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Fast Track versus PAS

Years ago I read an interesting article about the encyclopedia entry for the keyword “Longitude”. According to the article, the entry merely said “See Latitude”. With that short, two-word sentence the encyclopedia author conflated these two concepts as mere orthogonal dimensions, lumped together, each as boring as the other. This ignored the fact that latitude is boring, easy, trivial, known to the ancients and as easy to calculate as measuring the altitude of Polaris. But longitude, there lies an epic adventure, something fiendishly difficult to calculate accurately, something that propelled a great seafaring nation to a search for accurate timepieces that would work at sea, just in order to more accurately calculate longitude. Books have been written about longitude, lives lost, fortunes made. But latitude — latitude is for children.

So when I hear people lump Fast Track and PAS process in JTC1 together, I roll my eyes and think… If only they knew how different they really are.

Let’s give it a try, starting with PAS.

PAS stands for “Publicly Available Specification” and the PAS process in JTC1 allows an existing standard from outside of JTC1 to be submitted, reviewed and approved in an accelerated review cycle. An organization that wishes to make a PAS submission (typically a standards consortium) must first seek recognition as a PAS Submitter. This requires that they submit to JTC1 for approval a list of standards they wish to submit, as well as documentation that explains their organizational qualifications. The long list of organizational acceptance criteria are outlined in JTC1 Directives, Annex M:

M7.3 Organisation Acceptance Criteria

M7.3.1 Co-operative Stance (M)

There should be evidence of a co-operative attitude toward open dialogue, and a stated objective of pursuing standardisation in the JTC 1 arena. The JTC 1 community will reciprocate in similar ways, and in addition, will recognise the organisation’s contribution to international standards.

It is JTC 1’s intention to avoid any divergence between the JTC 1 revision of a transposed PAS and a version published by the originator. Therefore, JTC 1 invites the submitter to work closely with JTC 1 in revising or amending a transposed PAS.

There should be acceptable proposals covering the following categories and topics.

M. Commitment to Working Agreement(s)

  1. What working agreements have been provided, how comprehensive are they?
  2. How manageable are the proposed working agreements (e.g. understandable, simple, direct, devoid of legalistic language except where necessary)?
  3. What is the attitude toward creating and using working agreements?

M. Ongoing Maintenance

  1. What is the willingness and resource availability to conduct ongoing maintenance, interpretation, and 5 year revision cycles following JTC 1 approval (see also M6.1.5)?
  2. What level of willingness and resources are available to facilitate specification progression during the transposition process (e.g. technical clarification and normal document editing)?

M. Changes during transposition

  1. What are the expectations of the proposer toward technical and editorial changes to the specification during the transposition process?
  2. How flexible is the proposing organisation toward using only portions of the proposed specification or adding supplemental material to it?

M. Future Plans

  1. What are the intentions of the proposing organisation toward future additions, extensions, deletions or modifications to the specification? Under what conditions? When? Rationale?
  2. What willingness exists to work with JTC 1 on future versions in order to avoid divergence? Note that the answer to this question is particularly relevant in cases where doubts may exist about the openness of the submitter organisation.
  3. What is the scope of the organisation activities relative to specifications similar to but beyond that being proposed?

M7.3.2 Characteristics of the Organisation (M)

The PAS should have originated in a stable body that uses reasonable processes for achieving broad consensus among many parties. The PAS owner should demonstrate the openness and non-discrimination of the process which is used to establish consensus, and it should declare any ongoing commercial interest in the specification either as an organisation in its own right or by supporting organisations such as revenue from sales or royalties.

M. Process and Consensus:

  1. What processes and procedures are used to achieve consensus, by small groups and by the organisation in its entirety?
  2. How easy or difficult is it for interested parties, e.g. business entities, individuals, or government representatives to participate?
  3. What criteria are used to determine “voting” rights in the process of achieving consensus?

M. Credibility and Longevity:

  1. What is the extent of and support from (technical commitment) active members of the organisation? b) How well is the organisation recognised by the interested/affected industry?
  2. How long has the organisation been functional (beyond the initial establishment period) and what are the future expectations for continued existence?
  3. What sort of legal business entity is the organisation operating under?

M7.3.3 Intellectual Property Rights: (M)

The organisation is requested to make known its position on the items listed below. In particular, there shall be a written statement of willingness of the organisation and its members, if applicable, to comply with the ISO/IEC patent policy in reference to the PAS under consideration.

Note: Each JTC 1 National Body should investigate and report the legal implications of this section.

M. Patents:

  1. How willing are the organisation and its members to meet the ISO/IEC policy on these matters?
  2. What patent rights, covering any item of the proposal, is the PAS owner aware of?

M. Copyrights:

  1. What copyrights have been granted relevant to the subject specification(s)?
  2. What copyrights, including those on implementable code in the specification, is the PAS originator willing to grant?
  3. What conditions, if any, apply (e.g. copyright statements, electronic labels, logos)?

M. Distribution Rights:

  1. What distribution rights exist and what are the terms of use?
  2. What degree of flexibility exists relative to modifying distribution rights; before the transposition process is complete, after transposition completion?
  3. Is dual/multiple publication and/or distribution envisaged, and if so, by whom?

M. Trademark Rights:

  1. What trademarks apply to the subject specification?
  2. What are the conditions for use and are they to be transferred to ISO/IEC in part or in their entirety?

M. Original Contributions:

  1. What original contributions (outside the above IPR categories) (e.g. documents, plans, research papers, tests, proposals) need consideration in terms of ownership and recognition?
  2. What financial considerations are there?
  3. What legal considerations are there?

Once this documentation is provided, a three-month JTC1 ballot is held on the question of whether to approved the applicant as a Recognized PAS Submitter. If approved, this status last for 2 years, but may be renewed by reapplying with updated organizational documentation. Renewals must also be approved by a 3-month letter ballot.

Once an organization has Recognized PAS Submitter status, it may now propose a PAS submission. Such a submission must be within scope of the Submitter’s original application, and must be accompanied by an Explanatory Report that speaks to JTC1’s strategic interests in Interoperability, Cultural and Linguistic Adaptability, as well as the following document-related acceptance criteria:

M7.4 Document Related Criteria

M7.4.1 Quality

Within its scope the specification shall completely describe the functionality (in terms of interfaces, protocols, formats, etc) necessary for an implementation of the PAS. If it is based on a product, it shall include all the functionality necessary to achieve the stated level of compatibility or interoperability in a product independent manner.

M. Completeness (M):

  1. How well are all interfaces specified?
  2. How easily can implementation take place without need of additional descriptions?
  3. What proof exists for successful implementations (e.g. availability of test results for media standards)?

M. Clarity:

  1. What means are used to provide definitive descriptions beyond straight text?
  2. What tables, figures, and reference materials are used to remove ambiguity?
  3. What contextual material is provided to educate the reader?

M. Testability (M)

The extent, use and availability of conformance/interoperability tests or means of implementation verification (e.g. availability of reference material for magnetic media) shall be described, as well as the provisions the specification has for testability.

The specification shall have had sufficient review over an extended time period to characterise it as being stable.

M. Stability (M):

  1. How long has the specification existed, unchanged, since some form of verification (e.g. prototype testing, paper analysis, full interoperability tests) has been achieved?
  2. To what extent and for how long have products been implemented using the specification?
  3. What mechanisms are in place to track versions, fixes, and addenda?

M. Availability (M):

  1. Where is the specification available (e.g. one source, multinational locations, what types of distributors)?
  2. How long has the specification been available?
  3. Has the distribution been widespread or restricted? (describe situation)
  4. What are the costs associated with specification availability?

M7.4.2 Consensus (M)

The accompanying report shall describe the extent of (inter)national consensus that the document has already achieved.

M. Development Consensus:

  1. Describe the process by which the specification was developed.
  2. Describe the process by which the specification was approved.
  3. What “levels” of approval have been obtained?

M. Response to User Requirements:

  1. How and when were user requirements considered and utilised?
  2. To what extent have users demonstrated satisfaction?

M. Market Acceptance:

  1. How widespread is the market acceptance today? Anticipated?
  2. What evidence is there of market acceptance in the literature?

M. Credibility:

  1. What is the extent and use of conformance tests or means of implementation verification?
  2. What provisions does the specification have for testability?

M7.4.3 Alignment

The specification should be aligned with existing JTC 1 standards or ongoing work and thus complement existing standards, architectures and style guides. Any conflicts with existing standards, architectures and style guides should be made clear and justified.

M. Relationship to Existing Standards:

  1. What international standards are closely related to the specification and how?
  2. To what international standards is the proposed specification a natural extension?
  3. How is the specification related to emerging and ongoing JTC 1 projects?

M. Adaptability and Migration:

  1. What adaptations (migrations) of either the specification or international standards would improve the relationship between the specification and international standards?
  2. How much flexibility do the proponents of the specification have?
  3. What are the longer-range plans for new/evolving specifications?

M. Substitution and Replacement:

  1. What needs exist, if any, to replace an existing international standard? Rationale?
  2. What is the need and feasibility of using only a portion of the specification as an international standard?
  3. What portions, if any, of the specification do not belong in an international standard (e.g. too implementation specific)?

M. Document Format and Style

  1. What plans, if any, exist to conform to JTC 1 document styles?

The Explanatory Report also sets the maintenance regime for the submission, if approved

The proposed standard, along with the Explanatory Report is then distributed to JTC1 NB’s for a 6-month ballot. Approval criteria is 2/3 approval of voting P-members, and no more than 25% disapproval in total. At the end of the ballot a Ballot Resolution Meeting may be held if needed.

So, that is PAS process, in brief. PAS process is how ODF was approved back in 2006, with OASIS as the Recognized PAS Submitter.

Fast Track process, is almost the same from the time the ballot is issued. The six-month period is split into a 30-day “contradiction period” and a 5-month ballot. (That is an odd difference, with no clear reason). But the voting criteria, the BRM process, etc., this is all the same between the two. What is different (and there are critical differences) is everything that happens before the ballot.

Who can submit a Fast Track? Any JTC1 P-member, or any Class A Liaison can propose a Fast Track.

We all know about P-members. They are NB’s, typically the highest standardization committee in any country. A P-member used to also mean that you had a broad interest in many or most JTC1 matters. But now it may mean merely that Microsoft asked you to join as a P-member.

Class A Liaison are “Organisations which make an effective contribution to and participate actively in the work of JTC 1 or its SCs for most of the questions dealt with by the committee”. Any organization can apply to be a Class A Liaison and be voted in via a letter ballot or at a meeting. There are no formal organization qualifications, no requirement to state an interest in eventually making Fast Tracks, or to answer any of the types of questions that PAS Submitters must answer.

Further, once approved as a Class A Liaison, the status lasts forever. There is no requirement to renew or reapply. In fact JTC1 Directives even lack a documented procedure for removing a Class A Liaison.

So what about the proposals for Fast Track submission. What is required of them? No Explanatory Report is required. No checklist of document-related criteria must be answered. JTC1 Directives say merely “The criteria for proposing an existing standard for the fast-track procedure is a matter for each proposer to decide.” That’s it. It is at the sole discretion of the Class A Liaison.

So you can see what great power Ecma has over JTC1 — they can submit any standard they want for Fast Track, and no one in JTC1 can stop them, or even remove their right to submit more Fast Tracks.

This may explain why Ecma is able to command such high membership fees. A full voting membership in OASIS, which would allow a company to help produce an OASIS Standard for later submission to JTC1 under the arduous PAS process, this costs $1,100 for a small company. To join the US NB and be able to lobby for a Fast Track submission from the US, this will cost you $9,500. But to join Ecma as a voting member (what they call an “Ordinary Member”) this will cost you 70,000 Swiss Francs, or $64,000. That is what no-questions-asked Fast Track service is worth. I think that, from Microsoft’s perspective, the extra $62,900 is money well spent. But what about from JTC1’s perspective? They don’t get this extra money. So what’s their excuse for having these permissive Fast Track procedures that give Ecma so much control?

In any case, that is why I roll my eyes when people lump PAS and Fast Track together, and say that they are essentially the same process. They clearly aren’t. PAS Submitters like OASIS are given intense scrutiny, and are required to document in great detail how their organization and their proposals meet JTC1 criteria. The scrutiny never ends, as a new Explanatory Report is required for every submission, and their status as Recognized PAS Submitter only lasts for a few years before requiring re-approval.

Fast Track submitters, as Class A Liaisons, on the other hand, are the monarchs of JTC1. They serve for life and are answerable to no one. They can submit a Fast Track on any subject they want, at any time. So a standards consortium like Ecma, with primary expertise in optical disk standards, but never having produced an XML standard before, can rubber stamp the world’s largest XML standard and submit it for Fast Track processing to JTC1. And no one can do a thing about it.

{ 14 comments… add one }
  • Yagotta B. 2008/02/17, 10:48 am

    Why bother with ECMA?
    Keep in mind that any of the new P-members have the same ability to walk in on the fast track, and unlike ECMA they don’t even have to pretend to go through a draft process.
    Much, much less expensive. Just have someone on one of the new P-member groups call a meeting, vote to submit a draft presented at the meeting to JTC1, and BAM! We’re on the fast track.

  • Rob 2008/02/17, 11:20 am

    This is true, that any NB has the same Fast Track rights as a Class A Liaison. But again, look at the price differential between Ecma membership and joining, say, the US NB. It is clear that Ecma’s expertise in no-questions-asked Fast Track service, their back channel contacts in Geneva, their lobbying expertise, etc., can command a higher price. Heck, Ecma practically wrote the existing Fast Track procedures in JTC1 Directives. So although the NB of Fiji may have the same rights as Ecma for submitting Fast Tracks, it would not be nearly as effective.

  • Jesper Lund Stocholm 2008/02/17, 12:16 pm

    Hi Rob,

    Thanks for the clarification of the differences between PAS and FT. As you I really don’t get the reason for talking about them as if they were the same … they are, as you point out, quite different.

    (even though “PAS-track” and Fast-track sound “remarkably similar”)


    Do you know if the documens submitted by OASIS to become PAS submitter and the document to add ODF v1.0 in the PAS-track are available?

    And finally: I am looking forward to meeting you in Geneva in about a week’s time.

  • Rob 2008/02/17, 1:47 pm

    Hi Jesper,

    Where can I find Ecma’s original application for Class A Liaison status? I assume this document, as well as OASIS’s PAS applications are in the non-public JTC1 repository, and that SC34 weenies like us don’t have access to them.

  • Jesper Lund Stocholm 2008/02/17, 4:20 pm

    Hi Rob,

    Well – I don’t know where to find the ECMA-application for liaison A. I must admit that I don’t even know when ECMA got the Liaison A status. I agree with you that is would be interesting to see as well. As far as I remember “The Xml Guild” applied to become Liaison A to JTC1 in late Summer 2007, and they basically just asked for it. The ISO/IEC document is N0854. I also found the OASIS PAS Submitter status request – or traces of it – in N0941.

    I will see if I can find the ODF submission request for you.

    Don’t you have access to the JTC1/ISO/IEC documents through NCITS V1?

    I hope I’ll get at chance to meet you in Geneva.


  • Rob 2008/02/17, 4:35 pm

    The XML Guild asked for liaison status to SC34. You don’t get Fast Track rights with SC34 liaison. You need a Class A Liaison status with the parent committee, JTC1, for Fast Track rights.

    There exist today only three Class A Liaisons with JTC1: The European Commission, the ITU and Ecma.

    Ecma is the submitter of 80% of all Fast Tracks processed by JTC1. The other liaisons and NB’s use this process only rarely.

  • franco merletti 2008/02/17, 6:32 pm

    As well as ECMA’s expensive fees that implies big salaries for ECMA officials, ECMA secretaries contracts probably include a future job position in Microsoft.

    This happened with Jan Van den Beld, retired General Secretary of ECMA, who now works for Microsoft, going to ISO National Bodies around the world lobbing for OOXML and bloging about the wonderful OOXML format


    Nice partnership: standards organizations and big corporations; big bucks for everyone!

    Microsoft: What standard do you want to fast-track today? ™

    Franco Merletti

  • Jesper Lund Stocholm 2008/02/18, 2:27 am
  • Rob 2008/02/18, 8:13 am

    Jesper, OASIS currently has a liaison to SC34, and SC34 has a liaison to the OASIS ODF TC. But again, these are SC-level liaisons and they carry no ability to submit Fast Tracks.

    The document you refer to was from an OASIS request for Class A Liaison to SC34 from October 2001. It was approved.

  • Anonymous 2008/02/18, 12:04 pm

    With the recent death of HD-DVD as a standard, it might be a good time to revisit why we don’t need a “choice” in standards, and the market tries to kill any duplicate standards.

    Which is, of course, why Microsoft is using OOXML :)

  • funnybroad 2008/02/18, 4:33 pm


    RE: M. Stability (M and M. Credibility:

    Do they take into consideration Microsoft’s record of successes and failures utilizing their own new file format with their own software products (especially Office 2007 + previous versions with Compatibility Pack)?

    RE: M. Response to User Requirements:

    What is the definition of “user” in this case? Is a “user” another company writing software to work with the new format, or is a “user” the actual end-user of any software designed to work with the new format?

    RE: M. Market Acceptance

    How is “market acceptance” measured? By only counting the numbers of files that exist in the new format? Do they also consider the reasons behind the numbers? For example, a large number of OOXML files may exist in the new format, but it does not necessarily indicate that the creator of those files made a conscious choice between ODF and OOXML. In most cases, the creators were forced to create files in OOXML, because the software they were using (Office 2007) could only maintain full featured editability with OOXML (i.e. something would break if they saved the file to ODF or any other format)

  • Rob 2008/02/18, 4:51 pm


    Consider the dates. OOXML was submitted to JTC1/SC34 for Fast Track processing on December 21st, 2006.

    Consumer availability of Office 2007 did not come until January 30th, 2007.

    So, it is hard to measure things like “market acceptance” when the proposal was submitted before there was even a single commercial implementation.

    In any case, Microsoft/Ecma did not need to answer these questions, since they used the no-questions-asked Fast Track process.

    Btw, you have some nice material in your Dear Microsoft Office Team, Please fix this blog.

  • Fredrik E. Nilsen 2008/02/18, 5:00 pm

    funnybroad wrote:

    “In most cases, the creators were forced to create files in OOXML, because the software they were using (Office 2007) could only maintain full featured editability with OOXML (i.e. something would break if they saved the file to ODF or any other format)”

    Not at all. In most cases Office 2007 users save their files in the old binary formats to make sure they can be opened by other users with older versions of Office.
    Most people are not aware of the OOXML-plugin for Office 2000-2003.

  • Anonymous 2008/02/21, 1:36 am

    “In most cases, the creators were forced to create files in OOXML, because the software they were using (Office 2007) could only maintain full featured editability with OOXML (i.e. something would break if they saved the file to ODF or any other format)”

    An alternate possibility is that any user that attempts to save in any format except MSOOXML gets an warning message that features or formatting will be lost if they continue to save in anything but the MS-desired format, so they ‘choose’ to save in whichever format does not give them the scary error/warning message.

    I routinely save documents in older doc formats because I realize that there is nothing in a typical document that is not perfectly saved in the binary formats despite constantly receiving the MS “you will lose data/formats/features if you continue” pop-up dialog boxes.

    It became clear to me a long time ago that that dialog box is prompted by an attempt to save in a deprecated or non-MS file format – not because of any content in the document itself. This is much like the old “You are not using MS-DOS. Failure to do so could result in less than 100% compatibility or in frequent Windows Systems crashes…” stunt from the days of MS-DOS/early Windows 3.x during the DOS-wars.

    — Ed

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