Where are the various documents for Open XML and ISO standardization? And what are the procedures?

by Rick Jelliffe

Some reference material and commentary for people interesting in getting to grips with the process. (This is a much revised version of the original page, which was confused. I think I have it right now, but corrections are welcome and I'll edit them back into the page,)

Open XML Material

The text of ECMA 376 can be found at

ISO Procedures

At the highest level, are the ISO/IEC Directives. These have two parts which can be downloaded from the ISO site:

  • ISO/IEC Directives, Part 1 — Procedures for the technical work (2004, 5th ed.)

  • ISO/IEC Directives, Part 2 — Rules for the structure and drafting of international standards (2004, 5th ed.)

These are the umbrella standards. ISO and IEC are two different organizations, but they share various common procedures. The branch of ISO/IEC that looks after Information Technology is called JTC1 (Joint Technical Committee 1). It has its own directives

  • ISO/IEC JTC1 Directives (2007, 5th Ed. 3rd version)

which I found at the ISO/IEC JTC1 SC34 website. This version three from March this year has a few important changes since the previous version, so it is not enough just to find the 5th edition: I have been caught up on this. Similarly, you have to be careful that the general procedures given by the ISO/IEC Directives may be implemented or supplemented in the JTC1 Directives in a different way than you might expect.

There are two procedures for fast-tracking standards. ODF used the one called PAS (Publicly Available Specification), see JTC1 Directives Section 14. Open XML is using the one called Fast-Track Processing, see JTC1 Directives section 13. (The earlier version of this wass confused on this issue.)


The main place to find information on the "PAS" Fast-Track procedure is Appendix M of the JTC1 Directives The Transposition of Publicly Available Specifications into International Standards — A Management Guide. This gives procedures for an organization to be accredited as a submitter and the various procedures to be used. Because of the recent changes, there is still a little uncertainly as to how some of the material is to be interpreted in practice: in my opinion, the JTC1 directives cannot be interpreted in any way that goes against plain reading of the ISO/IEC Directives, which are the controlling documents: when there are disputes about the particulars of the JTC1 directives, the first place to look is at what the ISO/IEC Directives have to say.

When a PAS is submitted, it gets submitted with an Explanatory Report from the submitter.

Criteria for PAS Voting

The JTC1 Directives give detailed criteria, noting that it is not a matter of pass/fail for each. Some are mandatory:

  • Organization-related criteria

    • Co-operative stance

    • Characteristics of the organization

    • Intellectual property rights

  • Document-related criteria

    • Completeness

    • Testability

    • Suitability

    • Availability

    • Consensus

and the JTC1 directives give specific questions in each case. National bodies should ask themselves whether these are the questions they are in fact asking, one would presume. Then come lots of other possible questions, including market acceptance,


Compared to PAS, there is little explicit help on how a Fast-Track draft should be evaluated.

  • Before it is submitted, a draft can be submitted informally for comments to the appropriate committee (SC34) in JTC1 that looks after Document description and processing languages. Now Ecma did in fact approach several participants in SC34 individually for informal comments, asking "What do we need to have in the spec to make it acceptable?", but not as far as I know through the formal "informal" channel spoken of here.

  • During the one month "administrative review", evident contradictions with ISO standards can be found. See my What is "Contradiction" of an ISO Standard and the followup No (showstopping) contradictions in Open XML?.

  • National Bodies then get five months to prepare their votes and comments on the Draft of the specification. It is important to note, however, that section 13.1 twice describes the draft ballot as a vote on technical issues.

  • If there was not a clear result, and yes and no votes with comments (see below for the possibility that a "no" vote must have comments) then a ballot resolution meeting is scheduled. The comments from different national bodies are sent to all bodies, who are supposed to form opinions about their acceptability in order to get the consensus at the ballot resolution meeting. After a few months study time, the meeting occurs, with no particular time schedule given. (I expect it may take two weeks, and the Convenor for the meeting is going to have to be fairly tough on time-wasting and long-windedness.)

Simple No Votes thrown away?

In the JTC1 Directives annex on PAS transposition there is an interesting note at at section M6.1.5 Ballot that says

Note to JTC 1: The ballot follows normal JTC 1 Fast Track rules in the case of an IS transposition, and normal ISP rules in the case of an ISP transposition. Negative votes by National Bodies have to be accompanied by comments giving the reasoning for the vote.

What is also interesting from the above note is the idea that negative comments have to be accompanied by comments. So simple "no" votes are actually not allowed. In fact, they must be disallowed! This aligns with ISO/IEC Directives Part 1 2.6.3 that for Enquiry Drafts, Abstentions are excluded when the votes are counted, as well as negative votes not accompanied by technical reasons. This is definitely an area where the people involved in the process need to get a good grip in which procedures apply!

I am not sure that there is any reason to expect that this does not also hold for the Fast-Track procedure. (Corrections welcome)

(Edits: Updated link to JTC1 Directives. Add paragraph on two different methods. Put PAS material in section. Remove or revise commentary on Open XML as a PAS. Added material on Fast-track. Re-order. )


Alex Brown
2007-07-14 09:15:50

I think you're right that there is no concept of "straight no" in the voting process. Fast Tracks have their own special voting rules which are described in section 9.8 of the directives. There are three options for the vote:

1. Approval of the technical content of the DIS as presented (editorial or other comments may be appended);

2. Disapproval of the DIS (or DAM) for technical reasons to be stated, with proposals for changes that would make the document acceptable (acceptance of these proposals shall be referred to the NB concerned for confirmation that the vote can be changed to approval);

3. Abstention.

The Directives also make it clear that the Ballot Resolution Meeting can reverse the situation if this vote does not meet the normal JTC 1 criteria: "if these criteria are not met initially, but are subsequently met at the conclusion of ballot resolution [meeting] ... the DIS ... is approved".

- Alex.

2007-07-17 01:08:53
As to the formal "informal" channel you are referring to I think you might se that a draft version of Office Open XML (I think version 1.3) was already submitted to JCT1/SC34 in may 2006 and a liason from JCT1 joined the Ecma TC45 at that time to help prepare for ISO standardization. So ISO involment started about 7-8 months before the standard was submitted to ISO for fasttrack standardization.