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Microsoft Memo to Partners in Sweden Surfaces: Vote Yes for OOXML - Updated
Wednesday, August 29 2007 @ 08:05 AM EDT

IDG in Sweden is reporting the contents of a leaked Microsoft memo sent to Microsoft partners there, telling them to join the Swedish Institute of Standards and vote yes on OOXML. As you know, 20+ newly registered Microsoft partner companies did so, thus switching the expected No vote to Yes at the last minute. It says Microsoft's representative Klas Hammar acknowledges the memo was sent, but says it should not have been.

It costs money to join SIS, registration of around $150 and an additional $1,150 or so to get to vote, so Microsoft is reported to have told partners in the memo that companies that paid the fee and voted appropriately would receive "marketing support" (”marknadsbidrag”) and "additional support in the form of Microsoft resources" (”extra stöd i form av Microsoftresurser”) -- that's a translation by Groklaw member Ghost, and I also used this free computer translation tool.

The partners didn't need to worry if they didn't know anything about the specification, the memo reassured them; it provided reasons why they should vote yes. In any case, the memo reportedly told them they wouldn't need to argue technical details, but would perhaps have to offer a few arguments why they voted yes, and these reasons would be provided by Microsoft. They'd have to go to two meetings.

IDG hence calculates that it cost Microsoft a little less than $30,000 to get a Yes vote in Sweden. Is this kind of pressure to tip a vote allowed under the ISO rules, by the way? If so, maybe it's time to tweak? Shouldn't voters at least have to understand the specification they are voting on? The public is going to be seriously impacted by the results of this vote. Shouldn't we expect voting to be based on having a clue, not just based on a list of talking points provided by a vendor insisting its standard be approved?

Here is the part about the memo, Groklaw member Ghost's translation into English:

In an informational email that, according to Microsoft, went "to a few" partner companies, they write among other things that their partners are "expected" to join the standards insitute and "participate on the meeting the 27/8, to vote yes to Open XML”.

The partner companies are also asked to participate in some additional meeting after the ballot, this to "show their good judgment".

For the partners that do not feel they are adequately knowledgeable about the subject, Microsoft offers ready-made arguments as to why Office Open XML should be accepted by SIS.

”[The partner companies] do not need to discuss the technical contents in the specification but should be prepared to offer a few arguments as to why they vote yes - these will be provided by Microsoft", the company writes. The fee for joining SIS is 15 000 SEK [appx $1200] and the partnership companies will have to cover this themselves, but the software giant offers "marketing support" and "additional support in the form of Microsoft resources" to the partners that join and participate in the ballot.

I know. Breathtaking. If Microsoft had a good standard, wouldn't everyone just vote for it authentically, without all this? And if a standard is passed like this, is it a standard? I confess I'm new to these parts, but surely this can't be how it's done, can it?

NoOOXML has a funny cartoon today that captures what is going on in ISO. It's a funny cartoon, but the real event it mocks is truly sad. And if you are curious why there is so much knowledgeable opposition to MSOOXML, you can read this article or check the list of links to objections on Groklaw's ODF/MSOOXML page.

Update:

Even Rick Jelliffe now says people should vote No with comments on OOXML. Here are the comments he sent to Standards Australia. Of course, it's easy to say that after it becomes clear that ballot stuffing can obtain a certain result no matter what anyone says. On Jelliffe's Talk page on Wikipedia, he wrote this about his relationship with Microsoft and Open XML:

In April, Microsoft has hired a training/systems/conferences company, Allette Systems (whom I have worked for on and off since the early 1990s, including several years as Senior SGML Consultant) to provide seminars in Asia/Pacific on the subject of Open XML, for which I will usually be the main trainer.

Without even peering too closely into motives, at least one can say that Microsoft could not convince a man it hired to train people in OOXML at conferences that one should vote Yes or even Yes with Comments. Where are the technical people, outside of Microsoft, who support a Yes vote?

This might interest you. Here is what Jelliffe wrote on August 10th about voting on OOXML in a comment he posted on Groklaw about the meeting in Australia he attended:

Not that it will make any difference, but I have no objections to countries voting no with comments that are in the spirit of the particular goals of Open XML and I think it would be a good idea to split the spec up.

Telling a country to vote No with Comments and telling people he's not opposed to such a vote isn't an identical stance to my paralegal mind. Perhaps enlightenment struck after the meeting.

The Linux Foundation has now issued a statement calling on nations to vote No with Comments.

And now there is another article telling about the Swedish vote, also in Swedish. It adds the detail that the IBM representative left prior to the vote in protest. An SIS representative defends the process, saying it's tactical, not against the rules. He acknowledges that the rules might need to be changed. And it quotes an SIS member, Marcus Rejas as saying that it means that all the work SIS put in to examine what standard is the best is now completely for nothing.


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