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Public Availability of Standards

I've not had much to say on the DIS 29500 Ballot Resolution Meeting and the posturing that has gone on since then while we await the March 29, 2008 (midnight Central European Time) close to the reconsideration period.  I have no insider perspective, but I have found occasion to fling a comment here and there when unsubstantiated claims arouse my fact-checking instinct.

I have already observed that it is far better to have an approved IS 29500 than a disapproved DIS 29500, for the simple reason that re-introducing ECMA-376 (as repaired) as an ISO/IEC new work item is a very chancy and likely contentious and interminable business no matter the assertions protestations of anti-OOXML folk that failing DIS 29500 does not mean forever. 

But I have a far more personal and selfish reason for wanting to see IS 29500.  From my perspective, copies of the specifications for ISO Standards cost too much money and they are too difficult to find and use by your everyday practitioner, especially the rare individual who would seriously like to confirm they are relying on the standard.

Public Is not always Free

Those of us toiling in the fields of information technology are fortunate that a large number of specifications that might interest us in our work are not only public but freely-available.  All IETF materials, W3C specifications, OASIS specifications, ECMA specifications, and many other consortium-produced specifications are all freely-available for internet access and download, whether as text files, web pages, or PDF.

There are other organizations, especially the non-commercial non-profit ones, that extract revenue from the sale of their specifications.  ANSI does that in the United States, ISO does that everywhere.

For example, the ISO/IEC 9075:2003 multi-part specification for SQL is available on a CD-ROM from ISO at today's price of CHF 356.00 (Swiss francs).  At today's exchange rates, that is also $356.00 USD (Uncle Sam's Dollars) and change plus whatever the exchange fees might be.   You could buy those 10 parts separately as PDFs, but it would cost far more.   Now, if you also want the additional multi-media extensions to SQL, the three available parts will run you an additional CHF 676.00.  If you want the allied specifications on remote access security and geographical information, that's CHF 366.00 more.  There you have it.  To be abreast of the ISO and ISO/IEC specifications that bear on SQL, you'll set yourself back a nice round $1400 (depending on the standing of USD vs CHF on a given day).

In a more-cynical period of my life, I have wondered whether ISO loves gigantic, multi-part specifications because they charge by the page.

I looked up ISO/IEC 26300:2006 today.  That's the official ISO/IEC specification Information Technology — Open Document Format for Office Applications (OpenDocument) v1.0.  Today's special is CHF 342.00.  That's right: $342 and change.  Don't buy it there.  Don't buy it anywhere.

PAS and Fast Track Bargains?

Here's why I want IS 29500 approved as a BRM-updated updated version of ECMA-376.  However this is managed, there are ISO/IEC specifications that are not only public but also freely-available.  [Rob Weir explains that JTC1 is empowered to arrange that in his comment, below.]  ISO/IEC 26300:2006 is one of those.  You can find it on the ISO/IEC JTC1 list of freely-available standards.  These are free downloads for personal, individual use (no redistribution) and you have to click through your agreement to that.  That's it.  Your friends and colleagues can each download their own copy.  In the case of ISO/IEC 26300:2006, you have your choice of a PDF or XHTML, each packaged in a (non-standardized) Zip container.

Because ISO/IEC 26300:2006 was produced by a PAS submission from OASIS, you can also obtain the freely-available OASIS specification.  You should obtain the OASIS Open Document Format for Office Applications (OpenDocument) v1.0 (Second Edition) Committee Specification 1, dated 19 Jul 2006.  That is the same document that is republished as ISO/IEC 26300:2006, with some ISO/IEC front matter and the ISO/IEC 26300 designation inserted at the top of every page.  Fortunately, the printed pagination of the OASIS content is not changed, although the PDF sheet numbers differ because of the added front matter.  By the way, this is a different version than the copy of the 1 May 2005 ODF specification that was circulated as DIS 26300.  I have no idea why there are more pages in the Second Edition and how it came to be used in IS 26300, but I am sure there is an explanation somewhere.

Now ISO/IEC JTC1 is coy about the exact basis for having the ISO/IEC version of the ODF specification be freely available for download.  But I notice there is a similar arrangement for many (but not all) ISO/IEC specifications that are based on Ecma submissions.  The on-line list of Ecma Standards indicates the corresponding ISO or ISO/IEC number, when there is one, and also indicates whether there is a free ISO/IEC download or a free download from ETSI, the European Telecommunications Standards Institute.

Whatever this free-availability arrangement is, I want it to apply to IS 29500, and it looks to me like that is more likely with it being an ECMA submission than the creature of a new work item of ISO/IEC JTC1 SC34.

Of course, it is highly-desirable that any result of IS 29500 maintenance also be freely available, so we'll have to see how that goes too.

If one is going to dive into standard specifications, contribute comments, and also look at applications of standards in implementations, it is valuable to lay hands on the honest-to-goodness official specifications.  I need to have done that for reasons of proper scholarship and auditability of my work, such as that related to the Harmony Principles.  Even though I can't redistribute the freely-available specifications, I must demonstrate that I have them (as part of nfoWorks support materials) and be able to show others how to obtain them.

I also want it to be very easy for others to check and duplicate my work, so free availability is important for that as well.  I confine myself to freely-available development tools for the same reason.

This doubtless puts me in the arm-chair standards authority category.  I would even go so far as to label myself a standards-process dilettante.  So be it.

[update 2008-03-29T14:48Z: I forgot to single out IETF as an accountable, transparent gold-mine of specifications and related material as well as having an admirable lifecycle for a specified technology being a standard.  That's repaired along with pointing out Rob Weir's explanatory comment.  I also like the idea of self-identifying as an "Open Standards Activist" along with being someone who, though not exactly a stakeholder, finds the Microsoft technical ecosystem to be very important to comprehend and acknowledge.]

It is actually quite simple. In JTC1 we can vote to make any of our standards be on the freely-available list. This is routinely done when the original source standard was freely-available at the consortium level.
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