Over halfway there… including some positive changes to the Open XML standard

I had mentioned that the members of Ecma TC45 all met last week in Kyoto to continue working through the national body comments we received as a result of the ISO ballot for Open XML. We've been making a lot of progress over the phone the past couple months (we have 3 hour calls twice a week), but it's always productive to meet face to face and really get through some of the more difficult pieces.

Today Ecma has updated the proposed dispositions' portal for the comments that national bodies can go and reference. We're a little over 50% of the way through the 3500 comments received. If you read the status report released by TC45 you'll see that there have been some pretty significant changes proposed so far, and you'll see more are on the way. Here's a link to the TC45 report: http://www.ecma-international.org/news/TC45_current_work/New%20set%20of%20proposed%20dispositions%20posted.htm

Here's a list of some of the changes that were proposed in this batch:

1 Allowing for ISO-8601 Dates

ECMA-376, the original Open XML standard adopted by Ecma, assigned a unique numeric value to each date in a spreadsheet, in order to improve the speed of date calculations. Based on the comments received from some National Bodies on this issue, DIS 29500 will be updated to allow date values to be stored using the format defined by the ISO 8601 standard.

2 Internationalized handling of weekdays and weekends

ECMA-376 allowed for a week that begins on Sunday or Monday, but not a week that begins on any other day, such as Saturday. Ecma is proposing a comprehensive range of options for what is defined as the first day of the week, and what is defined as the weekend.

3 Language tags

ECMA-376 used a set of integer values to identify the language applied to regions of a document. Ecma is proposing that the language tags specified in the DIS should instead leverage an internationally recognized practice for representing languages, IETF BCP 47. IETF BCP 47 is a Best Current Practices document that incorporates use of the ISO 639 standard for languages, ISO 15924 for scripts, and ISO 3166 for regions. This proposal directly follows recommendations from National Bodies in several countries.

4 Page Borders

ECMA-376 included support for a variety of graphical elements that could be used as page borders. Several National Bodies noted that this closed list of graphical elements was not sufficiently diverse and global in its contents. Based on that feedback, Ecma is proposing to change the Open XML standard to allow for custom page borders. This will enable implementers to determine the best option for including borders relevant to their applications.

5 Usage of ISO standards for grammars

ECMA-376 used its own notation for defining the grammar for some of the more advanced functionality, such as spreadsheet formulas and word processing fields. Several National Bodies noted that the existing grammars in ECMA-376 are non-standard and were not fully described within the DIS. In response to this concern, Ecma proposes to revise the notation for spreadsheet formulas and fields to use an existing ISO standard. Formula notation will now use ISO/IEC 14977:1996 – Syntactic metalanguage – Extended BNF. This proposal improves the ability for implementers to test and validate conformance to the specification.

I was surprised to hear from a number of people that they were skeptical TC45 would accept any changes to Open XML. TC45 is excited to work closely with the national bodies and investigate what the best solution would be to these issues (including of course changing the specification). While its tough news in certain ways for me as an Office developer; it's great news for me as a TC45 member. We had made some design decisions within TC45 that many of the national bodies disagreed with, so we took that feedback into account and came up with proposals we think will address the national bodies concerns.

Jan van den Beld, former head of Ecma international, had a post this morning talking about his thoughts on the progress we've made so far: http://janvandenbeld.blogspot.com/2007/12/number-of-proposed-dispositions-for-nbs.html. Jan is impressed by the progress made, and also shares his thought on how many comments per page you would typically expect to get.

We still have a ways to go, and those of you following along know there are a number of other contentious issues we haven't finalized on yet (but we're getting very close). I'll provide more detailed explanations of many of the responses over the coming weeks, and I'm sure you guys will find those interesting.