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What’s New in ODF Maintenance?

Some Q&A, in the form of a self-interview. As with anything on this blog, these are my opinions.

Question: How are you doing today, Rob?

Rob: Very well thank you. I just finished attending a good set of working group (WG) meetings, and the Plenary meeting of ISO/IEC JTC1/SC34 in Seattle, Washington.

Question: Anything newsworthy to report?

Rob: Most of the meeting was routine, moving various documents forward, inch by inch, at the glacial pace we expect from ISO. But one noteworthy event this week was the first meeting of SC34/Ad Hoc Group 3.

Question: What is Ad Hoc Group 3?

Rob: Ad Hoc Group 3, or “AHG3,” is an temporary working group that was charged with determining how SC34 would fulfill its maintenance obligations relating to ISO/IEC 26300, the ISO/IEC transposition of the ODF standard. Francis Cave, of the UK, presided over the AHG3 meeting, which was well attended by 20 or so delegates.

Question: What do you mean by “maintenance”?

Rob: In this context maintenance refers to the activities that occur between major revisions of a standard, primarily the collection of defects, and the approval and publication of corrections.

Question: So what did Ad Hoc Group 3 do?

Rob: AGH3 met for around 8 hours over two days. Its most notable act was to orchestrate its own dissolution, by proposing that a new, permanent working group, WG 6, be created by SC34 to carry out pretty much the same charge given to AHG3. WG6 will likely also have the same Convenor and participants as AHG3.

Other than that, the primary benefit of the AHG3 meeting was to bring everyone up to speed on the current state of various ODF defect reports and errata documents, and to discuss ways in which we can better align the ISO/IEC version of ODF and keep it in alignment, with the OASIS version.

Question: So who owns ODF maintenance?

Rob: The OASIS ODF TC owns the maintenance of the OASIS ODF standard, and WG6 will own this activity for the equivalent ISO/IEC text. However, neither committee has absolute freedom of action, both being governed by applicable procedural rules of their parent organizations, as well as various joint agreements between OASIS and JTC1.

Question: Won’t this lead to a divergence of the OASIS and ISO/IEC versions?

Rob: It is a stated goal of JTC1 that ISO/IEC 26300, as the PAS transposed version of ODF, remain in sync with the OASIS version of ODF. This goal is shared with OASIS. OASIS and JTC1 have jointly approved a set of maintenance principles which call for the OASIS ODF TC to take the lead on maintenance.

Although we have not worked out all the details, a natural way to avoid divergence is to treat this as a two-phase process:

  • Defect reports from SC34 are submitted to the OASIS ODF TC
  • Corrections originate in the OASIS ODF TC, and are then transmitted to SC34

Question: But that doesn’t guarantee that these texts will not diverge, right?

Rob: At the very least there will be a delay between the correction of the OASIS version of the text and the publication of the ISO/IEC version of the correction. This delay will typically be around 5 months. If both OASIS and SC34 adhere the agreed maintenance principles, any divergence should amount to no more than such a delay.

Note that we already have some degree of divergence. For example, OASIS published ODF 1.0 Approved Errata 1.0 in November 2008, and submitted these changes to SC34 where they have not been acted on. And OASIS published ODF 1.1 back in early 2007 and has failed to submit these changes to SC34. Although there appears to be no adverse market effects from this degree of divergence, both sides agree that this is not an ideal situation and have agreed in principle to take steps to remedy this situation.

Also, we shouldn’t worry about the possibility of intentional or malicious divergence, since careful consideration of the ownership of the copyright and trademark for the ODF standard, as well as terms governing any associated patent claims, suggests that any rogue attempt to fork the ODF standard would be fraught with peril. ISO/IEC 26300 may lag OASIS ODF, but it cannot go beyond the corresponding OASIS text in any substantive way.

Question: So what role does WG6 have then?

Rob: SC34 has several WGs, each dealing with a different standard or group of standards. This WG structure is important for National Bodies, which often allocate their resources (personnel, travel budgets, etc.) at the level of a WG. It is also a logistic convenience for scheduling meetings.

WG6’s charter sounds impressive, “All SC 34 projects and activities relating to the maintenance of ISO/IEC 26300 OpenDocument Format”. However, since JTC1 has already assigned coordination of ODF maintenance to the OASIS ODF TC, it is not clear what, if any, residual tasks remain for WG6 to perform. But even if its official responsibilities are minor, WG6 does serve a useful purpose as a focal point for SC34 technical experts having an interest in ODF. Under the aegis of WG6, these experts might, for example, create defect reports for submission to OASIS and give feedback on OASIS draft corrigenda.

Question: But what about contributions in the other direction? How do SC34 technical experts contribute to ODF?

Rob: As stated in the joint memorandum of principles between OASIS and JTC1: “National Body input, including but not limited to the submission of defects and amendments, can best be achieved by the participation of JTC 1 experts in the ODF TC of OASIS”.

The exact answer will depend on your specific goal. If you participate via SC34, your opinion will count as one vote on your NB delegation, and in turn your delegation will have one vote among many NBs in SC34, which amounts to one source of feedback, among many others, to the OASIS ODF TC. So essentially you will have a much diluted and rather indirect way of expressing your thoughts on the technical work of the OASIS ODF TC.

Or you could join OASIS and and the ODF TC directly, as an individual member, in which case you can contribute directly in our work and your vote will be equal to mine or any other member of the ODF TC.

So if your priority is to present a national view via national body participation, then by all means participate via SC34 and WG6. This is also good if your priority is racking up frequent flier miles via attendance at international meetings. But if you are looking for the most effective way to contribute directly to the standard, then you cannot do better than joining the OASIS ODF TC. This is probably why nine members of JTC1/SC34 already are OASIS ODF TC members.

Question: So we’ve talked so far about maintenance. But what about major revisions, such as ODF 1.2, how are they handled?

Rob: Major revisions developed in OASIS may be submitted to JTC1 via the PAS transposition process. This results in a JTC1 ballot and does not directly involve SC34 technical experts, although in some cases the SC34 national “mirror committee” may be consulted by their NBs in the preparation of a national position on the PAS ballot. In any case, WG6 would have no formal role in this process, nor can I imagine an informal role for them.

{ 7 comments… add one }
  • zoobab 2009/09/18, 2:31 am

    "This is also good if your priority is racking up frequent flier miles via attendance at international meetings."

    Scrap ISO. They have a stupid system of physical meetings around the planet.

    I don´t have the money to travel to such meetings.

  • Jesper Lund Stocholm 2009/09/20, 2:53 pm

    Hi zoobab,

    Scrap ISO. They have a stupid system of physical meetings around the planet.

    I don´t have the money to travel to such meetings.
    You'll be delighted to know, that we in SC34/WG4 do the majority of our work on teleconferences – just like ODF TC. There is no requirement to show up for the physical meetings. There are quite a few participants on the bi-weekly calls that I have never met IRL – they simply participate through the phone calls.


    Jesper Lund Stocholm

  • Rob 2009/09/21, 9:00 am

    Certainly some work can be done via teleconference, but in the end the WG only makes recommendations and you must attend the Plenary sessions to really have a full voice in the SC34 decision making.

    In any case, any company will look at this in terms of the return on investment. Currently I attend zero SC34 WG teleconferences and attend plenaries only rarely. It is more about risk management than positive investment.

    If we start up WG6 teleconferences I'll probably attend some of those. But it is hard for me to argue for greater engagement with SC34.

  • Jesper Lund Stocholm 2009/09/21, 9:25 am

    Hi Rob,

    Certainly some work can be done via teleconference, but in the end the WG only makes recommendations and you must attend the Plenary sessions to really have a full voice in the SC34 decision making.

    Remember that the members of SC34 are nations (or – national bodies). So you really don't need to go to SC34 plenaries. You can participate in your national body and form the opinion of the national body there.

    I haven't attended a plenary since Kyoto, and I still would rank my "powers" on OOXML development as "moderately high", but it is always fun to go to the plenaries, though. Do also note that the position of each country on most of the subjects of a plenary has normally been decided before they even go to the plenaries.

    But – isn't the SC34/WG6 construct almost the same as the one of OASIS/ODFTC? That you do the technical work in the TC (or in ISO-terms, the WG) and then some OASIS board makes the final decision on whether a draft of e.g. ODF 1.2 sohuld become an OASIS standard?

    Anyway – let me finish off by saying that I firmly believe that ODF is best maintained in ODF TC and not in e.g. WG6. You guys in ODf TC have done a fine job so far, and I see no reason for reallocating the development/maintenance of ODF to ISO … just because "we can".

    I do know that quite a few people in Microsoft would like to have ODF maintained in ISO, but one of the advantages of being an IBM drone is that I get to dissagree with Microsoft.


  • Rob 2009/09/21, 10:03 am

    The analogy doesn't quite work.

    In OASIS the TC's can move the work from one stage to another, from Working Draft, to Committee Draft to Public Review Draft to Committee Specification entirely by vote of the TC. Only the final vote to approve as an OASIS Specification goes to the entire OASIS membership.

    However, in SC34, most of the smaller transitions require approval by SC34 NBs. The WG itself has very little power. It is for working, not for deciding.

    In any case, if you don't attend the Plenary, then you can only influence decisions that were on the draft agenda. But the most interesting things are those that come up without advance notice. For example, how many delegations came prepared with an NB position on the creation of WG6, considering that topic was not on the agenda? That is the argument for attending the plenaries, being able to react to any surprises. You simply cannot anticipate everything by attending an NB call in advance.

  • Jesper Lund Stocholm 2009/09/21, 2:53 pm

    Hi Rob,

    Thanks for clearing that up for me – if I were in it for the power, I guess I'd have to chose a different standardisation organisation.


    For example, how many delegations came prepared with an NB position on the creation of WG6, considering that topic was not on the agenda?

    Well, the Danish delegation did. We knew that AHG3 would meet before the plenary and on the meeting in Denmark the week before the plenary. we had a good and thorough discussion on our position of creating WG6 – a discussion, btw, where I again was totally in line with the IBM position. The Danish delegation came well prepared, and (I can of course only speak for myself) I felt no need to be there in person – I'd already had my say in the meeting here in Denmark.


  • Anonymous 2009/09/23, 8:07 am

    And here I thought you'd mention something about your winemaking in one of the questions :-)

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