CyberTech Rambler

October 17, 2008

If ISO OOXML format is not published, then ISO fails to provide a level playing field

Filed under: Uncategorized — ctrambler @ 7:57 pm

As far as I can tell, it has not been published yet. The best you get is the leaked version from It’s a shame that you have to resort to piracy if you want to implement an ISO Standard. And isn’t it ironic that you get it from OOXML opponents? It’s understandable why people involved in the standardization committee and ISO is not happy about the leak. However, it is their inaction that forced people to be pirates. A lot of people, including me, will says this failure to publish is in violation of ISO rules, and that this lengthy delay in publication is now so serious that it alone can and should result in the standard being revoked even if ISO’s big guns does not think it is necessarty to do so for the same reason when they choose to reject this line of appeal against OOXML.

I am the first to admit that I am one of the millions who do not need to read the published standard. However, publication of the standard is important. Why? First and philosophically speak the most important point is publication of standard is the purpose of standardization at ISO. ISO is there to set standard. Setting standard means publishing them. Not publishing it means no standard. If no standard, why talk about it in the first place?

Again, philosophically speaking, no publication means ISO failing its second aim: widespread dissemination of the standard.

Technically speaking, without publication, then we cannot have any application that support it. When there is no published standard to evaluate an implementation, there is no standard compliant implementation.

However, in real life, the most important thing to note that the delay in publication has unjustly penalized others who rely on the standard publication to work on their own product that support the standard. Without publication, only those involved in the process has access to the document, and ONLY them can start working on the implementing the standard. All others have to wait. What does this means? They have a leg up against the rest of us. This is unfair. While those in the known can work on creating an implementation of ISO OOXML and blogging publicly about how ready they are to support it (“We will add support for IS 29500 as soon as the standard is made public “), others are still waiting for the standard to be made available before they can create an implementation to compete with it. Note that I am not picking on Microsoft, as the same applies to those who has the privilege of receiving a copy of the publication. This includes IBM [Rob Weir publicly admitted he received a copy of the standard. πŸ˜‰ (Sorry but I cannot find the link to his blogpost where he admitted this)]. Is this fair?? I need to commend (no, I am not being sarcastic here) Microsoft for the courtesy of not supporting ISO OOXML before its publication. However, it is unacceptable that ISO is instrumental in perpetrating this unfairness.

I know that if one work on ECMA OOXML standard then the jump to ISO OOXML is a, relatively speaking smaller step, and that most implementers would had follow this route. It is still unfair. If only for appearnce sake, ISO should been seen to try it utter best to establish a level playing field for its standard. Most importantly, the BRM proceeding/finding and decisions are not published in sufficient detail to “reconstruct” the ISO OOXML standard. There are quite a lot of changes, including non-trivial ones introduced in the ISO process (see this post from Brian Jones) that we don’t know about, such as how does ISO OOXML support ISO dates? Not in ECMA or ISO committee? You cannot get your hand on these information.

Yes I know, if you make a fuss, like Rob Weir did, they will send you a copy. But the point with standardization is you don’t need to make a fuss.

In case ISO big guns need to be educated on why it should insist on following the “one month” publication rule, I hope this blog post teaches them something.



  1. “If ISO OOXML format is not published …”

    it seems that ISO strict OOXML won’t be implemented in Office 14:

    Comment by franco — October 17, 2008 @ 10:17 pm | Reply

  2. @Rambler

    I think you are confusing internal circulation with publication. IEC/ISO standards take a while to get published (long queue, you see). IEC/ISO 26300 ODF, for example, was approved May 3rd, 2006 and publication did not occur until November 30th – 7 months later. Rumour has it 29500 will be published this December – a comparable publication lead time.

    – Alex.

    Comment by Alex Brown — October 18, 2008 @ 6:35 am | Reply

  3. @Alex

    As usual, we have to agree to disagree here. I know there are people that reads “publication” as internal ISO circulation, but that is not what I read it to be. To me, it means making a standard avaiable to the public, and I have an equally large group of people (if not larger) agreeing with me on it.

    The “leaked” rejection letter of the four countries appeal can be read as not to support “publication’ means internal circulation.

    I also do not think it is right to read publication to mean sending the whole thing to the publisher and get it printed as its own booklet. This is certainly a mean of publication, and an important one, even in this electronic age. I read publication means “available to the public”. Knowing that even today, to print something in its own booklet takes months at the minimum, and that when the “one month to publication” rule was setup, the framer definitely know that it is not possible to expect the printer to do so within that time constrain, even if one assume that there was no correction at all. If we go back to 1960 publications will be satisfied if a copy of the said standard is available for inspection by anyone interested at a predefined location (Geneva perhaps?”. But as technology permits in the 1980 certainly sending photocopies by snail mail. Today, most people will say available for purchase as an electronic copy satisfy this requirement. Early copies need not even follow the strict ISO format, and people do accept that if you get an early copies, expect minor typo mistakes and things like this.

    Does this means anyone can get the “working draft” if I write to ISO, paying the usual cost for a publication (without non-disclosure agreement) ? I cannot accept NDA because this is suppose to be a public document.

    While I take your point that lead time to publication of OOXML is the same as ODF, I disagree that ODF and OOXML case are the same here. First, ODF did not have significant modification, so if you implement OASIS version, you are in good hands. With OOXML the ISO version differs in important ways from ECMA’s version, and you are on shaky ground if you rely on ECMA’s version. With ODF, the lead time in publishing ISO ODF booklet matters less.

    Comment by ctrambler — October 19, 2008 @ 11:37 pm | Reply

  4. @franco

    I don’t think it is important to note when Microsoft can implement OOXML. The important thing to note is ISO is potentially granting it an advantage.

    However, your comment illustrate an important point, i.e., that the main proposer cannot even deliver ISO OOXML without significant delay, even when it already have an ECMA OOXML implementation. It is an indicator that ISO OOXML differs in non-trivial way from ECMA OOSML, making it even more important to publish ISO OOXML now.

    Comment by ctrambler — October 19, 2008 @ 11:43 pm | Reply

  5. @Rambler

    “Publishing” does not mean printing, it means – as you put it – making available to the public. OOXML’s publication route is the same as that for every other IEC/ISO standard – it certainly should not get special treatment just because Microsoft are somehow involved.

    – Alex.

    Comment by Alex Brown — October 20, 2008 @ 6:16 am | Reply

  6. @Alex

    You are right. No special treatment just because Microsoft (or anybody else for that matter) is involved.

    In my view, special treatment was granted. It was performed through a rather complex orchestration of bending more than one rule to breaking point. Still, It goes beyond reasonable doubt where a decision from ISO management was needed to pull the situation back to the norm and that was not done. That, to me, is special treatment. However, let bygone be bygone and concentrate on the future.

    Currently in the short term, the future “still” means publication of the standard. [Maintenance is important but it is kind of a long term plan] There are a lot of different ways this could be done. ECMA was very quick in publishing its own version of OOXML on the web, mainly in an effort to fend off criticism that the standard might not be accessible as quickly under normal ECMA rule.

    One of the justification for OOXML superfast standardization was the rush is necessary because of the fast moving nature of the IT industry. One naturally expects publication to be rushed under the same justification. However, after ISO OOXML approval, everything seems to hit the emergency break and halt to a stop. No longer is there a need to make the standard available, especially to other office application vendors that might be interested in implementing it, whether or not they support OOXML in the first place. And specifically to pick on Microsoft, the link in Franco’s comment which in effect state that we cannot see ISO OOXML in MSOffice, the one major product where quick support for ISO OOXML is expected, any time soon and perhaps not this year, where’s the rush. Some cynic can even argue that ISO is helping Microsoft by with this delay by putting obstacles in others’ implementation of ISO OOXML.

    The standard, in whatever state it is in right now, can be published as “working draft”. I know there are changes Japan wants to see the implementation it champions worked into it. But that is precisely why we labelled things as working draft, i.e., subject to changes. This working draft is important, because it tells us what is likely to had changed from ECMA to ISO. At the minimum, it means we can better prepare for it, not make programming or architectural decision that will make rework for ISO compliance difficult later.

    By now, to meet the december publication date, the final standard should be ready or almost ready for the printer. So it should be easy to publish ISO OOXML. Someone, one would say ECMA has the duty, simply has to ask for permission to post it on their website. Then, if I read ISO rules correctly, as applied in the rejection of the appeals, national bodies simply has to approve it and management will not stand in its way.

    To tell the truth, I cannot see anyone opposing it except ISO management who wants to protect their publication revenue stream. We can accommodate that. Even opponent of ISO OOXML is calling for its publication. Who knows, may be this is the way to get Rob Weir to attend at least one meeting on OOXML voluntarily.

    Comment by ctrambler — October 20, 2008 @ 11:43 am | Reply

  7. @Rambler

    I think there’s a great deal of sense in what you say about there being room for improvement in the mechanisms and timeliness of the IEC/ISO publication systems. With my commercial hat on, advising on this kind of that is what I do — maybe they should purchase some consultancy πŸ™‚

    There is however, a real concern that distributing various kinds of “nearly ready” document would lead to confusion. Just to be clear, the document that has been distributed within JTC 1 is substantively exactly the same as what will be published, and its content will not be changed. The delay, as I said, is not to do with fixing-up the document, but is purely a result of there being a queue – there are simply a lot of standards getting published and limited resources in Geneva to handle them. Any fixes to defects that the UK and Japan have pointed out will be published later as errata, when and if they lead to fixes that the NBs agree.

    As I understand it, Ecma also has the final text of OOXML ready to go, and it is but a push-button away from publication. However, their intention (again to avoid confusion) is to keep releases lock-stepped with ISO/IEC. So they are waiting.

    Now that all the NBs have had a sight of the final text, they are free to submit defects (to SC 34 / WG 4). I’m a little surprised only 12 defects have been reported so far — I didn’t think the text was so nearly perfect! πŸ˜‰

    – Alex.

    Comment by Alex Brown — October 20, 2008 @ 12:04 pm | Reply

  8. @Alex

    Thanks for the clarification. To me, the ball is now back in ECMA’s court now. It is they who should had pushed for publication ahead of the printer. “Keeping in step with ISO” is just their excuse for not pushing for it.

    I do not think JTC1 should propose that it publish the standard ahead of the printer. JTC1 has to follow ISO procedure. To request for that will be “special treatment” and should not be granted. That’s ECMA’s job. It is the one who proposed fast track and make the argument that speed is important. If it then slow downs, it take the blame.

    12 defects so far is good sign indeed.

    As with any standard, see C++ for example, one will definitely find that some clarification is needed as more people tear into the standard. [I don’t like the word “defect” although that is the terminology used in standard discussion]. I’m sure you will agree the more the text is read and refined, the more difficult it is to add clarification or fix defect. To that we rely heavily on the committee’s and your judgment and you have my thank for doing it.

    Comment by ctrambler — October 20, 2008 @ 12:20 pm | Reply

  9. […] — ctrambler @ 3:54 pm ISO finally published the ISO-OOXML standard, ahead of time since Alex Brown predicted […]

    Pingback by Finally ISO-OOXML text is here « CyberTech Rambler — November 20, 2008 @ 3:54 pm | Reply

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