Back from the Ecma meetings
I just back back from Brussels and the first meeting of Ecma's TC45; it was an awesome start and I'm extremely excited about the work we have ahead of us. The initial draft of the standard was submitted by Apple, Barclays Capital, BP, the British Library, Essilor, Intel Corporation, Microsoft, NextPage Inc., Statoil ASA and Toshiba. This is going to be a really good group of folks to work with and from what I can tell the number of people participating will continue to grow. You can already see that it's a really great mix of participants, some that will be implementers of the format, and others who will be customers of the formats. This is key, as it will be important to get feedback from a number of different sides.
If you'd like to take a look at the initial draft, it's here: http://www.ecma-international.org/activities/Office Open XML Formats/TC45_FD_XML_docform.zip
There is a ton of upfront material (some of which is just typical standardization stuff), and also a few introductory chapters that give good overviews of the formats. Then you get into the reference sections that drill into the documentation of each element and type. Unfortunately, there are some bugs in the TOC calculation so the page numbers are wrong, but the links should still work. As you can see, this is going to be some really large documentation as one of the main goals of the formats was to be backwards compatible with all of the existing Word, PowerPoint, and Excel documents out there. We want to make sure that you don't lose anything, and that the average end user (who doesn't care about XML) isn't impacted.
The meeting was an extremely valuable first step. We had a couple hard copies of the initial draft as well, and here's a picture of Jean Paoli (middle) presenting one of those hard copies (it took 2 binders for one copy) to Jan van den Beld (left) who is the secretary general of Ecma International. You'll also notice Adam Farquhar who is the head of e-Architecture for the British Library is seated on the right. He'll serve as the vice-chairman will be a huge asset for ensuring that these formats are well documented and can be accessed 100's of years from now:
Also, while I was over in Europe, there was another meeting in Massachusetts to discuss the document formats. As you know, there has been a lot of press around Massachusetts position on document formats over the past few months, and I was pretty sure that they would be really happy with our latest moves to standardize the Open XML formats as well as shifting to a new approach with licensing the formats. It looks like I was right... Peter Quinn, Massachusetts' CIO, said that our latest move will probably meet the state's demandsEven Douglas W. Johnson from Sun said that ''There's no doubt about it, they are more open than they were before." Here are a couple articles that talk about the meeting:
You can see that IBM (and Sun to a lesser extent) is still pushing pretty hard against the Open XML formats; which is understandable given their investments in OpenDocument. Hopefully they'll eventually see that this is a good move for everyone though, as this means they will be free to implement the Open XML formats if that's what their customers want just like we are free to implement OpenDocument if that's what our customers want. That's really what this all comes down to; it's important to let the market decide. I think they get that too, but they'll probably continue to push back for a little while longer. I think the next step they will take will probably be to try and poke holes in the technical details, now that they're fight about the "openness" has been resolved. Since the formats are so big there are bound to be areas that are a bit confusing (that's why we're doing this huge documentation and standardization effort in the first place), so we'll probably hear some complaints about that at first. We'll have to see how much noise is made though and more importantly how productive it really is, as in the end it's the customer that's hurt if there is additional confusion or delay caused.
I'll try to get caught up on all the comments and e-mails folks have been sending, but it might take a little time. I'm still feeling a bit disoriented due to the jet-lag. I used to have no problem with it when I was a kid. I grew up most of my life overseas (Iceland, Guam, and Okinawa) and we'd often come back to visit family in the US where I'd have no problem with the jet-lag. Now it seems to take me out for a couple days (the drinks to pass the time on the flight don't help either I'm sure).