Open XML at ISO sideshow

by Rick Jelliffe

I'm heading off to Seoul tomorrow for the ISO SC34 meeting. The Working Group I'm in (WG1) looks after ISO DSDL and office document formats. I've been embarrassing my Korean friends asking why they made James Brown their King, and whether their capital's anthem is "Get on up"; soooo childish I know.

The office document format are an very entertaining sideshow at the moment. ODF is a format derived from Sun's Star Office product and now being taken up by IBM; it is being standardized through ISO by fast tracking an OASIS specification. Open XML is a set of formats derived from Microsoft's Office 2007 (but being retrofited to old Office products); it is being proposed for standardization through ISO by fasttracking an ECMA specification. Both use ZIP files (for which there is no open standard!), support common media types, MathML and Dublin Core metadata. Both are XML languages: ODF has a RELAX NG schema, and I expect Open XML will have both XSD and RELAX NG schemas.

They are generating lots of media attention, FUD and lobbeying; but it ODF and Open XML both represent a victory for universal, ubiquitous, standard generalized markup, which is what SC 34 is in large part about. I see Gartner has estimated a less than 70% chance of ISO ratifying two XML office formats. What rubbish. I'll know more next week.

Ultimately, it is not WG1 or SC34 that makes the decision. It is the national votes of each of the voting members of ISO: the national standards organizations like Standards Australia, ANSI, and so on. While local committees may feel that Microsoft has been conspicuous in their absense, so have the other big companies in recent years: the standards participation focus shifted to W3C and OASIS. But these committees are not stacked with anti-Microsoft (or anti-Sun) people, but with organizations who need good interchange and also need an XML retrieval for legacy documents in proprietary formats (.DOC, etc.). So I find it very difficult to agree with Gartner's 70%; I'd put it the other way, with a 70% likelihood of success, at least.


M. David Peterson
2006-05-28 01:20:19
Lots of good information here Rick... It's helpful to continue forward in understanding both of these formats to have someone with your experience and position who can look at this from a non-biased, customer-centric focus. Obviously its the folks that use these formats that this matters to most, so the fact that you have derived your overall stance from this perspective helps a TON!


Rick Jelliffe
2006-05-28 07:58:05
Journalists, pundits, befuddlers and anyone interested in understanding the details of ISO procedures, the key document is the "Joint Technical Committee 1 Directives". There we learn, for example, that a PAS document being submitted does not need to conform to ISO drafting requirements, in s14.4.2 and 14.3.12

ISO Standards are structured according to the ISO/IEC Directives: Part 1 Procedures for the Technical Work gives the committee mechanics. You could learn there, for example, that "Publically Available Specifications" (specs put out in a hurry for some pressing need that are not standards) may not conflict or compete with existing standards, but that there is no requirement for standards not to compete with each other. Standards being fasttracked from other bodies have a lesser requirement, that they may not "contradict" an existing standard. Annex F is the relevant thing to read.

Part 2 Rules for the Structure and Drafting of International Standards gives the editorial requirements. For example, that you must not use the word "must".

Bob DuCharme
2006-05-29 06:11:08
I didn't realize that the man we took our kids to see Thursday night was the king of Korea ( What a band, what a suit, etc.


Rick Jelliffe
2006-05-29 16:49:45
Just the King of Seoul