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OOXML: Wasn't There Supposed to be a Final Text Within a Month?
Friday, April 04 2008 @ 04:25 AM EDT

Not to burst any bubbles, but I think the ISO folks have failed to follow the rules. I know. How could *that* happen? Someone tell Ripley's Believe It Or Not. Here. Read it for yourself, from the relevant Directive [PDF], clause 13.12 on page 60:
13.12 The time period for post ballot activities by the respective responsible parties shall be as follows:
  • Immediately after the vote, ITTF shall send the results of the vote to the JTC 1 Secretariat and to the SC Secretariat, and for the latter to distribute the results without delay to its NBs, to any NBs having voted that are not members of the SC and to the proposer.
  • As soon as possible after the distribution of the results of the vote to its NBs but in not less than two and one-half months the SC Secretariat shall convene a ballot resolution group meeting if required;
  • In not more than one month after the ballot resolution group meeting the SC Secretariat shall distribute the final report of the meeting and final DIS text in case of acceptance.

So where is it? It's been more than a month. The BRM was from February 25 to 29. Uh oh. Anybody get one?

Well, what are nitpicky rules among friends? And what's the point of crossing a legal T or dotting a supposedly required I, when I gather no one plans on enforcing any rules that get in the way of a happy result anyhow?

Wait. I have it. It must be "out of respect for the standards process" -- they don't wish to seem to interfere with the appeals. Legally that makes no sense to me, since the rule doesn't say, "... unless there are formal appeals filed, in which case a final text shall be distributed three months after the ballot resolution meeting." Say. I'm thinking any ISO guys looking for work should apply at SCO's bankruptcy law firm. They'd fit in perfectly. SCO's lawyers just said to the court about SCO's third attempt at a reorganization plan, "We don't have a new deal, but when we get the deal we think we're going to get, it's going to be better." ISO has just said to the world, in effect, "We don't have OOXML finished despite it being accepted as a standard, but when it gets finished someday, it's going to be better." It's a match!

By the way, you might keep an eye out for clause 13.14 to sail by on the horizon someday:

13.14 Subsequent revisions shall be in the format prescribed by the ISO/IEC Directives Part 2. In this case, the ITTF editor shall check the text received to ensure that it is in conformance with the ISO/IEC Directives Part 2. If modifications are considered necessary, the ITTF editor shall submit proposals for modification to the Project Editor for approval. No IS shall be published without such approval.

ITTF shall prepare a proof of the IS and send this to the Project Editor for endorsement including identification of the changes made. The only changes permissable at this stage are corrections of recognized errors in the revised text or errors introduced by ITTF in preparing the proof.

Hmm. I predict a very odd "maintenance mode" if that is all they are allowed to change. I read that first language as saying that thou shalt not do XYZ, unless you want to do XYZ, in which event you have to get the project editor to go along with it. I'm sure that will be hard, what the Greeks called an agōniā. I have the perfect suggestion. They should get Patrick Durusau as project editor, I think. He's clearly well-qualified for the job. And he fell in love with OOXML.

If not now, surely in an afterlife. There must be a special rung in Dante's Inferno for all those who urged that OOXML be approved and those who voted for it, where throughout eternity they have to not only use it, they have to keep editing it until it actually works. Oh! The humanity! Joke. Joke. I don't believe in hell and eternal punishment. But I can dream, can't I?

I don't think we need to worry, no matter who is project editor, because that section of the Directive's all in purple text, meaning it's been revised in the middle of the OOXML process, and they seem to be some mighty flexible dudes over at ISO, so they can just rewrite the Directives again as needed to match OOXML's state of actual development, as opposed to the other way around. That's the ticket. Trying to get OOXML to match the Directives was *too hard*.

Anyway, my job is just to point out the need for another revision. It needs to read: "You have to distribute the final text within a month after the ballot resolution meeting, unless you failed to. Then you should do it as soon after you read Groklaw as humanly possible." There. That should give us all enough wiggle room. Just kidding around. But seriously. If OOXML is so wonderful it deserves to be a standard, and everyone knew what they were voting on, how hard can it be to get a final text done in a month?

Here's the Directive Part 2 [PDF], by the way, that they claim must be followed, in case you're finding this all fascinating and have a local wager on as to how many rules can be broken before OOXML is declared Ready for Prime Time. You'll find all the relevant Directives, procedures, supplements, supplementary rules and drafting standards on Groklaw's permanent ODF/MSOOXML page, although why we bothered to collect them when they are like the shifting sands and just for show, I can't imagine. For gamblers and historians, I guess. It'll be like Stonehenge. Someday, some researcher will stumble across them, and say to himself, "Why ever did they write that?" It's a mystery.

Personally, I seem to be losing count already of rules breached, but some of you are anal types and probably have charts and graphs and spreadsheets, because you haven't yet fully grasped the insouciant breeziness of the standards process in our modern world.

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