The deadline for the National Bodies to vote on DIS 29500 Office Open XML (fast-tracked from Ecma 376) is coming up on September 2: this is the vote that comes at the end of the 5 month review, which is 7 months since the draft was submitted, and probably not the end of the line. Here is some of the news, as a companion to my next blog item, which is about what I recommended to Standards Australia for our vote.
There are not many informed ideas of where the votes will go. The US body looks like it will vote Yes (I predicted an abstention there) as seemingly will Germany (I would have predicted a “No”). India looks to be voting “No with Comments”, which I am pretty happy about since that I commended that vote to them when I was there.(Note that that news story gets it wrong about the impact of a “No” vote—a simple”No” and “No with Comments” are utterly different beasts, as Jon Bosak has prudently pointed out. (But even a “No with Comments” may not, in effect, be a conditional yes if the comments are impossible to fulfill: obviously no National Body will put in merely vexatious comments, they don’t want to wast time, however, they will state their requirements in a clear way that allows rapid resolution of issues.)
It seems likely that there will be a Ballot Resolution Meeting: if there are not enough “Yes” votes and enough “No with Comments” (i.e. ‘conditional yes’) votes, then a meeting is scheduled to see what technical changes need to be made to satisfy enough national bodies’ requirements. A meeting has been scheduled for Feb 25-19 in Geneva, with UK’s Alex Brown appointed as convenor.
There is a last minute frenzy on the contra side: IBM’s spokeman is claiming lots of alarming shenanigans without actually giving us the benefit of any details: names of countries, parties, dates, anything tangible. Stephane Rodriguez is complaining that he has to look at the schema and documentation when editing Open XML files; his new blog is notable for the number of times it says that there is a problem with OOXML but actually refers to the some implementation issue in Office 2007
Behind the scenes, Patrick Durusau (the ISO ODF editor) has been working on a really interesting and useful project. While he is not keen that people use ISO Open XML, he is keen that the quality of ISO standards should be maintained and he sees OOXML as a way to get MS’ technical requirements on the table to help future ODF improvement (whether by cherry-picking, mix-n-match or knowing what to avoid.) I suggested to him a time ago that one approach to fixing DIS 29500 would be radical surgery: removing all the explanatory and non-normative material. At the moment it is far too tutorial. That is fine for the Ecma version, but gets in the way of an ISO-quality standard. I had also suggested that the schema fragments were otiose too, and that the 11pt body text should be 10 pt. . So Patrick has gone ahead and stripped out the fluff from the WordprocessingML chapter and with tighter formatting he was able to go from 1874 pages to 607 pages without altering the technical content!
Knowing Patrick, I expect he would not release his Open-XML-Lite because having extra drafts floating about in public just provides more fodder for the lunatic fringe, however he sent me a copy and I think it is great. It is a real proof of concept that there is indeed a workable spec lurking inside DIS 29500. I would really urge National Bodies to include comments that request or require that the non-normative material in DIS 29500 be removed. That will make maintenance, editing and use much clearer. The Ecma TC45 got it wrong here; or, at least, they went with the “friendly” view of a standard, where it is best that a large ISO standard avoids being too tutorial.
I am hoping that once the vote is over, the PR considerations of the big boys will take a back seat: with a couple of “Yes” votes from some large countries, MS has its marketing material to say that Open XML is credible; with a couple of “No” votes IBM has its marketing material to say that ODF is the way forward; and with enough good comments and a sharply-run at a Ballot Resolution Meeting, the baying mobs will lose interest; and the nerds can get down to improving the shortcomings exposed in both OOXML and ODF., If things go as the process is geared to make them go, IS 29500 OOXML and IS 26300 ODF should ultimately provide a really useful pair of technologies.