Fake real-time blog from JTC1 Meeting, Nara, Japan

By Rick Jelliffe
November 21, 2008

I wasn't there, but ISO/IEC JTC1 (the international standards body that looks after Information Technology standards) has just published two documents from its recent meetings in Nara, Japan: the Recommendations of the Directives committee and Resolutions of the meeting.

Along with the publication of IS29500:2008 (see my previous blog item today) today, these represent a kind of line being drawn underneath the OOXML episode.

Here is a quick summary:

  • Fast-track submission will be rolled back a little (but not enough in my view).
  • The Directives will be clarified to prevent future occurrences of the confusion that a few National Bodies had about the OOXML BRM procedures (but probably not enough: there seems to be some new concept of "sufficient time" for review of the editor's disposition of comments, which is interesting, but commentators like ODF's Patrick Durusau think that only a thorough rewrite of the JTC1 Directives will be good enough.)
  • Liaison with OASIS about ODF (more below)
  • Clarification about the "one standard" principle, which I will quote below
  • A new work being proposed on Digital Content Management: lets hope this is not the Content Guard shenanigans at OASIS being resurrected: it would have no chance of success in that form.
  • LETSI (the federation behind the SCORM educational material packaging) was accepted as a Category A liaison body to SC36: the need to engage at a national standards level is a sign of SCORM's and LETSI's maturity, I suppose.
  • Various business items of no interest to me: a registration authority for authentication of identity cards, optical media longevity testing, the scope of the cryptography committee, sensor networks, green IT, African languages and keyboard updates, a new working group in IT governance, convergence of Near Field Communications standards, future work in fraud countermeasures. The people who go around saying "ISO is dead" are talking through their hats: in fact, it seems to be more vital and active than ever.
  • Some movement in the area of teleconferences: unfortunately, the nub of this is in a non-public document (member nation submissions are not public) so I would appreciate details from readers
  • Several requests to make education-related standards freely available were turned down as not meeting the criteria. I don't know the specifics, but I hope that the criteria are interpreted as liberally as possible, at the least.

I mentioned two issues that are quite important to me: they relate to issues that have cropped up on this blog.

The first concerns the ODF standard and OASIS. Alex Brown has written a blog item about this OASIS and JTC 1 get it together which is pretty good. Tim Bray seems to think that he is part of the tinfoil hat brigade that Alex invokes, but I wouldn't have thought he fits the bill ... err hat: his lack of looniness rules him out for a start. (The comments on those blogs are worth a read too.)

The background story on the OASIS business is this. When a standard is fast-tracked at JTC1, either by the Publicly Available Specification Process, it is not a rubber-stamping. The standard must be maintained in a way that satisfies the JTC1 requirements as well as the originating body's requirements, regardless of who maintains it. It stops being the standard of a single body, and is a joint standard you could say.

In the case of ODF, the issue came up with maintenance strategies. JTC1 places a very high stress (much higher than other standards bodies) on fixing and maintaining existing standards. There are much stricter deadlines for fixing errors than for creating new standards for example. The OASIS ODF TC decided on a strategy of putting out a new version of the ODF (ODF 1.1) rather than fixing ODF 1.0; and they did this again with ODF 1.2 whose deadline has blown out by about two years. So ODF 1.1 and ODF 1.2 have not been submitted to JTC1 (I expect ODF 1.2 will be, and would pass) and the defect reports on ODF 1.0 (ISO29300) were just put in the general fix queue, which was years in arrears.

From some of the SC34 side, there was a view that the ODF TC had renigged on their agreement; from some on the ODF TC side came the rewriting-of-history that in fact PAS submission was just rubber stamping and no special attention needed to be paid to maintaining IS26300 by the group that had agreed to maintain it. So the matter escalated to a JTC1-to-OASIS (rather than merely SC34-to-ODF-TC) issue, and hopefully it is now being resolved amicably and productively.

The second issue that caught my eye relates to an issue I have been banging on about a bit over the last year, and an issue of principle raised against DIS29500 (OOXML): can there be multiple standards for the same thing?

Resolution 49 ‐ Clarification on Consistency of Standards vs Competing Specifications

JTC 1 notes the nature of standardization is to attract innovative ideas from multiple sources, choose the best ones and codify them in specifications that facilitate widespread use.

Further, consistent with ISO's and IEC's "one standard" principle (for example TMB's policy and principle statement on Global Relevance), there are times when one standard is all that is required to meet the needs of the marketplace, especially in a particular application area, and there are other instances where multiple standards make the most sense to respond to market requirements and to the needs of our society. In reducing the number of alternatives to a reasonable minimum, JTC 1 and other SDOs have demonstrated that it is not necessary and may not be desirable to choose only one alternative or option for standardization.

Further, JTC 1 notes that the cycle of innovation in the ICT sector has resulted in the continuous introduction of new technologies that improve upon existing standards. Any attempt to choose only one standard would ignore and threaten to inhibit the cycle of innovation that continues to fuel this industry.

Therefore, JTC 1 recognizes its commitment to ISO's and IEC's "one standard" principle; however, it recognizes that neither it nor its SCs are in a position to mandate either the creation or the use of a single standard, and that there are times when multiple standards make the most sense in order to respond to the needs of the marketplace and of society at large. It is not practical to define, a priori, criteria for making these decisions. Therefore each standard must be judged by the National Bodies, based on their markets, on its own merits.

All that is good. But what I really wanted to see is JTC1 making the PAS and Fast-track procedures enter the process a stage earlier, so drafts always get one round of SC polishing before the final ballot. I think that is the most pressing requirement.

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