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OOXML Vote: Irregularities in Germany & Croatia and a Call for an Investigation of Norway
Saturday, March 29 2008 @ 02:03 PM EDT

If Microsoft gets this OOXML format "approved", it will be by irregularities in the voting, it seems. Here's more on what happened in Germany and a report on what is being called a scandal in Norway. And another odd process in Croatia.

If you can read German, here's the story on what happened there. For those who can't, when they went to vote, they were not allowed to vote disapprove, so the choice was to approve or to abstain. It was a tie, 6:6, which means no consensus. So under the rules I've read, that would have meant that they should send a vote of Abstain.

But surprise, surprise!! A solution helpful to Microsoft: the representative from DIN decided to cast a vote, which isn't the process. DIN isn't supposed to vote, because it's supposed to advise. But this, they rationalized, was a vote not about whether to accept OOXML on the basis of *technical* issues, but whether to accept the approval suggestion of the technical committee. So DIN voted to accept DIN's suggestion. Hence Germany ends up in the Approve column. I know. No doubt there will be objections filed.

Norway's at least as bad. Here's an article from Norway, and the translation of the title of the article is, "Scandal in Standards Norway. I didn't write that headline. They did. And here's why. The article says there should be an investigation of the irregularities there, because while there were only two votes to approve, from Microsoft and a business partner, Statoilhydro, and all the others voted no, 21 votes, they approved anyway. Here's how they shuffled the deck in Norway. So they put everyone out of the room, and Standards Norway, three people were left in the room, and they usurped the decision and made it their business to decide to approve anyway.

Unbelievable. If it was happening in only one country, you might think it was local difficulties. But when it happens in place after place, one can only conclude that Microsoft, although outnumbered in a fair vote, has sufficient clout behind the scenes to shove this format into the world's mouth and hold its mouth closed by force until the world is compelled to swallow. Remember that Microsoft memo that surfaced in the Comes v. Microsoft litigation? The one about how to stack a panel discussion at conferences so it would be favorable to Microsoft? The key was to get to be the moderator.

One thing is certain. Unless ISO steps up and fixes this mess, it will lose the world's respect, and rightly so. Either the rules mean something, or they don't, but if they don't standards don't mean anything either.

Here's a translation of the ComputerWorld.dk article, so you can read all the gruesome details:

The proponents of open standards are shocked over the incompetence and procedural errors made in Standards Norway and accuse the organization of not taking into account national interest.

While Shahzad Rand and Microsoft worry themselves about whether OOXML is recommended by Standards Norway, resistors are up in arms over Friday's decision. CTO Håkon Wium Lie at Opera Software, who has worked for a number of years with the Internet and standards is deeply disturbed. "This is a scandal! I am shocked. I am speechless. 21 members of the committee say no, while MS manages to win through its position anyway. It is incomprehensible," says Wium Lie angrily.

The meeting on Friday began first with a general committee in Standards Norway, which thereafter was reduced to key individuals in the organization plus five representatives who were in attendance at the ISO meeting in Geneva. At the end, even these were dismissed, and three individuals from Standards Norway made the decision.

Not qualified

"Those who made the decision at the end are not those who know the most about this. They are not qualified to make this type of decision and do not necessarily have national interests at heart. They do not represent the Norwegian committee," says Wium Lie. Ha has received support from the committee head, Steve Pepper , who also declares the decision incomprehensible.

"I am deeply shocked that Standards Norway has chosen to ignore the large majority in the committee. It is the bureaucrats in the committee who have said yes, not Norway. It is a win for MS and a great loss for the rest of the world," says Pepper. According to Pepper, there were only two in favor of OOXML as an ISO standard: Microsoft and its partner Statoilhydro.

The process warrants investigation

"So if the majority in the committee were against OOXMl, why do you think that Standards Norway said yes. They have been targeted of enormous pressure from one market interest which has use of great resources, and they have most likely been more preoccupied by their own interests as a standards organization than by the end users interests," says Pepper.

He emphasizes that it is an advantage for one organization to have responsibility for a large and important standard as OOXML with its 8000 pages of specifications.

"Someone should go in and review Standards Norway and the process when they can go and reach such hair-raising conclusions." He also dismisses Shahzad Rana's arguments that the disagreement in the committee was based on syntactical elements in the specification.

"It was not syntactical at all, that which was brought up was the core of the problem. The Norwegian comments on functionality were not addressed," says Wium Lie who claims that the document format is something only MS has the possibility to implement, because it is so large.

Tough decision Bjørnhild Sæterøy is leader of the OOXML project in Standards Norway, She opines that the process went as it should. "It was a very difficult decision because there was strong resistance against OOXML and we did not attain consensus on whether our comments were addressed or not," says Sæterøy. She implies that it is important for ISO and Standards Norway to have a grip on something so big and important a format as OOXML. "We made this decision because we wish to be within the further development of the standard. It gives us an opportunity to influence what happens. We await responses."

Wium Lie and Pepper opine that those in Standards Norway have ignored the majority's intentions. "They are welcome to their opinions. Beyond that I have no comments," says Sæterøy.

Lost respect

Pepper has been a volunteer in standards work for 13 years, but after Friday's decision and the way in which the decision was made he has lost respect for Standards Norway, and it cannot be ruled out that he retires from standards work.

"I am motivated by a moral position for open standards and if it is now market forces which take over ISO work, then that is something completely different. I must sleep on it," says an exhausted Steve Pepper

PS Standards Norway, a picture of Bjørnhild Sæterøy, and their page on OOXML.

Croatia

Here's an account regarding Croatia from the oddparity blog. They voted Yes with comments in September. When they wanted to vote again after the BRM, Microsoft refused to participate, claiming no revote after the BRM was mandatory. The result was overwhelming rejection, 14 to 3, but one vote short of being able to overturn their September Yes vote, if you calculate that not enough votes were cast, which is the claim. There are 35 members, but only 17 showed up to vote. One thought, according to the account, is that some didn't show up, thinking the vote was not supposed to happen, thanks to Microsoft. So Croatia stays, kicking and screaming or wondering how did it happen, in the Approve column, despite clearly wishing not to be there:

Croatia's initial position regarding fast-tracking OOXML was "Yes, with no comments". After the BRM resolution, NB's were given time to reconsider their vote in the light of new circumstances (namely, changes to original proposition).

The second round of voting was initiated by some Croatian NB members asking for the second round, mainly because there are many changes between initial proposition and the post-BRM changes.

However, that was strongly disputed by Microsoft Croatia, who argued that there's no need for a second round, because it is not a mandatory process, and refused to vote in it, accusing commitee conveners of incompetence.

The second round of voting was held out despite the protest from Microsoft, and here are the results: Out of 35 members of TO Z1, 17 sent a vote, and there were three votes for, and fourteen against fast-tracking OOXML, which is relative rejection rate of 82%. Members who voted were individual experts, IBM, CLUG and HrOpen. However, since there were less than 51% of votes, the voting process was declared invalid, and the previous vote holds.

The second round of voting was just one vote from being valid.

Author's opinion is that public (within the commitee) and loud rejection of second voting round by Microsoft has influenced other members to do the same, so instead of the usual vote of abstain, many of them avoided voting altogether, which enabled Microsoft to force CSI to keep the original vote by rendering the second voting process invalid.

So, Microsoft has won the game by tricking other members into thinking that the second round is invalid, not regular and called upon by incompetent people, resulting in invalidating regular voting process - enough to keep things the way they were.

Update on Germany: We have a translation of the article about Germany, written by DIN, so keep your wits about you as you read it:

OOXML Voting: Status and Results

The author, namely the German Institute for Standardization (DIN), is responsible for the contents of this report, and not Verivox GmbH.

(Press Office) Berlin, 28.03.2008 - Voting at the working committee of the NIA responsible for the technical evaluation of ISO/IEC DIS 29500 took place on 11 March 2008. At issue here was to determine whether the "Yes with comments" that was decided in September 2007 should stand, or whether the results of the Ballot Resolution Meeting should lead to a change to a "No" vote. As already correctly reported by unofficial sources, the vote was 15 to 4 in favour of accepting ISO/IEC DIS 29500 as an ISO standard. The voting here was among the experts working on the committee.

The steering committee of the NIA was not called upon to review the technical decision of the working comittee, nor to reject it if necessary. It does not have the authority to do that. The steering committee could only consider whether, according to formal criteria, the ISO process had not been followed correctly. Given that the decision of the steering committee was not concerned with technical questions or decisions over content but rather with the regulations of the JTC1 Fast Track process, i.e. with adherence to the rules of the standardization process, DIN saw a justification for taking a position. For this reason the full time DIN representative took part in the voting, instead of refraining from voting as the regulations would require over questions of content.

Thus on March 27, 2007 [sic] the voting members of the NIA Steering Committee had to vote not on the acceptance or rejection of ISO/IEC DIS 29500 as a standard, but rather, on whether the process ran according to the rules and without irregularities. By a majority of 7 votes in favour vs 6 votes against, with 7 abstentions, the Steering Committee acknowledged the process as having run fairly and therefore saw no basis to set aside the "Yes" vote of the working committee. If the majority of the Steering Committee had been of the conviction that the process and treatment of the voting over ISO/IEC DIS 29500 had not been in compliance with the rules, then the German vote at ISO/IEC would have been altered to an abstention.

DIN is a registered nonprofit association based in Berlin (DIN is the German Institute for Standardization, founded in 1917). DIN is the institution responsible for standardisation work in Germany, and represents German interests in global and european standardization organizations.

So that's their story. There is also an update from Andy Updegrove that tells yet another tale, from a friend who is on the relevant DIN committee there:

The official statement from DIN (in German), the German standards body, is now available (in German), and includes the official vote count as recorded. A news article (also auf Deutsch) is here. As you would see in the official statement, the committee vote was a 7 to 6 vote on, with 7 abstaining. This is slightly different from the total I reported earlier. I checked back with my original source on the reason, who reports that the manner in which the vote was calculated by DIN appears to have been (surprise) complicated. He reports in greater detail as follows:
Two People were allowed to vote in the voting booth without having voting rights, and then their vote was not counted afterwards; and DIN counts people who did not vote as "abstained". A total of 18 votes were cast, not 20, as DIN insinuates. According to DIN there were 7 "no" to a complicated question no. 2 about whether there were "severe deficiencies in the procedures, especially at the BRM" - which would then only lead to a German "abstain" at ISO -, 6 "yes" who saw severe deficiencies of the procedures, and 7 abstained according to DIN on these questions.

Even that is incorrect: 2 did not vote, which is not the same as to vote "abstain". DIN explained on its website why the steering committee could not vote "no" to DIS29500 by stating that the working group had decided with a 15 to 4 vote in favor of a YES to OOXML after the BRM. However, the working group was limited to a maximum of 20 participants, and was stuffed from the very beginning with a clear majority of pro-OOXML guys, like MS gold partners, which means that DIN did not follow its own rules to ensure a balanced composition.

Since the vote of the working group was "yes", the steering committee could only vote on the question whether the report of the chairman of that group "is acknowledged with agreement" - a biased report which did not tell about the obvious problems at the BRM. This question had the sole purpose of requiring people to offend the chairman of the working group if they voted against OOXML (i.e. to vote "abstain" at ISO). Only IF you voted not to agree on that report (i.e. were willing to offend the chairman) were you eligible to vote "yes" to the next question, which asked whether there were severe deficiencies in the procedures. Even then, beause of the way the vote had been set up, severe deficiencies in procedure would still not be an adequate reason to change the vote of the working group from YES to NO, but only to a German ABSTAIN. This and strong pressure forced several people to change their vote after having cast their vote.

It is also interesting to note that even the guy from DIN cast his vote in favor of OOXML; he could have abstained, since the committee was clearly divided and the committee was far away from consensus.

So: to the best of my knowledge, Germany woul18d have changed its vote from "approve" to "abstain" on OOXML if people had voted without pressure according to their intentions and their personal judgement, and without arbitrary restrictions on how you could vote. And the count on the second question (there were severe deficiencies of the procedures) of those who cast their vote and where eligible would have been 8 yes, 6 no, 2 abstain. If the DIN representative had not taken sides, it would have been 8:5:3. And finally, if you add back in the vote of the person who did not vote as a reaction to pressure, but who wanted to vote yes, the actual vote on the second question would have been 9:5:3.

Update April 18, 2007: 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.


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