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New OOXML Scandal - A Leaked Email Surfaces in France - Updated: New Details from Norway
Friday, April 18 2008 @ 01:20 PM EDT

Le Monde Informatique and LeMagIT are reporting on a leaked email from Marc Meyer of the French government agency, DGME, which urges that OOXML be quickly added to the official list of formats that can be used by government entities, a document titled RGI, and then the finalized v1.0 of RGI be quickly published, in effect locking in OOXML, before the appeals process is completed. The email and the media reports indicate that the RGI was put on a back burner last October, when ODF was already on the list, and now, immediately after OOXML is approved, albeit controversially, by ISO but before the appeals process is complete, not to mention the format, Meyer urges it quickly be added to the list of acceptable formats, hence making it hard to remove OOXML from the list later, as a fait accompli.

Worse, the email indicates that work on the document was brought to a crawl to wait for ISO approval of OOXML. ODF was already on the list when work on RGI was brought to a standstill last October. There were suspicions that the slowdown was deliberate, and the email is giving legs to those suspicions.

It seems that politics has reared its ugly head, and just as happened in Masschusetts, questions are now being asked about behind-the-scenes Microsoft pressure.

Meyer is the project manager in charge of the RGI initiative [in French "Chef de service DGME/Développement de l'Administration Electronique"], of DGME (the French government agency tasked [PDF] with modernizing the French bureaucracy, which includes technical standards). Here's an article in French from 2006 explaining RGI.

ODF was chosen already, because it was already an ISO standard -- chosen but then the work on the RGI document [PDF; ODF mentioned on pages 30-32] inexplicably slowed to a crawl last October, or maybe more came to a standstill. Then the DGME withdrew its support for the ADELE [PDF] (ADministration En LignE) program. The ADELE site now redirects to a generic French government site list. The reports indicate that now questions are being asked, particularly after AFNOR affair, where the DGME representative and a colleague from the other French ministry DGE reportedly suddenly withdrew their opposition to OOXML, followed by France suddenly reversing its NO vote on OOXML and changing to Abstain.

I'm sure you can figure out what the advantage of the delay would be for OOXML or what the advantage to ODF would have been, had the choice been timely implemented. Even when technical groups choose ODF on clear merit grounds, it seems they simply are not allowed to follow through. Thou shalt use Microsoft. And what headaches are ahead for them! Here's a computer translation of the email:

"The project of RGI presented at the time of the last committee of the reference frames of October 12, 2007 had been put on standby, following the step engaged in the ISO by the ECMA concerning the OpenXML standard. This step having now succeeded, we held of it account and we wish to engage without delay the step of validation of the RGI, for a presentation of the project to set the numerical one of at the end of May 2008.

To which the report adds: "Here's what is clear: the RGI waited for OpenXML."

Reached for comment by our own Sean Daly, who speaks French, a representative of the DGME who did not wish to be identified would only say: "The work on the RGI is ongoing and is absolutely not completed".

That, of course, is not the same thing as denying the contents of the email. The only question is whether Meyer's email will be followed and when.

Sean tells me that you can think of the RGI as more or less the equivalent of Massachusett's ERTM: same goal, same struggle. And, I gather, same reason for the struggle. AFNOR, do you see what happens when you cave in when you know better? I know. We heard the reports of a Bill Gates phone call to Sarkozy. The silly part is that the whole world knows OOXML isn't done yet. Even Alex Brown, the convenor of the BRM and chosen to work on the committee trying to figure out how to finish it, calls it a baroque castle, with ghosts and secret passages and crumbling towers. I think one may assume, therefore, that if RGI suddenly lists such a standard, in its current state, it will have little to do with technical merit.

Meanwhile, PCInpact reports that Microsoft offered a special deal to all the ministries in France, and at least two ministries have accepted. I gather, if my French is up to this, that it's viewed as a kind of end run around the RGI, because the RGI states that all administration PCS must read and write all recommended standard formats on the list.

One of the journalists noted that there is still a difference between OOXML as approved and the format used by Microsoft Office, so to finalize the RGI with OOXML in it would be ridiculous -- nothing works with OOXML in its current state.

Incidentally, you may recall that ISO's recently published FAQ said that it isn't a bit unusual to have fast track items that are thousands of pages long, as OOXML was. Rob Weir hilariously bursts that bubble, and if you get statistical humor, you'll love it. The graphics are so funny.

If you are new to this story and not familiar with what happened in Massachusetts, Groklaw's permanent ODF/OOXML page can help you get up to speed. We covered it chronologically from January 2005 to today, and here are some documents from that sad struggle, where political pressure in the end blocked the technical group's decision to use ODF only, after Microsoft protested being excluded, and in the end Massachusetts caved and added OOXML to the acceptable list even before it was an ISO standard. If you want to see how pressure is brought to bear, just read through that list of links.

Update: There is now a first-person account by Steve Pepper, "The Norway Vote - What Really Happened" and it's even worse than we heard:

I was the Chairman of the Norwegian mirror committee for SC34 (K185) for 13 years until resigning a couple of weeks ago in protest against Standard Norway’s decision to vote Yes. On the other hand, I was present throughout the whole process and have more first-hand knowledge of what went on than anyone (excepting two employees of Standard Norway). Here I describe the fateful meeting on Friday March 28. More background will follow.

The meeting started at 10 and we spent an hour on other business before proceeding to the main agenda item: reviewing Ecma’s responses to the comments that accompanied our No vote in the August DIS ballot. I led the first part of the meeting and then handed over to the VP of Standard Norway for the last part, as I had done on previous occasions when OOXML was under discussion.

K185 meeting, Friday March 28 2008There were nearly 30 people present: three employees of Standard Norway (the VP, the committee secretary, and the JTC1 representative); the rest were technical experts. The VP opened by declaring that our only purpose was to discuss the comment responses and decide whether they had been addressed to our satisfaction. If so, Norway’s vote would change from No to Yes. I suggested that we should also take account of changes made at the BRM and base our decision on a total assessment. The VP did not disagree, but insisted that the discussion should focus on the comments. He also made it clear that the goal was to achieve consensus and that there would not be any voting.

The next four hours were spent going through the 12 comments submitted by Norway. My tally of the final result was as follows:

Consensus that the comment had been satisfactorily resolved: 2 comments.

Consensus that the comment had not been satisfactorily resolved: 2 comments.

No consensus that the comment had been satisfactorily resolved: 8 comments.

Regarding those last 8 comments, there was a roughly 80/20 split between those who were dissatisfied and those who were satisfied. (Since there was no voting, this is just an estimate, but it’s pretty accurate.) There was not even a shadow of consensus that the comments as a whole had been satisfactorily addressed and I naturally assumed the No vote would stand.

But lo… at this point, the “rules” were changed. The VP asserted that “Ecma has clearly made steps in the right direction.” The most important thing now was to ensure that OOXML came under ISO’s control so that it could be “further improved”. However, the committee was not allowed to discuss this.

The VP thereupon declared that there was no consensus, so the decision would be taken by Standard Norway.

Halfway through the proceedings, a committee member had asked for (and received) assurance that the Chairman would take part in the final decision, as he had for the DIS vote back in August. It now transpired that the BRM participants had also been invited to stay behind. 23 people were therefore dismissed and we were down to seven. In addition to Standard Norway’s three, there were four “experts”: Microsoft Norway’s chief lobbyist, a guy from StatoilHydro (national oil company; big MS Office user), a K185 old-timer, and me. In one fell swoop the balance of forces had changed from 80/20 to 50/50 and the remaining experts discussed back and forth for 20 minutes or so without reaching any agreement.

The VP thereupon declared that there was still no consensus, so the decision would be taken by Standard Norway.

The experts were dismissed and the VP asked the opinion of the Secretary (who said “Yes”) and the JTC1 rep (who said “No”).

The VP thereupon declared that there was still no consensus, so the decision would be taken by him.

And his decision was to vote Yes.

So this one bureaucrat, a man who by his own admission had no understanding of the technical issues, had chosen to ignore the advice of his Chairman, of 80% of his technical experts, and of 100% of the K185 old-timers. For the Chairman, only one course of action was possible.

That’s the story.


  


New OOXML Scandal - A Leaked Email Surfaces in France - Updated: New Details from Norway | 174 comments | Create New Account
Comments belong to whoever posts them. Please notify us of inappropriate comments.
Corrections
Authored by: IRJustman on Friday, April 18 2008 @ 01:27 PM EDT
Post 'em if ya got 'em!

[ Reply to This | # ]

Off-topic discussion
Authored by: IRJustman on Friday, April 18 2008 @ 01:29 PM EDT
If you have something NOT pertinent to this story, post it here!

[ Reply to This | # ]

Newspicks thread
Authored by: IRJustman on Friday, April 18 2008 @ 01:30 PM EDT
Discuss newspicks here.

[ Reply to This | # ]

The story is about Microsoft and it's destruction of standard to maintain the Monopoly!
Authored by: Anonymous on Friday, April 18 2008 @ 02:00 PM EDT
This have been the story of Microsoft for year. It is sad that the courts and
the anti-trust watchdogs for the citizens just don't "get it" and seem
at best to be lost when it comes to any technical issues (something that
Microsoft continues to profit in the Billions of Dollars, by having their
lawyers, in cases, force the issues against Microsoft to be boiled down to
details that cause an image or a resulting ruling that totally misses the real
total picture.

Microsoft needs to be broken up into at least 5 different parts.

[ Reply to This | # ]

The statistics!
Authored by: mtew on Friday, April 18 2008 @ 02:07 PM EDT
The distribution WITHOUT OOXML seems to be something very like a Poisson
Distribution; the mean and the standard deviation are roughly equivalent. I'm
not in the mood to dig up my Statistics text book, so I could easily be wrong on
the following, but I have a vague recollection that Poisson distributions have a
more rapid fall off in likelihood than Normal (a.k.a. Gaussian) distributions as
the deviation increases, but that is only icing on the cake.

The comparison with human height is very appropriate. Saying that a 20+ foot
tall man is not usual is more than ridiculous. In my opinion it is down-right
criminal or worse.

The Upton Sinclair reference is very appropriate.

---
MTEW

[ Reply to This | # ]

New OOXML Scandal - A Leaked Email Surfaces in France
Authored by: JamesK on Friday, April 18 2008 @ 02:13 PM EDT
With all that's happened, it's beyond belief that ISO could issue that FAQ, with
a straight face. How can they look at all that nonsense around the world and
still pass this "standard"?


---
It's exactly the same, but different.

[ Reply to This | # ]

And how much longer...
Authored by: jesse on Friday, April 18 2008 @ 02:20 PM EDT
will it be before MS gets another "anti-competitive" fine?

Maybe this time it will be big enough to actually hurt them - 2 Billion Euros?

[ Reply to This | # ]

New OOXML Scandal - A Leaked Email Surfaces in France
Authored by: Anonymous on Friday, April 18 2008 @ 02:20 PM EDT
I see that www.dotnetrocks.com will be posting a show (podcast) on 4/24/2008
entitled "Jonathan Zuck on the Politics of OOXML".

Their normal show is technical in content with a large .NET developer following
so it should be interesting how this subject is handled.

[ Reply to This | # ]

New OOXML Scandal - A Leaked Email Surfaces in France
Authored by: Anonymous on Friday, April 18 2008 @ 02:25 PM EDT
I'm not sure what (in the abstract) is wrong about this.

If you're constructing something like RGI (which you know'll take months) and
you know of a relevant standard possibly being agreed in the next month or two,
doesn't it make sense to delay until that's over?

(I think OOXML shouldn't have been standardized, and I think there are good
reasons for not choosing it for things like RGI, but delaying a bit so it can be
considered doesn't seem wrong.)

[ Reply to This | # ]

Maybe this is a good thing
Authored by: chad on Friday, April 18 2008 @ 02:26 PM EDT
If any organization mandates that office productivity software must be conformant with the new ISO standard, Microsoft Office 2007 will not be eligible. Neither will anything else.

Procurement will grind to a halt, and the non-standard "standard" will be shown for what it is.

[ Reply to This | # ]

Coming of age
Authored by: Anonymous on Friday, April 18 2008 @ 02:44 PM EDT

As a one-time Groklaw critic, who has at least on one occasion been personally invited to leave the forum by PJ herself, I was once rather skeptical that Groklaw had any future beyond SCO.

(Not that I was ever sympathetic to the ethics of any of the parties lambasted by this particular website, I just felt it was all rather sophomoric.)

But these OOXML shenanigans really take the cake. I'm more interested in this OOXML coverage than in SCO's death-wobbles.

I am beginning to suspect that there will never be a shortage of scandal and infamy in the technology world, as long as there exist money-mongering companies.

Hm. Groklaw has come of age.

[ Reply to This | # ]

Rob Weir hilariously bursts that bubble
Authored by: artp on Friday, April 18 2008 @ 03:15 PM EDT
PJ refers to "Rob Weir hilariously bursts that bubble". [Click on the
link at the end of PJs article above.]

"To put it in more approachable terms, observe that Ecma-376, OOXML, at
6,045 pages in length, was 58 standard deviations above the mean for Ecma Fast
Tracks. Consider also that the average adult American male is 5' 9" (175
cm) tall, with a standard deviation of 3" (8 cm). For a man to be as tall,
relative to the average height, as OOXML is to the average Fast Track, he would
need to be 20' 3" (6.2 m) tall !"

I can't wait to see how Jason Matusow explains to us how that is just
name-calling and character assassination.

If you don't like the facts, then quit making them happen!

---
Userfriendly on WGA server outage:
When you're chained to an oar you don't think you should go down when the galley
sinks ?

[ Reply to This | # ]

    Beat 'em at their own game
    Authored by: alphagadget on Friday, April 18 2008 @ 03:20 PM EDT
    I wonder how hard it would be to produce a document that meets the OOXML
    standard but that MSOffice is incapable of reading. If Microsoft can get away
    with implementing just a small subset of OOXML and still claim compliance, so
    can anyone else.

    How funny would it be to inundate local, state, and federal offices with OOXML
    documents that MSOffice can't open. Better yet, send them to ISO in that
    format.

    [ Reply to This | # ]

    "No comments"
    Authored by: Anonymous on Friday, April 18 2008 @ 03:27 PM EDT
    Reached for comment by our own Sean Daly, who speaks French, a representative of the DGME who did not wish to be identified would only say: "The work on the RGI is ongoing and is absolutely not completed".
    Le Monde says, at the end of the first page, that (free translation) "contacted by email before printing the article (...) the DGME did not answer our questions.". Why doesn't this surprise me?

    [ Reply to This | # ]

    The risk of a Federal Europe
    Authored by: Anonymous on Friday, April 18 2008 @ 03:45 PM EDT
    If this is true, it exposes the risks of a Federal Europe. There would be even
    less people to influence, far fewer people who could mess things up for the
    lobbyists.

    Less than a few decades from now it could be really bad, with a few global
    blocks. And very few people with way too much power in matters like these.

    .

    [ Reply to This | # ]

    Let's put a name on the problem
    Authored by: PolR on Friday, April 18 2008 @ 04:01 PM EDT
    This is not greed. There are a lot of greedy companies. Few can cause the grief
    Microsoft is causing.

    We can't call it corruption. This is a criminal offense. We need a lot of
    bullet-proof evidence to be able to raise such claim. Otherwise we will be
    answered "put up or shut up".

    This is not lobbying, although it is part of it. Companies should be allowed to
    expose their position to governments. Hearing what companies and other
    stakeholders have to say should be part of good policy making.

    I think we can say subversion. We have reached the point where civil service
    cannot function normally. Civil servants are subject to untenable pressure. They
    cannot make decisions in the best interest of their country without being
    reversed or forced to leave their post. We are seeing it in ISO/IEC, in standard
    national bodies, in some anti-trust authorities (in the US notably) and in
    organizations that set IT architecture standards.

    I must congratulate PJ. Subversion fears the light. When governments and
    international authorities are failing us, one of the few things that can still
    oppose subversion is the ability to show publicly it is occurring. This is why
    Groklaw has to continuously fend off smear, trolls and astroturfers.
    Discrediting or better, shutting up the voices that speak up would consolidate
    their ability to subvert without opposition. Remember what happened to the
    patent troll tracker. This could happen to Groklaw too. But PJ keeps up the
    fight despite all the risks and troubles. I am impressed.

    What is less impressive is why Microsoft employees keep subverting civil
    service. Aren't they not ashame? Don't they understand what they are doing? This
    is not marketing. This is not sales. This is hijacking civil service
    organizations for your masters' profit. Doing this for a job doesn't make it
    OK.

    [ Reply to This | # ]

    A new "stupid" rule
    Authored by: David Gerard on Friday, April 18 2008 @ 05:14 PM EDT
    So, given Rob Weir's graph: are people as stupid as ISO needs them to be?

    [ Reply to This | # ]

    Accountability
    Authored by: PolR on Friday, April 18 2008 @ 06:36 PM EDT
    The news from Norway are simply appalling.

    Who is this VP accountable to? What happens in the chain of command? Is it
    normal that Norway's position on matters of international commerce be decided in
    this manner?

    If things are going to be done like this, don't bother about setting up
    technical committees. Just bow to Microsoft demands and be done with it.

    [ Reply to This | # ]

    ... the little one said: Roll over ...
    Authored by: Anonymous on Friday, April 18 2008 @ 07:17 PM EDT
    "The Norway Vote - What Really Happened" - update above
    Scroll down to the bottom for a hilarious interpretation.

    The problem is that vivid, succinct illustration like this
    is dismissed by the opposition as childish or trivial.

    [ Reply to This | # ]

    Again... Why Didn't A Copy Robert's Rules Come flying Out?
    Authored by: Anonymous on Friday, April 18 2008 @ 08:14 PM EDT
    Again... Why Didn't A Copy "Robert's Rules" Come Flying Out?

    It's ISO's rule book.

    A simple "point of order" would have stopped the meeting cold. And
    would not
    have proceeded until the issue was resolved.


    [ Reply to This | # ]

    Nothing will be done about it
    Authored by: Anonymous on Friday, April 18 2008 @ 08:17 PM EDT
    Don't trow stones yet!

    The path of "favoritism" (as in any effort was made legally and
    illegally to make MOOXML an ISO standard) for Microsoft is clear.

    But nothing will be done about it. Not only nothing will be done to punish them
    for this behavior, Microsoft will instead be "rewarded" with contracts
    with national governments.

    The question is: what can be done? I can't see much happening.

    This seems to me similar with sports doping. A few years back (since the 80s),
    during every cycling season, claims that some cyclist or other or even entire
    teams were using doping. But nothing was being done about it. The international
    organization did nothing, nor did the people in charge for organizing the
    national "tours".

    It was only after the police get involved that things started to change. Instead
    of relying on doping tests they started from base: producers, traffickers,
    doctors, team managers. It was an huge scandal, it involve full teams and
    several teams were involve. The tests are seen to be mostly useless and are
    there to silence the critics. It is only through police work that the majority
    of these cases are uncovered.

    So the question is: will this require police work to get somewhere?

    [ Reply to This | # ]

    Norway protest?
    Authored by: Anonymous on Friday, April 18 2008 @ 09:10 PM EDT
    So, will there be an official request to protest the Norway vote that might
    trigger the ISO to delay the approval of OOXML as a standard? Or does the same
    person that voted yes also control whether or not there will be protest? talk
    about a rigged system.

    [ Reply to This | # ]

    Trivia Q: how many standards of 1000+ pages have been fast-tracked?
    Authored by: Anonymous on Friday, April 18 2008 @ 09:36 PM EDT
    Ok, after reading one of the articles on the review of this mess (linked in the
    header of the story this is a reply to),

    Here's the question:

    How many standards of 1000+ pages have been fast-tracked?
    ISO or Ecma or anyone?

    Can anyone find out?

    [ Reply to This | # ]

    ISO == 'International $hill Organization' retuns 1 n/t
    Authored by: mcinsand on Friday, April 18 2008 @ 09:39 PM EDT
    Nothing to see here, move along.

    [ Reply to This | # ]

    We Are As Corrupt As Any Nation And We Are Calling The Kettle Black!
    Authored by: TheBlueSkyRanger on Friday, April 18 2008 @ 09:54 PM EDT
    Hey, everybody!

    One of the things that bugs me is people who talk about how corrupt America is,
    and how much better other countries are.

    Whoops.

    At the very least, given that the EU is at war with M$, I would think France
    would at the very least think twice.

    I'll tell you this much -- this shoots that "The government is a reflection
    of its people" thing to bits. Considering everybody except the higher ups
    in M$ reach are saying this shouldn't go forward. And that includes the people
    that can file protests against ISO's approval. Notice, despite all the outcry,
    no one with authority is lodging a complaint that will shut down the UhOhXML
    approval. Or if someone is, they are being really quiet about it.

    Oh, yes, I hope M$ doesn't cave and pulls XP off the shelves at the end of June.
    With Win7 not due until 2010 (all those who think a function product will hit
    its deadline instead of being another Vista, raise your hand. Anyone?), the Mac
    looking good, and Linux continuing to go, I'm hoping this will be the important
    tide M$ can't turn back.

    Dobre utka,
    The Blue Sky Ranger

    "Nothing changes cause it's all the same.
    "The world you get's the one you give away.
    "It all just happens again way down the line."
    --The Offspring
    "Way Down The Line"

    [ Reply to This | # ]

    Head in the sand
    Authored by: Jose on Friday, April 18 2008 @ 11:22 PM EDT
    It's too sad how short-sighted people once mocking open and free software later
    turn towards it to try and save their jobs. Amazingly, it wasn't obvious to them
    (yeah, right) that free and open was better. I wonder how they will try and
    explain their way out of that. Even if they are 100% innocent, it will be hard
    to convince those coming after them.

    They will probably say that they "were sloppy and neglected to follow
    up" and were conned by Microsoft who said the standard was open. They will
    say, they heard nothing to the contrary and that everything was as usual.

    Well, good luck with those excuses, because that won't make back all the money
    Microsoft took. It won't bring back the cherished memories that will be lost
    because many were forced to use Microsoft's software deemed "open" in
    order to store their valuable material. They couldn't use the competitors'
    because OOMXL wasn't really open or interoperable at all, and they had to use
    Microsoft Office and pay the price for doing so.

    Public representatives "that were conned" by their coworkers did not
    do the job they were paid to do and failed the public trust. Most stayed with
    their jobs even though they knew others would pay the price.

    [ Reply to This | # ]

    Australia is worse
    Authored by: Anonymous on Saturday, April 19 2008 @ 12:10 AM EDT

    At least Norway had a voting procedure, even if the decision in the end was made by a bureaucrat. Here the decision was taken behind closed doors by the STandards Australia bureaucrats. No voting. No mintues.

    [ Reply to This | # ]

    OOXML Scandal - how it works
    Authored by: Anonymous on Sunday, April 20 2008 @ 01:36 PM EDT
    A wag would suggest that the reason for the disparity in voting is that
    comments and votes are registered only if they are submitted in valid OOXML
    format;>

    [ Reply to This | # ]

    The "Gaming" becomes even clearer...
    Authored by: HockeyPuck on Monday, April 21 2008 @ 08:33 AM EDT
    So we now have the MS game plan in front of us; plain as day. The RGI directive,
    similar to Massachusetts, is "RGI states that all administration PCS must
    read and write all recommended standard formats on the list". Forget the
    vast technical decencies and lack of products for OOXML. Let's pretend it is a
    working standard. Ladies and Gentlemen; what is the only platform today that can
    read and write all standards? That's right; Windows. Assuming that MS Office
    does work with OOXML; they can use Open Office. They can use Adobe. They can use
    any existing standard. Linux cannot because of the restrictions obvious to MS's
    Patent Pledge.

    So the only way we can even work with OOXML is if Governments compel MS to
    change their license. And that folks should be what needs to be done. A standard
    cannot exclude anyone; period. How can that be a standard?

    [ Reply to This | # ]

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