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Kenya Changes From Yes to Abstain! Denmark Says No; EU Commission Investigating Poland - Updated 6Xs - Mexico
Thursday, March 27 2008 @ 12:25 PM EDT

I'm hearing now that Kenya has changed its vote from Yes to Abstain! Kenya is a P-Member. There's also an unconfirmed report that the committee in Denmark has asked Denmark Standards to vote No, after the considerable pressure to change the vote to yes reportedly failed.

And more news from troubled Poland, with news that the EU Commission is investigating the process in that country. Things have reportedly gone from bad to worse there, with threats of lawsuits in the air if folks talk publicly about what is happening.

We also find out that the infamous slide the Brazilian delegate told us about, the one with the misleading "98% of issues resolved" number, showed up in Poland, shown by the chairperson, and it turns out it was apparently created by an employee of Microsoft Nederland. Worse, a letter from Tomasz Schweitzer, president of PKN, that was sent to the chairperson and which she was supposed to send to all the members prior to the meeting to vote, advising them to vote to Abstain if no consensus was possible, wasn't distributed after all, so the sender finally put it on the internet to try to reach everyone. An IBM representative is reported to have accused the chairperson of deliberate manipulation of the process at the meeting that failed to reach consensus. Remember the chair chose to allow voting by email when no consensus was reached? It seems that she failed to mention that if missing members didn't send in a vote by email, she'd count it as a Yes vote, since the rules allow that. But if they don't know because they were not informed, might some not realize that any failure to vote by email will tilt that way? So, delegates in Poland: are you voting? Please do. All this being reported by a very brave Borys Musielak of PolishLinux.org.

First, Denmark, reported by Leif Lodahl:

The committee S-142/U-34 under Danish Standards could not agree to change their vote from No to Yes, so the committee has asked Danish Standards to vote NO !

This is still unconfirmed !

Danish Standards has told the chairman (professor at Copenhagen Business School Mogens Kühn Pedersen) to keep his mouth shut: http://www.version2.dk/artikel/6718

The situation in Poland, as told by Borys:

We have already mentioned the letter from Tomasz Schweitzer, president of PKN in which he asked KT 182 (techical committee reposnsible for OOXML standarization process in Poland) to “abstain from voting” in case of not achieving a consensus over OOXML during the (Thursday’s) meeting. Here is an (translated) extract from the letter, again:
[…]Polish stance on OOXML should be a result of a consensus, that is no significant opposition from any interestedparty. I believe that in the existing situation, the most fair and neutral decision KT 182 could make is to abstain from voting. I would like to however emphasize once again that the final decision belongs to the committee.

The letter was sent on February 26, 2008 to KT 182 chairman, Elżbieta Andrukiewicz and was supposed to be distributed among the KT 182 members (it was addressed to the chairman and all the members). However, a source close to KT 182 releveled that no one in the committee knew about the letter since Andrukiewicz didn’t even bother informing the members about the letter and replied to Schweitzer on her own. The PKN president was so surprised that Andrukiewicz decided not to distribute it that he made the letter available on the Internet (here is the original [in Polish]). As far as I know such situation is a precedence in 84-year history of PKN.

Just to remind you, on Thursday’s meeting 12 members voted for OOXML, 10 members voted against it and 2 abstained from voting. As the consensus has not been achieved, Andrukiewicz decided that the voting should continue by e-mail and all the missing members should be allowed to vote. What she did not mention is that if the missing members fail to send her an e-mail with their stance, it will be automatically assumed they vote yes. This is one of the crazy rules of PKN process of opinioning new ISO standards.

Am I the only one who thinks this process is seriously flawed?

Following the meeting, more interesting stuff took place. The IBM representative for KT 182 accused Andrukiewicz of intentionally manipulating the process. He claimed that the fact of not revealing the letter could influence the members voting and the process in general. It’s not the only accusation, though. Andrukiewicz, while presenting the results of the Geneva Ballot Resolution Meeting on OOXML, presented the same slides the delegate from Brazil wrote about in his summary of the BRM:

Mr Barta informed Mr. Oh (the secretary of SC34, from Japan, author of that slide and the person that was presenting it) that that slide and those numbers SHALL NEVER leave that room, because they didn’t summarize nor represent the results of the meeting. The slide didn’t also explain the process used by the meeting so it is meaningless to the people that wasn’t at the BRM.
In general the slides presented a false impression of the results of the BRM, claiming that 98% of the OOXML issues have been resolved during the meeting which is obviously not true. What is even more interesting is the real author of the slides. An anonymous KT 182 member confirmed that basing on the properties of the PowerPoint file which the members received, the author is Raul Pesch, Platform Strategy Manager, Microsoft Nederland.

Andrukiewicz obviously did not agree with the charges and, amazingly threatened to sue anyone who distributes these accusations. I’m waiting for my lawsuit to arrive any time now :)

It’s also worth mentioning that the European Commission is currently investigating the Polish OOXML standarization process. Schewitzer, PKN’s president has been already questioned by the EU representative. There has been already doubts about the process last year (after moving the OOXML case from KT171 to KT182 for unknown reasons), when the EU representative called the process “according to the rules but certainly not fair”.

Ah! PowerPoint metadata. Thank you, Microsoft!

Update: Microsoft Nederland's Pesch gave a speech in 2005 at the University of Technology in Eindhoven, and there's a blog entry on it by a student there, Martin Sturm. The funny part, to me, is that Pesch responded to the blog article in a comment, and he obviously used Microsoft software to copy and paste his comment in, because it's almost unreadable in spots, due to Microsoft's habit of extending standards. To me it's a metaphor for what I believe we can expect our documents to look like if we try to read a Microsoft Office document in software that is not Microsoft Office. If we dare to take the legal risk. Take a look. Then think about the article just before this one, about the OSP not covering extensions to OOXML. Extrapolate.

Update 2: More by Mr. Pesch -- a downloadable Powerpoint presentation, you can find here, in Dutch and some parts in English, about Microsoft and standards. Slide 21 is interesting. It says that according to EIF, an open standard must:

Be adopted and maintained by a not-for-profit organisation and its ongoing development must occur on the basis of an open decision-making procedure available to all interested parties.

Be published and available either freely or at a nominal charge. It must be permissable to all to copy, distribute and use it for no fee or at a nominal fee.

Make related intellectual property irrevocably available on a royalty-free basis. Have no constraints on standard re-use.

So, what do you think? Does OOXML qualify as an open standard under these requirements?

By the way, word from DigiToday that Finland has ... how to put it? It's going to register a yes vote, I gather, without having voted, claiming consensus was reached, despite strong opposition. Can anyone translate this for us from the Finnish so we can verify? A little background, Lassi Nirhamo, the expert fired last year by the CEO of the Finnish Standards Association after he said he personally was opposed to OOXML. [Finnish article.]

Update 3: We have a translation of the new story:

Last summer Finland chose not to approve the standard proposal. However, in the meeting which run over five hours chairman Aki Siponen determined that Finland's stance has changed.

SFS did not do the decision based on voting but by trying to reach a consensus. After discussion total consensus was however unreachable.

The chairman noticed that Finnish IT industry was divided but especially those representing users had changed their opinion.

Compared to last year's meeting Ministry of Education, National Archive, National Library, Association of Finnish Local and Regional Authorities, and Confederation of Finnish Industries, for example, changed their opinion. No Nokia representatives were present in the meeting. In the meeting IBM, Sun, Google, Red Hat, EFFI, COSS, Ministry of Justice, and Mireabilis opposed approval of the current proposal.

Is this not the weirdest standards process you've ever seen? The thing is, I think the rules allow the chair broad powers to figure out when consensus has been reached. But here, is there even a claim of consensus, since there was strong disapproval by quite a few? How can this be all right, then? You tell me. I suppose those who opposed will be familiar with the rules and will know if something can be done about it or not. One change I'd like to see in the ISO rules is to make them comprehensible to nonexperts, so those with money to burn can't use the rules to their advantage, since no one else knows what is going on in advance.

Update 4: Get a load of this, will you? Participants at the BRM were told that only technical issues can be addressed. Bill Gates, however, reportedly contacted the president of Mexico to try to influence Mexico to accept OOXML. Unless, of course, they were talking about representing dates in Excel or other technical issues. Hardy har. Like, totally. I'm sure. Here's the paragraph in Spanish and if someone can translate, that'd be great:

Nada más para que se dé idea de la magnitud de la presión que se está ejerciendo en torno al voto de México en el seno de la Organización Internacional de Estandarización respecto del futuro de Open XML. Trascendió que el mismo Bill Gates se comunicó con Felipe Calderón para influir en la postura que se hará pública el próximo lunes en Ginebra. Aquí la comisión gubernamental está un tanto incómoda por la posición de algunos representantes de la UNAM, en especial la de Alejandro Pisanty, ex director general de Servicios de Cómputo Académico. Se trata de un respetado investigador que critica fuertemente el estándar que impulsa Microsoft. Su posición es estrictamente teórica a favor del software libre.

And here's a computer translation, and you'll catch the drift despite the usual awkwardness:

Nothing more so that idea of the magnitude of the pressure be given that is exercising around the vote of Mexico in the breast of the International Organization of Standardization regarding the future they to Bid for XML. It transcended that the same one Bill Gates communicated with Felipe Cauldron to influence in the position that will be make public next Monday in Geneva. Here the governmental commission is a little uncomfortable by the position of some representatives of the UNAM, especially that of Alejandro Pisanty, former general director of Services of Academic Computation. It is a matter of a respected investigator that criticizes hardly the standard that prompts Microsoft. His position is strictly theoretician in favor of the free software.

Catch the drift? Here's a better translation by Groklaw member ile , who clearly has a sense of humor:

Just to get an idea of the kind of pressure that is being exerted in relation with the vote of Mexico in the ISO with respect to the future of Open XML. It has been divulged that Bill Gates himself got in touch with Felipe Calderón [I prefer the automatic translation, Cauldron :)] in order to have some influence on the position that will be made public in Geneva next Monday. Here the governmental commission is somewhat uncomfortable because of the position of some representatives of the UNAM [the biggest university in Mexico], in particular that of Alejandro Pisanty, former head of Academic Computation Services. He is a respected researcher, very critical of the standard put forward by Microsoft. His strictly theoretical position is for free/libre software.

Update 5: Thanks to another reader, we have a translation of the letter from Dr. Schweitzer, the one that didn't get delivered:

Polish Standards Committee (PKN)

Warsaw, 26 February 2008

Mrs. Elisabeth Andrukiewicz, Ph.D.
Chair of Technical Committee 182
cc
Members of Committee 182
and the Subcommittee on Electronic Documents

PR-084-168/2008

Dear Mrs. Chairperson! Dear Colleagues!

I am turning to you in the rather emotional matter of ISO/IEC DIS 29500. From the very beginning the Polish Standards Committee has attempted to maintain neutrality during the formulation of the country's position on the above-named project, which hasn't always been nor is it now received with understanding. Acknowledging the complete independence of Technical Committees of the PKN in questions of merit, I don't have the right to influence your position, much less completely determine it. In such situations in general, should we explain ourselves? Secondly, taking into account interpolation from communications directed to Mr. Premier Donald Tusk in the matter under discussion, and the explanation which I had to submit to the European Commission, I nonetheless decided to raise my voice. For me personally, this was a very difficult decision, because I belong to the modest grouping that favours the introduction in Poland of a complete system of voluntary standards, and this action conflicts with my convictions. In order that I may keep an honourable peace with my convictions, please treat my public approach as an appeal that you may either apply, or choose not to do so.

It appears to me that in Poland we have a clear delineation in the opinions of the participants in the process between two groups that hold divergent views on the international standard under discussion. It may seem like a silly observation, but institutions are standing in favour of the proposed concept, while against it is a very large group of individual users who are expressing their views directly or through various intermediary organizations.

As your committee further considers the documents related to this project, the country's position in the matter of this project should be decided by consensus, which means a lack of strong opposition from any direction. I believe that in this situation, the neutral and unbiased solution would be for Committee KT 182 to abstain in the vote, but I emphasize once again that the decision in this matter belongs to your committee.

with regards,

Tomasz Schweitzer, Ph.D.
Pres.
Polish Standards Committee

Update 6: A reader found her reply posted on the Internet, and a reader has translated it for us from the Polish:

Dear Mister President,

With great consideration the Presidium of TC no. 182 [Technical Committee number 182] has familiarized itself with your appeal. We can understand your anxiety, Mister President, because not very often does a normalization process stir as much controversy as the ISO/IEC DIS 29500 Office Open XML File Formats proposal does.

TC no. 182 carries the standardization process of the 29500 norm proposal in accordance with procedures valid in PKN [Polish Normalization Committee] and with suitable international directives. Conformation of our actions to the rules placed on members of Technical Committees has been many times publicly acknowledged by you, Mister President, which we are very grateful for.

One of the canons of a normalization process is the rule of consensus. The act on standardization has a definition of this term. Article 2, paragraph 5 defines consensus as: "universal agreement, characterized by lack of solid opposition among interested parties in regard to important issues, achieved in a process of examining opinions of everyone concerned and drawing together opposed positions". The definition is of course well known to you, Mister President.

The above definition is in fact commonly understood in this way and also carries on to proposals of international standards. The best example of such an approach is the recently finished agreement meeting (Ballot Resolution Meeting) for the aforementioned project. The goal, set by 32 Member States of ISO and IEC, was to "achieve a greater quality text of the specification". Spirit of agreement and cooperation for normalization, in the best sense, was present in the meeting, which resulted in agreement on 98% of raised issues (1014 of 1027). Can a better example of difficult but achieved consensus be found?

We thank you, Mister President, for your prior support and we assure you of our determination to bring the entire process to a finish, with profit to standardization; we invite you, Mister President, to the TC no. 182 meeting which will discuss, among other things, issues related to finishing normalization process of ISO/IEC DIS 29500. The meeting will take place on Thursday, 20th March, at 11:00 AM, in Room number 601.

In the name of TC no 182 Presidium,
Elzbieta Andrukiewicz
Chairman of TC no. 182

14th March 2008

Shocking, isn't it? Attendees at the BRM have already said that it's not true that 98 percent of the issues raised were resolved. And there are objections filed regarding the BRM by at least two NBs, we've heard. So this is a remarkable letter indeed. Even if we lay that aside, has consensus been reached in Poland by her own cited definition?


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