Update on OpenXML at ISO

I’m heading out to New York for a few days, but I wanted to send out a quick note around the ISO standardization process for OpenXML.

The 1 month contradiction phase of the 6 month fast track process is now complete. It sounds like about 18 of the 100+ countries reviewing the standard came back with comments. It will most likely turn out that some of comments are in support, and others will seek further clarification. So the next step will be to get together with the rest of Ecma TC45 and go through the comments and provide feedback. Not sure how long that will take, but given the caliber of folks on the technical committee I don’t think it will take too long.

Once that is done, then we would move into the next stage of the process which is the 5 month technical review. I’m sure there will be a bunch of great discussions that get kicked off during this period. While there have been public copies of the specs for over a year now, it will be interesting to see what other feedback we get during this period.

If you’re interested in following along with more of the standards politics side of things, you should check out Jason Matusow’s blog. He a senior director in the Microsoft standards group, and is intimately familiar with all the processes behind the ISO submission, as well as the political games that often pop up.

Talk to you all next week.


Comments (11)

  1. Alex says:

    If the ISO process requires changes to the specification in order to ratify it, how does Microsoft plan to handle that, given OXML is now out in the wild?

    Will we have an ISO standard that’s incompatible (to some degree) with Office 2007, or will an update to 2007 be issued to handle the change?

  2. hAl says:

    It would be fairly easy to amend some of the spec and add that to for instance MS office 2007 in a servicepack update.

    A bit more difficult to change the spec to keep compatibility for instance.

    However I think it is at least likely that Ecma will add a roadmap for any more significant changes asked by the natinal bodies to the OOXML spec which will state when any of these changes can be added to the spec.

    * Removing VML from spec and making VML legacy items external objects

    * Removing the bitmasks items and adding XML alternatives

    * Adding a flexible paperformat for printerpages

    * For instance adding yet another alternative date format in spreadsheets based on XML date format.

  3. Francis says:

    Will ECMA/ISO document these comments and discussions online? I’d love to listen in on some of the "great discussions" you’ll be having!

  4. Alex says:


    It would be easy enough to add that into a service pack. But, the scenario I’m thinking of is someone on up-to-date Office 2007 sending a file to someone who hasn’t updated their Office: it might sound like a corner case, but I don’t see how the receiving Office will figure things out.

  5. hAl says:


    The points I suggested it should not really influence most MS current office files. It would however make it possible after for instance a sevicepack update to start using the features. Most important is that if support is coming then other developer can anticipate on these features and start implementing them as well (or leaving them out as migth be the case for VML objects).

    Because OOXML is higly dependant on the use within MS Office any proposed changes should make it to MS Office within a short period of time and certainly at the moment I think MS could be persuaded to commit to implement any changes fairly rapidly so that other format implementations can easily follow in their steps.

  6. hAl says:

    It seems like on the Ecma site already a new version of the OOXML spec has appeared.

    So Brian can you give any indication why there might be a newer version and what might be the difference between this one and the last one ???

  7. Luc Bollen says:

    Brian, the latest news tell that 20 contries have provided comments or contradictions.

    There are 30 Participating Countries at JTC 1, and 17 of these have sent comments or contradictions.  

    Given that 2/3 of the P-Countries must vote positively for a standard to be accepted, let’s hope that at least 7 countries wrote to JTC 1 just to say that they have nothing to say.

    Otherwise, ECMA could have a hard time to resolve the contradictions, and OOXML could have a hard time at the end of the fast track period, in 8 months or so…

    Do you have any hints on the Microsoft strategy to support ECMA in responding to the contradictions ?

  8. orcmid says:

    @Alex, there are interesting OOX provisions for versioning of the specification and how down-level applications should be able to respond to later additions.  It is all in Part 5 of the spec. as I recall.  [I must go see what is different in the February uploads.  Interesting … ]

  9. anon says:

    Where are these new Ecma uploads?

  10. orcmid says:

    @anon: The downloads are at http://www.ecma-international.org/publications/standards/Ecma-376.htm

    They are still the December 2006 approved ECMA standard.  I don’t know why they reissued the files.  I could find no meaningful difference between them and the October set produced by TC45 and submitted for approval.  Apart from cover changes, the numbered content pages appear to be unchanged.  My analysis is at http://orcmid.com/blog/2007/02/oox-odf-danger-of-finding-only-what.asp

  11. orcmid says:

    Update: OK, I think I solved the mistery of different paginations.  

    It seems there was also a single-file PDF version (that, fortunately, I never saw) that packaged the October materials and a new cover into a single composite document.  There’s no difference in content, but if you use the PDF page-count numbers for cross-referencing instead of the printed-on-the-page page numbers, the different renditions will seem wildly different when they really aren’t.  More here: http://orcmid.com/blog/2007/02/oox-odf-and-mystery-document-flavors.asp