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MSOOXML: What Happened in Hungary
Monday, September 03 2007 @ 03:56 PM EDT

We will soon learn the outcome of the scandal-rocked ISO process, which is trying to decide whether or not to approve MSOOXML on the fast track. Many of us have been disturbed at the changes we have seen happening to the normally collegial, technically-oriented ISO atmosphere, changes which threaten to undermine respect for the standards process. And here we go again. Let me give you a window into how it has degraded.

As I earlier told you, Hungary decided to re-vote due to irregularities. Here is the rest of the story, notes by Tomka Gergely, who attended the second meeting as a technical expert. We also have two letters, one translated from a public source, the other a fax from the Hungarian Minister of Commerce (or Economy) and Transport, Dr. János Kóka, to the director of the Hungarian Standards Institution and the fax to the director and copies to the president of the Hungarian Standards Institution and the chaiman and secretary of the technical committee.

I will begin with the meeting notes, as they will help you understand the letters, which highlighted the irregularities in the process leading to the invalidated first vote, which had been a Yes vote on MSOOXML. The results of the second meeting have not yet been officially announced, but as you will see Hungary is very likely to abstain.

Also, despite the technical committee voting no, Singapore, I hear, will vote yes anyway. Poland is showing some odd activity also, leading to protests there too, and we don't yet know what happened with the official protests in Switzerland. Andy Updegrove says if this were a normal submission process, it would be over now, with No with Comments prevailing, despite all the shenanigans:

Public announcements of how P members of ISO have voted on OOXML are now rolling in one at a time, and the trend thus far is meaningfully weighted towards "No with comments."

By my count, there are now four announced Yes votes, with comments (Germany, Poland, Switzerland and the United States), two abstentions (Australia and Sweden, the former due to a failure to achieve consensus, and the latter due to voting irregularities), and seven public No with comments votes: Brazil, China, Denmark, France, India, Ireland, and New Zealand.

Of course, this isn't a normal situation, because there are 11 new countries that signed up to be P countries and they haven't announced yet which way they voted. Hardy har. Like we can't guess. They are Cote d'Ivoire, Cyprus, Ecuador, Jamaica, Lebanon, Malta, Pakistan, Trinidad and Tobago, Turkey, Uruguay and Venezuela:

Without those extra 11 P countries, it would only require 10 votes to make an overall vote to approve impossible under the ISO rules (i.e., one more than 1/3 of the former 30 P members, minus the two that have abstained).

But with those eleven new P countries, and assuming no further abstentions, it could now conceivably take a total of 14 no votes, calculated as follows: there are 41 total P members. If all vote, as they are supposed to do, then you would subtract the two abstentions, yielding 39, and two-thirds of 39 is 26. Hence, more than 13 no votes would be needed to block a yes vote. And only by blocking a yes vote can there be assured to be a meaningful effort to address the many comments that appear to be accompanying the votes – including the yes votes.

If you can't do the math, I think the bottom line is, it's looking like Microsoft won't let the world say no to OOXML. It couldn't ram it through the usual process, with the folks who understand the tech, even with some very odd technical committee chairperson goings on. This is the standard that couldn't win on merit, in short.

If you are curious why so many countries have been voting No with Comments, you might want to read Stephen Walli's article on taking the not-ready-for-prime-time standard for a spin in Apple's iPages '08, , which supposedly supports Open XML. It didn't work very well for him. And eWeek tried to open a PowerPoint document in Keynote, with similarly disappointing results. Keep in mind that Microsoft folk like Jason Matusow have been listing Apple as having an independent implementation of their proposed standard:

A real litmus test for the viability of the ISO/IEC DIS (draft international standard) 29500 (Open XML) is whether or not there are independent implementations. The answer to this question for Open XML is an unequivocal yes. There are independent Open XML implementations based on the existing specification in applications that run on Linux, Mac, Palm OS, iPhone, and Windows.

If you read Stephen's sad experience, you'll be in a position to understand what all the Comments in No with Comments are about. It just doesn't seem to work well if you are not using Microsoft products:

As it happens, ECMA International makes the Office Open XML standard available as both PDF and as docx files. Clever — it's a document format standard see, and so they've provided it in its own format. Perfect.

So I download the .docx version of ECMA-376. All 5 parts of it. And I open "Part 1 - Fundamentals" and immediately get told some warnings occurred...

The file mostly looks good, but not quite as clean as the PDF image with the other font (Consolas?). And clicking on the first warning (about the unsupported field) gives me NO additional information to understand what/where the error might be. Now this is what we in the standards industry call "a quality of implementation issue". Clearly Apple has not done a good job. Get used to hearing this phrase a lot in the press — I'm predicting Microsoft will be forced to apply it liberally to their partners that helped them win votes and helped with the marketing message.

Then I notice the paging problem. I have no idea why, but there seems to be page drift between the PDF and .docx versions....Oh, and there are line numbers in the PDF that don't appear in the .docx as opened by Pages '08.

There is much more fascinating stuff as he tries next to open an even larger file, and finally concludes:

I asked a friend with Office 2007 to download and open the two .docx files. You guessed it — no warnings. So we're now on the slippery slope. Apparently I can create files in Office 2007 that Microsoft marketing claims are "standard" Office Open XML that may (or may not) use proprietary extensions. Or maybe Apple did a really bad job. How would a government customer interested in preserving documents know? But it gets worse. The Office 2007 pagination perfectly matched the PDF version. And there are line numbers in the Office 2007 version just like the PDF version.

Ooops.

I'm betting the average business or government office person saving a file won't think twice about it. You see Office 2007 gives you no way to save something as "strict" Office Open XML. Not even not by default, but not at all. Microsoft's definition of "Office Open XML" appears to be .docx itself.

Indeed, even Apple's Pages '08 will only EXPORT to old Microsoft Office format (.doc) and not the standard Office Open XML (.docx) format. So I appear to have no way to generate a OOXML file from Pages '08. ...

So as an adjudicated monopoly of desktop operating systems, supplying an office productivity suite with 95+% market share, they will be able to claim instant victory for the adoption of their international standard because .docx files equal Office Open XML standard files. Oh, wait — that's what was essentially done in the IDC study published this week that was "sponsored by Microsoft"....

So where does this leave the government customer that thought they were buying an open document format for document exchange and interop? It is indeed finally time to roll out the certification machine — for everybody.

So, that should give you an idea of why people are feeling alarmed at the fast tracking of this proposed standard. Shouldn't it actually work for people who don't use Microsoft products as well as it does for those who do? Isn't that the way a standard should work?

And with that, let's look at what happened in Hungary.

***********************************

Notes, from Tomka Gergely:

August 31:

So, the timeline of the Hungarian mess:

June 25: the first meeting. IBM had sent a professional, MS seven supporters. The official program was not about voting, but "working on a common standpoint". This was the first irregularity.

The second was about consensus. The custom was something like consensus - if everyone has the same opinion, no problem, but if not, the "consensus" meant a vote, and if the yes votes were more than 2/3rds of the votes, then this became the consensus. This was a rare case. Typically, there would be mainly agreement between the parties. But at this meeting, the secretary began by saying that "consensus" this time would mean a vote with 50% of the votes, violating both common sense and custom.

Third was the timing. The committee was laid back, so there was no activity all Spring. When they realized the looming deadline, there was summer, vacation time, and lots of officials wanted to go to vacation, so the meeting was called together with only 7 days' notice, not with the customary two weeks.

At this June 25 meeting, the members voted 8:3 for "Yes". From the 11 members there were about 7 Microsoft-supporting new members and Microsoft. Microsoft was happy; IBM not so much.

The Hungarian branch of IBM didn't like this result and how it was reached, so it appealed to the Ministry of Economy and Transport.

End of July: IBM sent a letter to the Ministry of Economy and Transport (GKM), which has authority over the MSZT, and the GKM started an inquiry.

Aug 17: The GKM inquiry ended, and the result was the invalidating of the June 25 vote, and a new voting session was ordered to occur before September 2.

The re-examination of the meeting showed that there was insufficient notice to members, less than the mandatory two weeks, and that the secretary changed the voting rules without authorization, so there had to be a new meeting, with a new vote.

Theoretically the GKM has the power to decide this, but Microsoft was not happy; IBM moderately so. The MSZT (Hungarian Standards Body) was also unhappy, but the word of GKM is binding, so they called another meeting. More new members were added, on both sides.

Microsoft started to write letters also. Their opinion was that the GKM has the power to invalidate the June 25 vote, but only via the correct procedure -- appealing by the rules of MSZT and, if this fails, then by going to court. Of course that procedure could go on for years, and IBM preferred something faster.

Aug 30: the GKM wrote another, very disturbing letter. They stated that the June 25 vote was irregular, so at the moment there was no official vote from Hungary. The August 31 meeting, which was called together at the command and direction of the GKM, was later also declared irregular and there was ordered a review of all the rules for the MSZT committee meetings, and so that MSZT must write solid, comprehensive rules as needed, because the old custom-consensus-tradition rules don't seem to work any more.

Aug 31: The day of the Big Meeting. 42 voting members were present -- a new record for Hungary. IBM, Microsoft and I all had presentations ready. IBM even showed up with a printed version of the OOXML and ODF. I have two pictures:

This is before we begin, at the start of the meeting. The room was full. I am supposed to be there as an expert of the IBM team, but while I had prepared a presentation, I'm thinking there is little point to say anything technical in these circumstances -- only count the votes and go home. I am really not too happy with this situation. This committee (MSZT/MB-819, Hungarian Standards Body/Technical committee 819) was a place for a few bearded professionals, who talked about nearly incomprehensible things, helping to build important standards via consensus and with a common target. Now it's become more like a snowball fight in a kindergarten

The meeting started with the MSZT officials reciting the above history. Microsoft appeared incensed and fought hard for the June 25 results, but the MSZT officials were unmovable.

For a while the meeting was arguing between IBM and Microsoft, each one defending its preferred result (MS the June 25 vote, IBM the letter from GKM), and said to the other to go to court. When one of the Microsoft lawyer's head became nice deep red, and he started to use a louder voice, the chairman of the committee proposed two options:

  • try to vote some legality to this illegal/irregular/not too law-conforming meeting, but out of the 42 members there, only 26 voted for this, mainly the Microsoft group, so this was not consensus.

  • try to talk about technical problems. From the 42 members, only 17 voted for this, mainly the IBM group, so again there was no consensus.

At this point the meeting was without target, purpose and dignity, so the chairman ended it.

The members of the committee had one week to send in opinions and technical comments, and after this there would be another meeting, about the technical problems, but of course this is mainly for the joy of meeting.

After the meeting, nobody was too happy. Microsoft of course was particularly really not happy. Hungary will not send a vote to the JTCL. It will abstain.

The MSZT officials were mainly pro-Microsoft, but for them the irregularities of the previous result were more troubling than the lost "Yes" vote. They lived in a simple world, filled with science, consensus, and so on, and this is now broken.

There was one strange event: the chairman said that there will be a written record of the meeting, and asked permission to make this public. One of the Microsoft people said this is good, but they want to check the proposed report before it goes public. The chairman explained that this is a perfect, word by word, written and voice record, so there will be no "proposed report". This interlude was maybe the only good thing today.

*************************************

From: Dr. János Kóka, Minister of Economy and Transport
To: Mr. György Pónyai, director of the Hungarian Standards Institution (MSzT)

Dear Director Pónyai,

This is to inform you that IBM Hungary, Inc. has raised an objection regarding lack of due process at the June 25, 2007 meeting of the MSZT/MB-819 Informatics Technical Committee (henceforth "Committee"). As you are aware, the agenda of the meeting was to establish the Hungarian position regarding the ISO/IEC DIS 25900 draft standard. State Secretary for Economic Development Mr. Géza Egyed sent a letter of inquiry to Mr. Péter Krauth; the reply was disturbing in more than one respect.

Based on this and a re-examination of the circumstances surrounding the meeting, I determined that the way the meeting was convened did not conform to article 5.1.9 of the directorial order of the Director of the MSzT regarding general procedural rules to be observed in national technical standards committees, program committees, and national professional committees (henceforth "Directorial Order"), which mandates that at least two weeks must pass between posting invitations to the meeting and the actual date of the meeting. Additionally, I find it disturbing that before the meeting, the Secretary of the Committee announced that instead of the normal 2/3rds majority, a 50% majority of votes would be sufficient to reach consensus, even though he had no authorization to do so.

According to Act XXVIII/1995 regarding the national standardization process, Article 26, Section (1); and further Statutory Order 75/1995 (VI.22.) appointing a minister to oversee the legitimacy of the operation of the Hungarian Standards Institution, Article 1; the Minister of Economy and Transport is appointed as the minister to perform this duty. Act XXVIII/1995, Article 26, Section (2) states that "the appointed minister shall verify that the basic rules and other internal regulations of MSzT conform to the law; and that the decisions of the various bodies of MSzT do not violate the law, the basic rules, nor other internal regulations of MSzT."

Based on the above, and considering the deadline of 2 September 2007 for establishing the Hungarian position, I request that you take any and all necessary steps to restore due process without delay, and that you announce a meeting of the Committee in accordance with the Directorial Order no later than 17 August 2007.

Budapest, 16 August 2007

Best regards,

Dr. János Kóka

********************************

From: Dr. János Kóka, Minister of Economy and Transport
To: Mr. György Pónyai, director of the Hungarian Standards Institution (MSzT)
Cc: Dr. János Ginsztler, president of the Hungarian Standards Institution; Péter Krauth, chairman of the MSzT/MB-819 Technical Committee; Árpád Horváth, secretary of the MSzT/MB-819 Technical Committee

Dear Director Pónyai,

Thank you for sending me a copy of the letter of invitation for the 31 August 2007 10:00 AM meeting of the MSzT/MB-819 Informatics Technical Committee ("Committee").

This is to inform you that I consider the method of convening the meeting to be in violation of articles 5.1.9 and 5.5.4 of the directorial order of the Director of the MSzT regarding general procedural rules to be observed in national technical standards committees, program committees, and national professional committees ("Directorial Order"). These articles state that while the director has the authority to initiate the convention of a meeting if warranted, it is nevertheless only the secretary who has the authority to actually convene it. As the director is not authorized to convene a meeting, the legitimacy of the 31 August 2007 meeting can be called into question and its outcome is open to contest by the parties concerned.

This also means that the legitimacy of any resolution at the 31 August 2007 meeting regarding the Hungarian position can be called into question.

I again request that, with regard to my letter of 16 August 2007, which drew your attention to the irregularities of the convention of the 25 June 2007 meeting based on Act XXVIII/1995 regarding the national standardization process, Article 26, Section (2), you take steps to convene a meeting in full conformance with the rules of due process.

I inform you further that during my investigation of this matter several regulatory deficiencies have come to my attention; these must be eliminated for the Hungarian Standards Institution to be able to function adequately in the future. I therefore request that you take steps to review the Directorial Order regarding general procedural rules to be observed in national technical standards committees, program committees, and national professional committees within the sixty days following receipt of my letter. If the results of the review indicate that the basic statutes of the Hungarian Standards Institution must be corrected or amended, I request that you initiate these corrections and amendments as well.

I further require that the national technical standardization committees be called upon so that the details of their own procedural rules may be established in accordance with Act XXVIII/1995, Article 22, Section (3) before the deadline set forth above.

Budapest, 29 August 2007.

Best regards,

Dr. János Kóka


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