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Proposed dispositions for National Body comments on DIS 29500 complete – New phase to begin

14 January 2008

Today, the ISO/IEC DIS 29500 Project Editor, with the help of Ecma TC45, is publishing the Project Editor’s Report of Proposed Dispositions. This completes TC45’s review of the 3,522 National Body comments raised on the DIS 29500 ballot in September, and its preparation of proposed dispositions in support of the Editor.

“I am impressed by the immense and disciplined work TC45 has carried out in support of the ISO/IEC Project Editor. Crafting high-quality dispositions in response to an unprecedented level of rigorous external review is a considerable process, making the task of delivering thoughtful recommendations for more than 3,500 technical comments a remarkable achievement." said Dr. Istvan Sebestyen, Secretary General of Ecma International.  “We are all gaining a better standard as a result of the strong cooperation from the ISO/IEC National Bodies throughout this process, who, at an unprecedented level of responsiveness, have contributed their thorough review and many excellent suggestions regarding tangible improvements for this specification.”

The full report document may be accessed, via the same password, at the project site where the Project Editor has been posting proposed dispositions over the past few months. The project site is password protected per explicit ISO/IEC instructions.

Below is a brief summary of some of the notable changes that are included within the report of proposed dispositions:

Language tags

ECMA-376, the original Open XML standard adopted by Ecma, 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, BCP 47 from IETF. This Best Current Practice uses the ISO 639 standard for languages and ISO 15924 for scripts. This proposal directly follows recommendations from National Bodies in several countries. 

Treatment of dates and related calculations

a) Allowing for ISO-8601 Dates

ECMA-376 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.

b) Storing dates before 1900

ECMA-376 did not specify rules for calculating values using dates before 1900. Based on input from the National Bodies in 19 countries, Ecma agrees that the DIS should allow for dates before 1900 and has proposed supporting a full range, as specified by the ISO 8601 standard for dates.

c) Leap year calculation

ECMA-376 treats 1900 as a leap year in order to maintain compatibility with earlier spreadsheet applications that included this error. This is an important compatibility consideration, but based on the comments received by many National Bodies on this issue, Ecma acknowledges that the date system should be correct. The newly defined date system described in the previous item treats 1900 correctly. The leap-year bug will be deprecated, as described in the next item.

Functionality extracted from the main specification

Many National Bodies identified specific functionality within the specification that reflected existing product defects or legacy application behaviors. These behaviors are important because they reflect the content in existing documents, but should not be perpetuated when creating new documents from scratch.

Following the precedent set by other ISO standards (such as SQL's ISO 9075:2003 Part 1 and C++'s ISO/IEC 14882:1998), Ecma is proposing changes to DIS 29500 that will more clearly distinguish defects and deprecated functionality from what will be best for new documents.

Issues related to the “leap year bug”, VML, compatibility settings such as “AutoSpaceLikeWord95” and others will be extracted from the main specification and relocated to an independent annex in DIS 29500 for deprecated functionality. The intent of this Annex is to enable a transitional period during which existing binary documents being migrated to DIS 29500 can make use of those deprecated features, while noting that new documents should not use them. Accordingly, the conformance clause will also be changed to state that new documents created from scratch should not use functionality described in the new annex. This will ensure that existing content can still be successfully migrated, but will also ensure that bugs or legacy semantics will not be perpetuated by the Open XML standard.

a) VML

Many National Bodies commented about the role of VML in the specification. Some have asked for it to be removed completely, whereas others have asked for VML to be treated in an annex only. Ecma agrees and will remove VML from the main specification. As suggested by many National Bodies, we will also make the necessary changes to enable the usage of DrawingML everywhere VML was previously used.

VML will be moved to the new annex for deprecated functionality. This will ensure that new documents will fully utilize DrawingML, as provided for by the new conformance clause. This will also enable a transitional period during which existing binary documents being migrated to DIS 29500 can make use of VML. This is a significant change for DIS 29500. 

b) Compatibility settings

Many National Bodies requested more complete documentation for some legacy application compatibility settings in DIS 29500, such as “AutoSpaceLikeWord95”, “truncateFontHeightsLikeWP6 “and others. Ecma agrees with this comment, and will provide the full information necessary to implement all compatibility settings within DIS 29500. This will enable implementers to achieve more full-fidelity compatibility with existing documents, and ensure DIS 29500 can be fully implemented without dependency on legacy products. In addition, we will remove all legacy application compatibility settings from their current locations in the specification, moving them into the new annex for deprecated functionality. The new conformance clause provides for new documents to be created without using the compatibility settings. This is also a significant change for DIS 29500. 

Conformance and Organization of the specification

National Bodies expressed a need to more clearly identify how developers can implement only the areas of the specification that are important to them; for example, many developers want to implement only word processing documents, but not spreadsheets or presentations. Two significant changes are proposed to help developers implement those areas they deem most appropriate:  

a) Conformance

Many National Bodies commented on the conformance clause for DIS 29500, saying that it was too broad to be reasonably implemented, and asserting that it should address semantics as well as syntax. Ecma agrees with these comments, and will change DIS 29500 to have more specific conformance clauses. WordprocessingML, SpreadsheetML, PresentationML, OPC and Extensibility will have separate conformance classes. Additional conformance classes for other parts of the standard may be added if needed for more granularity. The conformance clause has also been changed to include semantic conformance and to provide for new documents to be created without using the deprecated functionality described in the new Annex. 

b) Multi-part

Many National Bodies commented that the modular nature of DIS 29500 should be treated as a multi-part standard, to isolate specific technologies into separate specifications. Ecma agrees with this comment and proposes the following dispositions for these comments. DIS 29500 will be reorganized into three distinct parts: DIS 29500-1 will consist of the WordprocessingML, SpreadsheetML, PresentationML, and supporting SharedML specifications; DIS 29500-2 will consist of the OPC (packaging) specification; and DIS 29500-3 will contain the Extensibility specification. This reorganization will simplify DIS 29500 for implementers.

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.

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.

Object Linking Technologies

ECMA-376 is already compatible with object linking technologies from any platform including the Linux platform, in a way that is very similar to ODF. Based on the comments received from National Bodies, Ecma added additional examples to describe how an Open XML document can include KParts or Bonobo objects as defined, respectively, by the KDE desktop environment and the GNOME Linux graphical user interface environment.


ECMA-376 included support for color definitions to be used in documents. Based on National Bodies’ feedback, Ecma proposes to change the Open XML standard to use the color definitions adopted by the W3C SVG standard.

Password Hashing

The original Open XML standard adopted by Ecma used a specific algorithm to encode passwords. Ecma proposes to fully adopt the ISO standard ISO/IEC 10118-3 for password hashing, enabling a more secure way to password-encode documents.


ECMA-376 was designed to work with multilingual documents. It is capable of representing fully the information needed for different languages and scripts, including bidirectional (bidi) scripts such as Arabic or Hebrew. Based on the comments received from National Bodies we proposed added flexibility for defining the working days and week-end days of a week to adapt to international needs, additional functionality to enable a better representation of the information needed for right-to-left (RTL) and left-to-right (LTR) scripts and a new informative Annex to describe the overall multilingual and bidirectional support of the Open XML standard to provide implementers a comprehensive overview of the multilingual capabilities.


ECMA-376 provides a rich infrastructure for creating content that meets the needs of people with disabilities. Based on the comments received from National Bodies, we proposed additions to the accessibility capabilities of DIS 29500, regarding the association of content controls and form controls to specific labels, navigation order among elements in a presentation slide, associating data cells with header cells in a table and associating accessibility information with frames and framesets. Additionally, accessibility experts, including George Kerscher (Secretary General of the DAISY Consortium), Rob Sinclair (manager of Microsoft Accessibility) and Robert B. Yonaitis (CTO and Founder of HiSoftware), reviewed DIS 29500 and created the Accessibility Guidelines for DIS 29500 .

New phase to begin

The vast majority of proposed dispositions were made available in November and December to National Bodies to review. Early feedback from National Bodies to the Project Editor has already been incorporated in today’s report.

The availability of this comprehensive document today (January 14), as requested by ISO/IEC six full weeks in advance of the Ballot Resolution Meeting (February 25-29) , will enable participating ISO/IEC National Bodies to continue to review our broad set of recommendations, and to identify concerns that they feel merit additional discussion.

Participants in National Bodies who seek further clarification or deeper dialogue with the Project Editor and Ecma TC45 related to the proposed dispositions will have the opportunity to do so through a series of conference calls scheduled throughout this period by Ecma International. The calls are scheduled to answer requests for information or explanations raised by National Bodies. The Proposed Dispositions of National Bodies’ Comments will not be updated after Jan 14, 2008.

National Bodies will receive the conference-call information through the same ISO/IEC channel used for distribution of the ID and password for the site containing the DIS 29500 Proposed Dispositions of Comments.

We look forward to continued cooperation and collaboration with ISO, IEC, and ISO/IEC JTC 1.


Tom Ngo (NextPage)
Ecma TC45



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