Oh, I guess that would make me me pretty much right then…
The excellent Erc Lai at ComputerWorld is reporting that JTC1 has accepted Ecma’s responses to the recent contradiction review, and that matters are proceding to the next phase of the voting as normal. It is worthwhile reading these responses, for people interested in openness or getting the other side to the story. (The rest of the post is based on the assumption that his report is correct.)
I think I can speak a little more frankly now. I didn’t want to inflame the situation before. I think certain stakeholders quite cynically or gleefully inflamed passions and expectations unnecessarily by utterly inflating the importance and urgency of the contradiction phase. I mentioned in my blog my opinion that contradiction will mean something quite limited and specific, that consistency with previous practice is a guide to what to expect, that a 30 day review really is only intended to catch the broad problems that could be found by a quick skim not detailed technical issues, that detailed technical issues get dealt with by the six month review, that JTC1 would not take on economic or political arguments, and that the whole process is geared towards resolving issues (win-win) not win-lose. The big vote is the
FDIS national ballot
What we don’t see from these stakeholders is “Oh I guess we were quite wrong on what a contradiction is; oops.” Instead, we are starting to see a shoot-the-piano player reaction; will we now see attacks on the individual officers, on the secretariat, on the ISO procedures, blame on everything except the bad advice? I see somone lamenting “Have we no standard for standards?” but that is what the JTC Directives are. I think they will now have to whip up emotions that the process is flawed, so that their true believers won’t start thinking “oh, perhaps there are two sides to this story” or even “oh, perhaps being anti-MS and pro-ODF does not require me to be anti-ISO OpenXML”.
The thing is that the contradiction review is actually a small formality to prevent wasting time and to escalate certain problems to JTC1, not THE ONLY CHANCE TO STOP THE MONSTER! The focus of the process is first to get issues raised, ascertain that Ecma has responses that indicate the matter can move forward using the normal process, and then to get to the more detailed technical review stage.
So the Ecma spec is now at the “Draft International Standard” stage (DIS).
In five months time, as I understand it, there will be a ballot of the national bodies that are P-members of SC34 (participating members, rather than observers). In ISO procedure, there are votes for “abstain”, “yes”, “no” and “no with comments”. I expect that OpenXML will have a lot of “No with comments”, which happens sometimes. These comments give all the technical (and perhaps IPR) issues that have been found that are showstoppers, together with other misc comments.
After this ballot, we all wait two or three months. This gives everyone time to draw their breaths, gird their loins, examine each other’s positions, and prepare responses. Then there a ballot resolution meeting, at which all the issues are dealt with; the meeting may respond with a fix to the DIS, or with a comment that this is an issue for further study and enhancement, or they may to decline to fix the problem, or they may say that it is not a problem in their opinion. Then
Ecma The FDIS then gets sent around to the national bodies, and a vote is taken after 30 days. So we are talking, 1 month admin review (contradiction) + 1 month (Ecma response) + 5 months (detail review) + 2month (collection) + 2 months (resolution) + 1 month (pre-vote). A Fast Track standard with any controversy actually has about 13 months of review time before the final vote minimum! Now contrast this with the panic from the “30 days is too short” crowd. I cannot believe the instigators didn’t know better: even a fast-track procedure is lengthy, open and serious.
So does that mean that NZ, Canada, Singapore, Kenya, and so on were wrong to raise their issues? Not at all. It is good to have all the issues on the table, and opinions can legitimately differ, especially in the absense of explicit guidelines or precedent on what contradictions are. I expect that the JTC1 secretariat and the ITTF would have a very limited class of issues that would come into their perview, and that otherwise they would punt to the normal mechanism. Indeed, as was the case with Australia, it is good that they pass on the various comments earlier rather than later, so that they can be responded to.
What is important to realize is that even though JTC1 may have found that Ecma’s responses to the contradiction issues are satisfactory enough to let matters proceed, it does not mean that therefore the issues themselves go away. It is not JTC1s job to make technical decisions but procedural ones, is one way to put it. I expect that some of the issues will be re-put at the DIS ballot, some will have been answered by the Ecma response already, and there will probably be some more. The DIS ballot resolution process looks like being a long and difficult job, but it will make the claims that OpenXML had no input from an open process fairly untenable; probably ODF should have had the same amount of scrutiny.
For people interested in ISO procedure, there is a little summary of Fast Track Procedure prepared by or for Jim Mason (SC34 chairman) and Ken Holman (SC34 secretary), which I have been relying on. SC34 is the ISO/IEC JTC1 committee that looks after Document Description and Processing Languages, and you might know them from such standards as SGML, Topic Map, RELAX NG, Schematron, and from participants over the years such as Charles Goldfarb, James Clark, Murata Makoto, Sharon Adler, Anders Berglund, Patrick Durusau, Martin Bryan, Yushi Komachi, Jon Bosak, Elliot Kimber, and so on.