(NOTE: Since this blog, Computerworld published Ecma’s fulll Contradiction Response which includes summaries of the national bodies’ substantive comments. Here is an updated table with positions as apparent from the Ecma responses. I count 7 rather than 8 actual claims of contradictions, but many of the national bodies recommend shifting OOXML into some SC34-based review.)
Here’s the latest on the rumoured positions taken by the national standards bodies that are full participating members of ISO/IEC JTC1 (P Countries). We’ll know more over the next few weeks as material comes online. I’ve summarized things in a following table as best as I can make them out, but (apart from Australia’s comments which I have seen) I’m not too confident in my source, another website.
The responses have two aspects. First there are responses connected to the amount of time available to check for contradictions. Now this is really an ISO procedural matter, and, as I have mentioned before, in effect national bodies get much less than the 30 days to check for contradictions: really it is as little as a week. But it doesn’t matter, because the national vote comes up anyway: as I’ve said before, the contradiction period is a coarse sieve for big issues. At least seven of the thirty national bodies from P Countries have made remarks concerning the time period. I expect JTC1’s answer will be: if this is important, raise this at JTC1 committee.
So second are responses on contradiction proper. It seems that eight (update: 7) of the thirty P Countries have raised issues on contradiction. Another four have passed on issues without necessarily claiming contradiction (in some cases because their procedural comment is that they are not clear on what a contradiction entails.) This is a big number, but given the controversy it is not surprising, and getting the important issues discussed sooner rather than later is in everyone’s interest.
While some of the technical claims are silly (such as the bitmask rubbish) and can be resolved fast, there is an interesting procedural problem: traditionally, when there is some market need for different technologies or approaches to address the same goal, they just get made different parts of the same standard, which lets ISO pretend there is only one standard but actually to allow internal competition under the same number. But that approach is hardly possible for fast-tracked standards, since they come in from different organizations.
Apparantly Ecma has prepared responses, which will be sent to JTC1. Clearly they need to make the case better why OOXML is different from ODF and why there is a market requirement for it (and perhaps why ODF will not be mature fast enough to be usable: fast-track is supposed to be used when there is some aspect of timing where the market requires something fast.) Assuming OOXML survives this round, Ecma only will need to convince one or two countries not to vote “no” and try to get enough of the others to vote “yes”. (8/30 negative is the magic number for preventing a standard IIRC.) I suspect a name change for the proposed standard and some better word-smithing of the scope paragraphs would go a long way to resolve matters.
The background issue is also whether the fast track standard mechanism is fatally flawed (effecting both ODF and OOXML). In ISO terms, the SC committees create and maintain standards, so that they reach a certain technical quality; then national bodies vet the standard and make suggestions before being adopted. With fast track, SC34 has no input: the standards are created and maintained externally, and the adoption vote by national bodies may indeed skip over their SC34-equivalent local committees and be dealt with by the JTC1-equivalent local committees. In this kind of case, there easily can be inadequate technical scrutiny of the standard. I have heard of a case last week where the translator (for a national body) of a fast-tracked ISO standard (some countries adopt translated versions of ISO standards) complained about some technical issues where the names of elements in the schema did not match the names of elements in the text, which, to my mind, clearly makes the standard in question unusable in its current form.