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More Irregularities in the OOXML ISO Process Surface
Monday, August 27 2007 @ 11:54 AM EDT

Rob Weir is reporting some very disturbing news about shenanigans in the OOXML ISO process:
I just received an email from someone in a national standards committee considering the OOXML ballot, concerning false information given to his committee which suggested the Sept. 2nd ballot deadline was not real, that they actually had 30 more days to decide. I'm not going to name names in this post, but I will say that this isn't the first note I've received regarding such tactics.

He lists several more, and he asks that you tell him about anything not on the list already.

Here's his list:

Some of the other ploys I've heard of include:
  • In the 30-day contradiction period, one NB was told that the stated deadline from ISO had been extended and that they actually had two more weeks to debate before sending in their response. If they had listened to this advice, this NB would have missed the deadline and their comments would have been disregarded.
  • Another NB was told that they were not allowed to vote in the 5-month ballot because they had not participated in the contradiction period. This is totally false and has no basis in JTC1 Directives or past practice. Luckily this NB decided to check the facts for themselves.
  • Several NB's were told that JTC1 had resolved all contradiction concerns with OOXML and that these issues therefore cannot be raised again in the 5-month ballot. This is utterly false. No one at JTC1 has made such a determination.
  • Several NB's have been asked not to submit comments to JTC1 at all, but to send them directly to Ecma. (Yeah, right. Just sign your absentee ballot and give it to me. I'll make sure it gets in the mail)
  • Many NB's are being asked to throw away their right to a conditional approval position by voting Approval on a specification they they believe is full of defects that must be fixed, even though JTC1 Directives clearly states that "Conditional approval should be submitted as a disapproval vote."
  • Many NB's are being persuaded to vote Approval with the promise that all of their comments will be "addressed at the BRM" without explaining that "addressing a comment" may entail little more than entering it in a Disposition of Comments Reports with the remark "No action taken".

Is that not sad? What a revolting picture we've gotten of the standards process. If you see anything like this or any other irregularities, Weir asks that you post a comment on his article, which implies to me that someone may just be thinking of challenging such activities:

I'm expecting that such shenanigans are only going to increase as we go into the final week of this 5-month ballot. So I ask you all to remain vigilant. If you see anything like the above happening, then please post a comment. If you feel like you've been tricked into not voting, or voting for something that you didn't really agree with, then remember that JTC1 allows an NB to change their vote up until Sept. 2nd. No vote is final until then. If you hear something that seems unusual or a departure from normal practice, then question it. And don't take my word for it either. If you need an official answer, shoot off an email to the JTC1 Secretariat and the ISO Secretary General.

I'm not sure shenanigans is quite a big enough word, legally, to describe such things. Norway, I have learned, will abstain, but how it got to that result is simply appalling. If you read about what happened there in that article, "OOXML in Norway: The haywire process," your jaw will simply drop. I do think there is something the matter with the ISO process if this is how it works.

The article is quite interesting though, quite aside from the committee chair ramming OOXML through by hook or by crook (yes, another one -- in Norway, the vote has to be by consensus, and if there isn't any, and there wasn't, then the chair decides), because it provides Sun's explanation for the US vote:

I had read the essay by Jon Bosak (SUN Microsystems) on why SUN voted as it did in the US. He lays out a very different strategy. His view is that the battle is lost to completely reject OOXML as an ISO standard. ISO can only reject it with comments, and that is equivalent to giving Microsoft a todo-list on how to fix the draft so as to get it approved. Microsoft has sufficient manpower to easily tackle that.

Most of us had missed what Mr. Bosak saw: OOXML promises interoperability with earlier closed binary formats (the Word Doc, older Excel file formats etc.). But it doesn’t deliver. How on earth could someone be able to convert old binary files to the new format without having the specification of the old formats and a mapping to OOXML. If you are to translate some text from Chinese to English, it doesn’t much help to only know English.

Now here is where you can tell the old hound from the little puppy (me being the puppy). Jon Bosak gets Microsoft to admit that the interoperability with legacy documents are only marketing speech. He further gets an agreement in the comments to suggest an amendment:

DIS 29500 be amended to include a reference to a mapping from the Microsoft Office 97 - 2003 formats, to OOXML.

By forcing Microsoft to comply with their very own promise in the standard, he puts pressure on them to release a full mapping of the old legacy formats to OOXML. By this he gains market access for SUN and everyone else....

During the meeting, Steve Pepper suggested that OOXML be split into two distinct standards - one for backward compatibility with legacy formats and one modern standard catering for current and future document needs. I have never heard that idea before. It is very interesting as Microsoft’s best argument for OOXML not contradicting ODF is that it offers the interoperability with old binary formats. To pull those parts out and crafting a separate legacy interoperable standard would give the IT world real value. The rest should be used as input to improve the existing ISO 26300 (ODF). That to me seems the best of all solutions.

He also reports what Mark Shuttleworth and Andrew Updegrove mentioned already, that there are suddenly a bunch of countries lining up to be P Countries, so they can vote. Guess which way?

Votes are cast by the 31 Participant members of ISO’s Standards Committee #34. DIS 29500 needs at least a two thirds positive majority to be accepted. With Microsoft and their partners busy in every national committee, and as new and rather curious were countries added to the list of P-members (the Ivory Coast…), they just might pull this off. If not, they will come back and try again. And again. And again. Resistance is futile. If you so believe.

Shuttleworth suggested everyone contact their ISO committee. A lot of people in Norway did. In fact, every comment was negative. And not a single comment made it through the chair's process:

The meeting started out with the Vice President of Standard Norge trying to lay down the rules of the game: We are here to go through the documents with comments to the standard and only those comments that we agree on will be passed on to ISO. He took up the first point (mine) and asked: “Are there any disagreement to this point?“. Unsurprisingly, a lady from Microsoft replied “We disagree“. He went on “Ok, so we have a disagreement on this point” and was ready to move on to the next. I and many with me dropped our jaws. “Are you seriously telling us that if Microsoft here says no to a point, it’s pulled from the list?“. “Yes, that is how the process works“. “And they can do that without even giving an explanation as to why they don’t agree?“.

After some back and forth on this, Microsoft was forced to at least give an explanation as to why they say no. But when they came up with an unfounded reason, it was not allowed to challenge it as that would make it impossible to get through the 45 points in two hours. They could simply manufacture a reason and the point was culled. Much because the VP could not possibly know if the reason given was valid or not - he had no knowledge of the standard. Or XML. Or file formats.

Now sit down and grab hold of your chair: He is the one deciding what Norway will vote in the case of no consensus in the committee!

He seems to be an excellent VP. But the process needs someone in the know....

I objected to the fact that Microsoft had Liberum Veto. But my objections did not change the process. It wasn’t until Håkon Wium Lie (the father of CSS) became aggravated enough and pressured the VP on the point of removing comments that Microsoft disagreed with. He pulled no punches and the VP then said that “No, they will not be removed, but rather softened, perhaps“. He was making it up as he went along.

The farce kept on for about 4½ hours. An interesting exercise leading to a few observations:

* The standards process in Norway needs an overhaul. The process is not suitable to handle disagreements.

* This may not be news, but Microsoft will label opposition as “religious” to discredit arguments.

* I should put more trust in old hounds.

So, there you have it. Norway. Another cynical exercise, where a standard no one has yet implemented (the article calls it a "theoretical exercise") and many say won't be implementable by anyone but Microsoft, and maybe not even by Microsoft, and that has many technical problems that need fixing first, gets through anyway. I hope the process that chose the standard for electrical outlets wasn't like this. People could get killed.

Let's move on to New Zealand. Here are some notes from a participant in the recent meeting in New Zealand, where again the suggestion is made that there really needs to be one standard:

Harmonizing the Formats

I think this should be the end goal.

It was suggested that this would create a 3rd format. It's not about creating a 3rd format because of course this harmonized format would become the new ODF. It would be about removing unnecessary and pointless differences between ODF and OOXML and making it easier for me (or anyone) to develop with office suites.

My presentation explained ECMAs given reasons for believing that they are too different but I hope it was clear to everyone that page breaks, table handling, and cell styles aren't any significant technical problem (Gray also mentioned the "mixed content model" as a reason why they can't be merged -- this is a data modelling issue unrelated to any feature set and so it doesn't affect harmonizing the formats as I understand it).

Also there'd be a lot more software to choose from when it's not such a divisive market.

Technically it can be done and many others in the XML and document community think so too. The co-creator of XML itself, Tim Bray says so and so do people from Microsoft such as Alan Yates. We even heard from Gray that it could take 2 years. It could easily take that amount of time to fix the existing problems in OOXML.

So that's the latest from the OOXML front. Like picking up a rock.


More Irregularities in the OOXML ISO Process Surface | 104 comments | Create New Account
Comments belong to whoever posts them. Please notify us of inappropriate comments.
Off-topic here, please
Authored by: overshoot on Monday, August 27 2007 @ 12:04 PM EDT
Nice instructions for prettyprinting and clicky links are in red.

[ Reply to This | # ]

Corrections Here
Authored by: entre on Monday, August 27 2007 @ 12:10 PM EDT
For PJ..

[ Reply to This | # ]

  • Corrections Here - Authored by: Anonymous on Monday, August 27 2007 @ 12:29 PM EDT
    • Corrections Here - Authored by: Anonymous on Monday, August 27 2007 @ 01:34 PM EDT
  • Corrections Here - Authored by: Anonymous on Tuesday, August 28 2007 @ 07:44 AM EDT
Question about ISO
Authored by: Anonymous on Monday, August 27 2007 @ 12:15 PM EDT
Would it help if people not on the committees emailed complaints about what we
are hearing directly to ISO?

[ Reply to This | # ]

If Only...
Authored by: sproggit on Monday, August 27 2007 @ 12:19 PM EDT
... Microsoft's OOXML standard was half-decent, there wouldn't be a fraction of the protest that's being seen at the moment.

But, as it turns out, not only are the tactics being employed by Microsoft completely bogus, their new standard is just as bad. Check out this analysis for more details of just how useless OOXML really is :-

OOXM L is Defective By Design

Daft as it sounds, maybe we should be thanking Microsoft for this nonsense.

Thanking them because perhaps we didn't realise just how easy it would be for a single company to railroad a defective, anti-competitive and monopoly-enhancing "standard" through International Standards bodies in such a way that legitimate peer review and comment are being ruthlessly silenced or ignored.

Thanking them because now we know that we need to be much more vigilant than ever before.

Thanking them because if there were any that thought that Microsoft were changing their spots and softening in their views towards the non-proprietary software model, those suspicions have been thoroughly and comprehensively shattered by this non-stop round of bully-boy tactics.

[ Reply to This | # ]

The worst thing about this isn't OOXML
Authored by: kawabago on Monday, August 27 2007 @ 12:29 PM EDT
If the ISO process can be manipulated in this way, how can anyone have any
confidence in any standard the ISO approves? If I buy a product built to an ISO
standard, how can I be sure the product is even safe to use if the ISO will
approve any flawed standard a vendor offers? What this whole process says to me
is that if I need a real certified international standard that has been fully
vetted by the industry at large, I have no where to turn.

If a standard can be bought by a single vendor, then we can no longer have any
confidence in that standard setting body.

[ Reply to This | # ]

Newspicks commentary here....
Authored by: itchytweed on Monday, August 27 2007 @ 12:51 PM EDT
Remember licky clinks and the rest, especially spelcheques.

-- Itchytweed

[ Reply to This | # ]

Lawyers: Options to action? ...More Irregularities in the OOXML ISO Process Surface
Authored by: Anonymous on Monday, August 27 2007 @ 01:06 PM EDT
For the USA (and anywhere else), do the Lawyers have thoughts about options for
after-the-fact law suits, reopening state monopoly court cases, and possible

Microsoft, yes, but so-what.

If we look at the charters of national standards bodies, are the board members
making unilateral decisions or decisions not consistent with reality! possibly
liable for failure to act within the policies or corporate charter of their

- tce.

[ Reply to This | # ]

Where were Opera and Trolltech?
Authored by: IMANAL on Monday, August 27 2007 @ 02:21 PM EDT
Where were Opera and Trolltech during this meeting?

They are both Norwegian companies, with at least some
interest in the matter I guess.

IM Absolutely Not A Lawyer

[ Reply to This | # ]

ISO process
Authored by: Anonymous on Monday, August 27 2007 @ 03:18 PM EDT
> I do think there is something the matter with the ISO process if this is
how it works.

Oh girl. That means you are new to tech standards. ISO was always whore to those
who pay more. Or to be more precise: who can pay up more lobbists.

Just ask yourself why IETF was established. And why OpenGroup or IEEE still
exist. And why few of standards in active use are under ISO roof at all. (N.B.
many actually taken verbatim by ISO - but are maintained outside of ISO. IEEE is
good example: many IEEE standards become automatically ISO standards. But NOT
vice versa.)

ISO is bunch of bureaucrats. And they need paperwork to survive. I bet they all
are drooling now about coming OOXML. Try to imaging amount of work the 6000+
page spec would generate for them. And amount of money they would earn.

In older times of "dinosaurs mating" - - ISO process was bend and
screwed anyway big guys wanted. Doubt anything changed since then.

This is just another place to make business with governments. But this is BIG

[ Reply to This | # ]

NB? What is that?
Authored by: Anonymous on Monday, August 27 2007 @ 03:27 PM EDT

one NB was told

What is an NB?

[ Reply to This | # ]

Norway will vote
Authored by: Anonymous on Monday, August 27 2007 @ 04:41 PM EDT
> Norway, I have learned, will abstain

I read several other places (e.g. - in
Norwegian), that about the only thing they could agree on at the meeting was
that they _will_ vote on September 2.

[ Reply to This | # ]

Microsoft bought the Swedish vote for $55000
Authored by: Anonymous on Monday, August 27 2007 @ 05:16 PM EDT

Here's a blog entry (in Swedish, I'm afraid) from someone who attended the Swedish voting session on OOXML.

It seems on the day of the vote just before the voting session opened a whole bunch of Microsoft Gold Partner companies showed up, paid the admittance fees to the Swedish Standards Institue and the technical working group handling the OOXML issue (total of SEK 17000, about $2500) and voted YES to support OOXML.

Apparently, this is allowed. You don't have to do anything but show up, pay the fees and then vote. How's that for a process?

[ Reply to This | # ]

ISO contacts
Authored by: Anonymous on Monday, August 27 2007 @ 06:04 PM EDT

ISO has its own web site, with expected subsections. It was founded in 1947, so I still retain some hope that its officers will have some concern for ISO's reputation and Microsoft's threat to ISO's legitimacy.

I think we can also assume that those within various countries' ISO organizations will be contacting ISO's officers with their objections to Microsoft's behavior.

The following link gives the officers of ISO. It has a secretary general, a president, two vice presidents (including an American), and a treasurer.

ISO officers

This following is a "contact" option. No, I don't know how effective it is. Perhaps someone who is more familiar with the site can evaluate. The "Enquiry Service" seems to be the most approporiate.

ISO contacts

There is also a postal address at the bottom of the contacts page.

The following link is a chart of how the process works:

Process chart

[ Reply to This | # ]

Standards Australia tried to lead us away from the core problems
Authored by: gfim on Monday, August 27 2007 @ 07:08 PM EDT
In the agenda for the Standards Australia forum on DIS 29500, was the following:
The JTC1 process has established that the ECMA-376 document is not contradictory to existing standards and ECMA has responded to a number of technical considerations raised in the initial consultation period. This forum is not to debate the merits of the JTC1 decision making process or the validity of the ECMA response.

While technical comments are welcomed, it would be entirely counter productive to use this forum to reiterate technical comments that have already been raised and are likely to be debated in every JTC1 member body in some form.

We are looking for creative, positive contributions that emphasise our commitment to representing truly Australian views to the international community.
These points were reiterated by Alistair Tegart in his introduction on the morning of the forum.

It seemed to me that SA were trying to deflect us away from discussing the core faults in the DIS (undocumented elements etc.) since "there's no point in us raising them - every other NB will do it".

I'm not sure what "truly Australian views" are! There are so many fundamental faults with the proposed standard, why should we need to look for ones that are unique to Aus?

And the first paragraph above seems to be leading us along the "all contradictions were answered by JTC1/ECMA, so don't raise them again" path.


[ Reply to This | # ]

3rd format - More Irregularities in the OOXML ISO Process Surface
Authored by: Anonymous on Monday, August 27 2007 @ 10:02 PM EDT
So if we create a third format, will there be Microsoft Patents in it?

[ Reply to This | # ]

Stops Pulled - More Irregularities in the OOXML ISO Process Surface
Authored by: Anonymous on Monday, August 27 2007 @ 10:06 PM EDT
No question about it. Microsoft is pulling out all the stops to get it's
"standard" passed. By hook or by crook, they will get it done!

People wonder why I don't respect Microsoft.

[ Reply to This | # ]

Newspaper ads in New Zealand
Authored by: star-dot-h on Monday, August 27 2007 @ 11:57 PM EDT
MS have taken out press ads in national newspapers claiming thta OOXML is all about saving our heritage.

The NZ open source society responds here:

Free software on every PC on every desk

[ Reply to This | # ]

More Irregularities in the OOXML ISO Process Surface
Authored by: Anonymous on Tuesday, August 28 2007 @ 12:17 AM EDT
Sounds like the easiest way to disqualify MS Office 2007 as a standards
compliant document writer - is to let them get OOXML as a standard. Then make
them implement it correctly, or refused to use MS Office 2007.

Java has a test suite. We need a test suite for OOXML to prove compliance.

[ Reply to This | # ]

MS buys the Swedish vote through SIS
Authored by: Anonymous on Tuesday, August 28 2007 @ 02:34 AM EDT

Yesterday, Monday 2007-08-27 the Swedish vote for the OOXML ISO process was
decided - and it was a landslide for OOXML(!)

What happened was that the meeting at SIS - the Swedish Standards Institute (who
represents Sweden at ISO) suddenly got a rush of new members - all of the MS
Gold Partners.

Blog entry by Patrik Fältström (IETF, IAB etc):

The SIS press release about the vote (in Swedish):

Another blog with some accounts of what happened, the companies that helped MS
etc (Swedish):

Note that companies like IBM walked out of the meeting stating that it was a

(Yes, sometimes you might not be very proud of being Swedish...)

[ Reply to This | # ]

Sweden will approve
Authored by: Anonymous on Tuesday, August 28 2007 @ 05:39 AM EDT
Yesterday the Swedish standards institute made a press releasy saying that it
will approve of the OOXML standard. The press release says that many new members
of the working group was added for the vote. I don't want to sound pessimistic,
but I would guess that many of the new members voted to approve. :/

/ Joachim Pileborg

[ Reply to This | # ]

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