Previously uncooperative multinational does the right thing: market-dominating, proprietary document format accepted as ISO standard
I am glad to see that Adobe’s PDF 1.7 has been accepted as an ISO standard, IS 32000:2008. It still needs to have a few hundred comments resolved and folded back into the final text, but the initial ballot was a success and I suppose early next year the spec will go online at ISO’s free site. It has gone through very fast, and I congratulate all concerned.
For my opinion on why an ISO standard for PDF is a good thing, see yesterday’s blog All interfaces by market dominators should be QA-ed, ZRAND standards!
There have already been smaller subsets of PDF available: PDF/A for archiving and PDF/X for exchange, both subsets of PDF 1.4. (The links are to pages that are really good examples for what governments and guidance organizations need to provide, to help people select between multiple standards.)
I am sure ISO PDF will help reduce that apoplexy that some people are being encouraged to have concerning OOXML, because it shows that there can be multiple standards (even for the same thing: three ISO standards for PDF alone, and counting!) as long as they don’t contradict (which has a very strict meaning in ISO usage: standard A cannot say X is a Z while standard B says X is a Z). And it shows that proprietary technologies can be standardized. And it shows that there is a difference in the (good) openness for getting good documentation and (coutner-productive) openness in arbitrarily changing a standard on ideological/aesthetic lines so that it no longer reflects the existing, deployed technology. And it shows that standardizations is a positive step forward for the community to manage market-dominating technologies (I mean standardization in the sense of being published as a ISO standard, which does not imply being adopted by any nation as a required format by regulation.)
They have 205 comments. It would be interested to see how this compares to the size of the spec, and compare it to OOXML. (I was pleased to see that some ISO PDF people measure the size of their document in total surface area of printed page frames rather than just raw page count: this is a little bit more sophisticated than dumb page count, but still only an unsound indicator for serious comparisons of standard size or complexity.) I couldn’t find a draft fast, but I read that in ISO format it takes fewer pages than the Adobe format: but taking th eAdobe 1.7 of 1310 pages as a roug guide, that gives an issue rate of 1 issue per 6.4 pages, compared to the OOXML rate of about 1 issue per 8 pages (assuming about 750 unique issues for OOXML). The numbers are not precise, but they are about the same! The only difference is that the OOXML changes tend to be broader (conformance, organization) and more disruptive (since people expect XML to be readable in the most general sense, while they don’t expect this of PDF.)
One of the most interesting documents about how Adobe/AIIM created the draft ahead of standarization is here. It is strikingly similar to how the OOXML draft was created, but note that among the national body complaints about OOXML include several concerning the use of “shall” and “should” (I raised this issue with my national body, and it was included in the Australian comments.) Conformance language is important: a standard is not really a document that is a specification suitable for a programmer to implement directly, but it is something that may be used in contracts (or called up by regulations) so it needs to be clear about what it requires and what it doesn’t require (clarity is more essential than completeness, if you know what I mean.)
The 205 ballot comments and their resolutions will not be publicly available, I expect, according to the usual ISO requirements. The mechanism for participation in standards development is to seriously join in, not criticize from armchairs: openness does not mean a free-for-all. People who suggest that somehow we can have Slashdotters directing standards are not realistic.
It will be interesting to see which other market dominators sniff the wind. Standardization through ISO of market-dominating technologies is good for everyone. The technology is already entrenched, so it does not entrench things further, but it provides a better basis for substitution (good for user choice and competitors) and interoperability (good for user choice and the dominator company and peripheral developers): everyone wins. They need to do this voluntarily before regulators use closed standards as evidence in anti-trust procedings.
I don’t see the people complaining on OOXML about proprietary technologies being standardized, the ISO fast-tracking procedure, the use of vendor consortia to largely rubber-stamp a pre-existing text, the kinds of error-rates, and the presence of actual users, vendors and stakeholders’ representatives on committees, complaining about ISO PDF. But all the things are present there. What is the difference? (Flamers: don’t sidestep by mentioning other supposed flaws in DIS 29500, that is not what I was asking, thanks.)