Arnaud's Blog

Opinions on open source, standards, and other things

Clarification on what the Fast Track is really about

From the outset of the process several countries pointed out that OOXML was inappropriate for Fast Track processing and that it should be rejected and re-submitted to the formal standards process. This has since then be repeated again and again, by me as well as many other people, and I have no interest in rehashing that point once again.

On the other hand it appears to me that some people are getting confused about what the Fast Track is really about and what it’s not designed for.

JTC1’s choice not to listen to the countries that raised contradictions basically led it to trying to replace the multi-year standards process by a few months and a 5 day BRM. Predictably this has failed leaving many issues undiscussed, unresolved, or simply to be accounted for.

I said predictably because the Fast Track process is not designed to fix broken specifications, so it is no surprise that it failed short of achieving that goal.

The Fast Track process is merely designed to ratify specifications that already meet ISO standards criteria or are very close to. OOXML doesn’t, and for this reason alone, if nothing else, it shouldn’t be approved.

People should also remember that voting No to OOXML now doesn’t necessarily mean No forever. It simply means not yet, it is not ready – and there is plenty of evidence this is the case -. By voting No, people are simply giving the world a chance to fix OOXML before ratifying it.

As I stated before the world has nothing to gain from rushing OOXML through ISO. The only urgency here is not to rush into making this broken specification an ISO standard.

For what it’s worth, ISO/IEC officials’ response to criticism over the use of the Fast Track process has been that if people don’t think it is appropriate they should simply vote No. So you can take it from them: Vote No.


March 26, 2008 - Posted by | standards | , , ,


  1. Arnaud,

    Actually, it is not difficult to find out what the Fast-track process is really about – you need just open the JTC1 directives and find section 13.

    It simply says:

    13.1 Any P-member of JTC 1 or organisation in Category A liaison with JTC 1 (the proposer) may propose that

    a) an existing standard from any source be submitted without modification directly for vote as a DIS;


    b) an existing amendment to a standard, with the approval of the responsible SC, be submitted without modification directly for vote as a DAM.

    It is clear that OOXML satisfies both requirements for inclusion in the Fast-Track.

    So your innuendo that “The Fast Track process is merely designed to ratify specifications that already meet ISO standards criteria or are very close to.”

    … is simply not true. I think it would be beneficial to us all, if you could try a bit harder to seperate facts from fiction.


    Comment by Jesper Lund Stocholm | March 27, 2008 | Reply

  2. And how exactly does this contradict what I said?

    On what basis do you think the vote is supposed to be made other than ISO standards criteria?

    How is it that “without modification” does not imply “not designed to fix broken specifications”?

    If you thought this proved me wrong you will need to rethink this…

    Comment by Arnaud Le Hors | March 27, 2008 | Reply

  3. This is what ISO says regarding the fast-track process:

    “If a document with a certain degree of maturity is available at the start of a standardization project, for example a standard developed by another organization, it is possible to omit certain stages. In the so-called “Fast-track procedure”, a document is submitted directly for approval as a draft International Standard (DIS) to the ISO member bodies (stage 4)”
    ( )

    This is what an XML and standards guy says about OOXML fast-track:

    “The fast track process

    OOXML was initially approved as an ECMA standard, and then submitted to ISO for its fast track process (see also this), which is intended for specifications already approved by other standardization bodies. The assumption underlying the process is that since another standardization body has already approved the standard it should be of sufficient quality that no more than minor tweaks are necessary before it’s approved as an ISO standard.

    The trouble with OOXML is that it has proved to be an exception to this rule. It’s not just that the document itself is monstrously huge. The current OOXML format has a number of technical problems, which have been listed in detail elsewhere. Another problem is that the specification itself is not written as a standard, but more as the sort of technical documentation you’d expect to find for a commercial product. This will cause serious problems for interoperability in practice, and since interoperability is the whole point of a standard, that’s not acceptable.

    The fast track process proved unable to resolve these problems (1 2),which is not surprising, given that it was never intended to do the kind of in-depth revision that’s necessary for OOXML. For this reason, I personally feel that OOXML should not be approved as an ISO standard. It’s just not good enough, and it’s hard to see that users will lose anything by this, given that OOXML is already published as an ECMA standard, so the current flawed specification is a standard already. ”

    ( )

    Comment by orlando | March 27, 2008 | Reply

  4. And remember, you only get a good sense of what Fast Track is for by looking at what is missing compared to normal 5-stage ISO process. I think Jesper fails by only looking at what is there, not what is missing. Fast Track has no ballots for NP, no CD, no FDIS, etc. It is clearly designed for an expedited review of consortia standards that are already complete, mature and ready for approval, in a single pass review that allows only the opportunity for slight adjustments to the material.

    Ecma and Microsoft abused the process by submitted a 6,000 page draft to JTC1. I think it was Oscar Wilde who said that bad photographs and women are underdeveloped and overexposed. The same can be said of bad standards.

    Comment by Rob Weir | March 27, 2008 | Reply

  5. Arnaud,

    There are actually quite a few things in the JTC1-directives that do not apply to fast-tracked standards – among these the use of “modal verbs” (I think it is the correct words in English) and reference to other standards (AROs).

    I contradict your phrase “The Fast Track process is merely designed to ratify specifications that already meet ISO standards criteria or are very close to.”

    This is simpy not correct. The purpose is to give the possibility of submitting any standard to ISO by any NB or Liaison A (to JTC1). Of course the process should make it possible to improve the submitted text – this is what the BRM is for.

    And please – that you pick out the words “without modification” and twist them to your satisfaction only highlights the M.O. of a lot of the critisisme of OOXML. The words mean that the submitted standard need not be modified before submission. It’s not that hard.


    Comment by Jesper Lund Stocholm | March 27, 2008 | Reply

  6. Rob et al,

    you all forget to mention, that what you are stating here is your [i]opinion[/i] of the process and the JTC1 directives. So when you talk about OOXML not being suitable for Fast-track or “ECMA and Microsoft abused the process” or “not designed to fix broken specifications” I would assume there would be at least a couple of words about these things in the directives.

    Sadly, there are not. The only requirement for a standard to be eligible for Fast-Track is that it does not contradict already existing standards or projects. The JCT1 secretariat and ITTF decided that OOXML didn’t.


    Comment by Jesper Lund Stocholm | March 27, 2008 | Reply

  7. Jesper,

    You’re obviously entitled to disagree. But if we’re only stating our opinion of the process and the JTC1 directives, the same is true for you. You’re no more entitled to decide what is “simply not correct” than we are.

    So, we expressed our opinion, you’ve expressed yours, we disagree, that’s ok. That’s all there is to say about this.

    It is obvious that neither party will convince the other so let’s leave it at that.

    Comment by Arnaud Le Hors | March 28, 2008 | Reply

  8. Arnaud do you consider that ODF met the criteria for your idea of an ISO standard?
    If so how do you reconcile that with your view on OpenXML? ODF has all of the issues you object to in OpenXML and more besides.
    The point of the fast-track is to move stewardship to ISO, which uniquely allows the national bodies of soveriegn countries to participate.
    W3C doesn’t do that, not IETF, nor OASIS, nor Ecma.

    Comment by Stephen | March 30, 2008 | Reply

  9. I totally disagree with your assertion that ODF has all of the issues of OOXML (you should learn the actual name by the way) and more. And the burden is on you to prove otherwise.

    Indeed, I have yet to see any evidence as opposed to claims on this. There is plenty of evidence of the contrary on the other hand.

    Rob Weir presented a very short and perfect example of what kind of mess OOXML is and why ODF is superior in his recent blog entry: The Disharmony of OOXML.

    The Fast Track process in itself doesn’t move stewardship to ISO. It simply is a quick way to get the ISO standard label. Whether stewardship is moved to ISO is a completely separate question and the current proposal is for ECMA to retain control of OOXML’s maintenance, which makes that very clear.

    For what it’s worth, what I’ve learned from this is that ISO, which is often seen as paramount among standards organizations, is actually very weak and needs to learn from organizations like W3C which has a process geared towards producing high level quality standards.

    Comment by Arnaud Le Hors | March 30, 2008 | Reply

  10. Arnaud,

    (I appologize for responding so late, but the last week or so have been really crazy, so I have not had the time to get back to you before now)

    Actually you said pretty much the point I was trying to make – that the statements you (and I) present are merely matters of opinion. The reason I picked at you was really, that being from IBM injects an enormous amount of credibility into any arguments you guys might make.

    (the same, only negated, goes for Microsoft in these debates) 🙂

    The, to me, sad consequence of this is that what you IBM-guys say are percieved as the complete truth – at least in the blogsphere, and that makes my effort so much harder than if we were just “two guys talking”.


    Comment by Jesper Lund Stocholm | April 6, 2008 | Reply

  11. Arnaud,

    About quality of ODF vs OOXML:

    [quote]Rob Weir presented a very short and perfect example of what kind of mess OOXML is and why ODF is superior[/quote]
    Do you really think it does make any sense what so ever to conclude that “OSF is superior” by the example Rob gave?

    Do you think it would be fair to claim OOXML was superior to ODF using the specification around document protection as an argument?

    (I am sure you know that this part is unspecified in ODF)

    [quote]For what it’s worth, what I’ve learned from this is that ISO, which is often seen as paramount among standards organizations, is actually very weak[/quote]

    I think this is true. ISO and its processes are not in themselves strong. The responsibility of creating strong standards are the members of ISO – the national bodies.

    Comment by Jesper Lund Stocholm | April 6, 2008 | Reply

  12. Jesper,

    I really don’t think people give that much credit to anyone just because of the company he or she works for. If anything the web and blogs have minimized the differences allowing anybody to express himself in a completely democratic way where we’re all equal.

    As far for the quality of ODF, I do think that this example shows why ODF is superior. Of course it’s just one example and this has its own limits but the reality remains that ODF was designed based on solid good engineering principles and OOXML was not.

    One can tell that OOXML is the result of some kind of automatic translation of MS Office internal structure into XML which didn’t even get cleaned up. As I said in a previous blog entry “standards deserve more than being automatically generated“.

    While ODF may not be as complete as OOXML in some areas today it remains superior in every aspect it addresses and I’m sure will remain superior as it keeps evolving.

    Talking about document protection, it has been said that OOXML’s security mechanism is flawed, so what good does it do? I’d rather have the ODF TC take the time to come up with a better solution than throw in some old flawed mechanism that does more arm than good. People can use the extension mechanism to add ad hoc protection while waiting for a standard protection mechanism.

    Comment by Arnaud Le Hors | April 7, 2008 | Reply

  13. I think there’s some confusion about ‘public interest’ and ‘private interest’.

    IBM’s private interest is to sell lots of licences to use Lotus Notes at profitable prices.

    Microsoft’s private interest is to sell lots of licences to use Microsoft Office at profitable prices.

    Both of those are fairly clear.

    Buying IBM puts money in IBM’s pocket which they can use to pay my salary, and which in turn will enable me to spend my time developing IBM’s next generation of leadership products, and servicing IBM’s current products for the benefit of IBM’s clients. I know which side my bread is buttered.

    Public interest is a bit harder. The best explanation I have seen is the long-dead case of Standard Oil in the Wikipedia. Standard Oil was doing something against the public interest.

    As far as I can see, the public interest is that there should be a market. That someone with dollars to spend should have the choice, whether to spend it on IBM Lotus Notes or Microsoft Office … or something else entirely.

    Comment by Chris Ward | April 10, 2008 | Reply

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