[UPDATE: My focus when I wrote this was that by commenting on scope for improvement in ODF, I was not suggesting that OOXML was immune from criticism or improvement. However, a side issue in the second sentence seems to have derailed this, so I am moving it to the end.]
I have been lurking on the teleconferences for the working group maintaining OOXML: SC34 WG4. ... Maintenance is very important for standards, indeed it is a good (but not the only) benchmark for gauging the approach a particular standards body takes to things. I recall what I wrote in The Perpetual Ballot Resolution Meeting a year ago
But the idea that this is it, this is Microsoft's only accountability moment where they get a pass or fail is propaganda, not the ISO process. It is completely true that the maintenance procedure needs continued interest and continued pressure, but it is not true that this is the last chance to improve the standard as if it will be frozen for all time....
At ISO/IEC JTC1, the rule is that the Editor has to handle defect reports "promptly". ("Promptly" needs to be measured in quarters of years, it won't be weeks. But it won't be years or decades, which is how long some bugs have persisted in Office without the circuit-breaking of National Body scrutiny.)
Indeed, WG4 publishes a graphic of the response rates for OOXML defect handling to help project management. At the moment, there are no issues that have not been looked at within 60 days of being registered, with a certain chunk of them being put on the stack for further consideration. (The current plans are that issues are being placed either for a corregendum document, which —someone correct me if I have this wrong— is for minor editorial errors or where a NB says the BRM's requirements were followed too conservatively or something was missed, for voting soon, or placed in an amendment document for more substantive changes. Amendment documents have a more elaborate procedure, and result in a new year number for the standard.)
The teleconferences are once a fortnight, at 11pm Sydney time, for about 2 hours, which is not so bad. My landline phone is unworkable due to ADSL hum, so I have been using LiveMeeting. The first was OK (featuring video of Alex Brown's living room) except I couldn't track down my mic. The next one I tried to use a swanky wireless headset from work, but my laptop couldn't track down the drivers, and the LiveWire couldn't connect on audio. See how it goes this time: SNAFU.
It seems like the group is making all its mail-list archives public, which is a good thing. Denmark, through Jesper Lund Stocholm, in particular has pushed for more openness.
People interested in the recent composition of WG4 should look at the minutes of the last meeting (April 2009) in Prague (PDF) On my count they show
- Users/governments/standards bodies: 17
- Microsoft: 8
- Other vendors: 5
So according to my balance principle, I would say that SC34 WG1 needs more participation from (non-MS) vendors to get a good balance: it is currently tipped in favour of users/governments/standards bodies.
Another interesting way to slice that cake is to look at the balance between US/Europe and the rest of the world--about:
- Europe: 11
- North America: 8
- CN, JA, KR, ZA: 12
It is interesting to see the ODF and OOXML standardization efforts side-by-side, since they exhibit complimentary failings: IS 29500 (OOXML) is regarded as too big and randomly specific, while IS 26300 (ODF as updated at OASIS) is regarded as too small and randomly vague. OASIS ODF TC needs more user participation; SC34 WG4 needs more vendor participation. In the spirit of fairness, and because I recognize that what is in one's mind is not always fairly mirrored by what is in one's blogs taken collectively, let me repeat the call for participation I made about ODF (note to self):
I would also issue a challenge to the
FOSS people who spent so much energy complaining about DIS2 9500 only to find that, miracle of miracles and horror of horrors, many of their complaints were taken on board to improve DIS29500 (and continue to be taken on board ): For every hour you have spent on OOXML review, spend an hour on ODF review. Join the conspiracy!
ClarificationUpdate: The original second sentence was: Actually, I have joined it as an invited expert (which is an honour) a month ago, and trying to get up to speed on it. I should have been clearer that "joining" meant the teleconference not the WG proper, and I apologize for giving the wrong impression: I need to be more attentive to this. In my mind was the "conspiracy" that is the topic of the blog: the need and opportunities for broader community engagement and participation through whatever avenues are available.
The invitation to me was to subscribe to the mail-list and to be available to occasionally participate in the teleconferences (I presume if they have a schema question or if I made a suggestion on the mail list they wanted to explore.) The effort by WG4 to try to get broader community engagement within the constraints of the JTC1 Directives is laudable. My own interest in monitoring the teleconference and list is to see whether the maintenance effort is credible (which is not to say that it would turn a sow's ear into a silk purse.)
For comments on WG1 and my unsatisfactory status as an unattached editor, see the comment thread below.
My themes that balance in standards groups is important and that observers/monitors should be allowed where possible are not new: see this XML-DEV post from 1998 noting that the "WG4" in that is what we now call SC34.