (“endorsed text”, final paper/PDF publication or whatever form it is in) is not much different from the original submission. It make sense, especially since Fast Track is designed for ISO to endorse a standard created elsewhere.

    Having read your comments, I think the “endorsed text” you mentioned is more likely to be the one that is required to be produced in the one month’s deadline. I agree the current delay is on the “endorsed text”. ISO public explanation does not cover why the “endorsed text” was not produced in the original time period of one month.

    I think a waiver to the one month rule was granted, or NBs did indeed receive the “endorsed text” within a month. The latter is not likely as I can imagining Weir knocking on ANSI’s door every day to get a copy. Moreover, at least one of the appealing NB says they did not receive the text (and I am assuming they took into account postal delay, time difference etc.)

    Hence my believe is a waiver was granted. Otherwise, ISO own failure to produce the text in a month would by necessity stop OOXML from becoming ISO standard. That would be a tragic end to OOXML, one that even anti-OOXML people like me think should not happen.

    One month extension is a reasonable time frame for extension. Of course, just before the one month’s extension expires, the first appeal came in and hey presto, more time to work on the “endorsed text”. Given the way things developed, e.g., the decision to put in the world view of “dates” along side the skewed “Microsoft/Lotus date” in the pre BRM phase instead of before the text was submitted to ISO, I got a feeling that these are all “planned”.

    If I am correct, good for them. By itself, yes, it is sailing incredibly close to abnormal process but it is technically within the rules and ethically fine. ISO will have to make a decision for itself whether it is going to allow this to happen.

    To me a stronger argument to reject OOXML on appeal is not minor technical hiccup like “one month’s extension” or the highly unusual, if not abnormal, standardization process through “Fast Track”. If it is to be rejected, it must be on merit alone. Casting aside the overlap between OOXML and ODF, looking at the amount of work needed to be performed to get OOXML up to acceptable standard, OOXML is not “fast track” material. Best possible evidence is of course the structural changes between the submitted text and the description of the final text, the changes in “dates”, and a lot of inconsistency in the standard, e.g. the measurement unit problem and different representations for essentially the same thing.

    Comment by ctrambler — June 12, 2008 @ 1:05 pm | Reply

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