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New Zealand Votes No; Malaysia Tech Recommends No but It Abstains Anyway: Australia Abstains; India Suggests
Monday, March 31 2008 @ 04:50 AM EDT

More news starting to come in. New Zealand votes No again, and here's why:
Mrs Chin says ‘There have been significant improvements to the specification since it was first put forward for voting in September 2007, however there is still insufficient New Zealand stakeholder support for Standards New Zealand to vote for publication as an ISO/IEC international Standard.’

Our role is to ensure that overall New Zealanders will benefit from publication of a particular Standard and in this case it was clear that while some would benefit, there would be others who would be disadvantaged. A major concern is the expected increase in costs for government agencies that would result from the specification being adopted as an ISO/IEC international Standard. Cost increases for government agencies ultimately impact all New Zealanders.’

You cannot believe the pressure put on them to change the vote, but they did not, to their credit. Australia maintains the Abstain vote [PDF], which is better than it could be, considering they asked Rick Jelliffe to go to the BRM as their tech expert, but not as good as voting No. What is needed now is for some to change to a No. Malaysia meanwhile is following a more circuitous route.

Here's what Open Malaysia Blog is reporting:

On Friday 21st, the Malaysian Technical Committee responsible for evaluating OOXML were given ballot papers to be returned to SIRIM on Monday (24th) 5pm. This procedure differed from the normal voting methods employed by SIRIM.

Normally, TCs are given the responsibility to provide a position on certain matters, and to achieve that position was to gain consensus from all the parties involved. Consensus building means that we should find a position where there should be no sustained opposition.

However because it was a delayed ballot to be submitted later, this process could not happen....

The final vote for TC4 was: 4 Approvals, 8 Disapprovals and 5 Abstentions.

What is interesting is that the Approvals, like in the case of India are associations which have strong ties with Microsoft, of whom provides support, funding and are sponsors to their events.

For the Disapprovals are Malaysian End-User Associations, Governmental Agencies and Academia. The bodies who represent the huge majority of Malaysian citizens' interests.

This however should be no indication of Malaysia's final vote, as this will have to go through TC4's next level, which is ISC-G. They held their meeting on the 27th, and a similar delayed vote, without consensus was also held.

Additionally, ISC-G's vote will not be the final position either.

The final position will be solely decided by the new Minister of Science Technology and Innovation, who had up till today 7am to cast Malaysia's final position.

So, the vote is to Disapprove, but who knows what happens next. If just one person makes the final decision, that certainly makes it easier to subvert the vote. And once again, we see a bypassing of the requirement to reach consensus.

Update: We hear from Open Malaysia Blog's Yoon-Kit Yong that when I wrote originally that the technical committee voted to recommend Malaysia abstain, I was wrong. They voted to disapprove:

Here's an update on Malaysia:

1) The Technical Committee's position is 67% voted Disapproval to OOXML. Your article above is not entirely accurate, as although TC4 does not have an "official position", neither did it say "Abstain". Looking at the stats, its more like an unofficial Disapproval.

2) The ISC-G position is 81% Disapproval to OOXML.

3) And yet the Minister of Science Technology and Innovation voted "Abstain" in his final one man decision.

Please send your comments to the above post, so that the Ministry can clearly see the international feedback.

If you do, please remember to be extremely polite. You will be more effective that way. More details on the Malaysia vote from the last link:

I received a text message from the Director General of Standards Malaysia stating:
"FYI, M'sia maintained its abstention vote on the OOXML. TQ"

That's all the explanation I got.

I was expecting to understand the Minister's justification for overturning the 81% "Disapprove" position by ISC-G and TC4. I guess I will have to wait for MoSTI to make a Press Release. BTW, the previous justification by the ex-Minister back in September 2007 was:

"By abstaining, it does not mean that Malaysia agrees or disagrees with the new proposed standard, but that at the moment it is too premature to make a concrete decision based on vague and unclear information."

"Jamaludin said abstaining from voting meant that the Open XML would need to go through a more rigorous standardisation process."

Let's hope our new (2 weeks on the job) Minister of Science, Technology and Innovation can come up with better reasons than this.

Australia's reasons for abstaining were that no consensus could be reached, and it stated that "Standards Australia is not satisfied that the ISO/IEC fast track process is suitable for a proposal as large, complex and commercially sensitive." That would be a fine reason to vote no, actually, if logic were king. But that is the problem in a nutshell, the fast track process. When ISO allowed ECMA to introduce that trojan horse, it was just a matter of time before some vendor misused it.

India, which already voted No, has presented some ideas on what to do to fix the ISO mess, now that the Fast Track process has revealed itself as problem-ridden, and you can read them on Open Source India blog, along with a comment on each by Venkatesh Hariharan. I think they are important, so I am reproducing them:

There were widespread reports of irregularities in the BRM held in Geneva. At the meeting held on 13th March 2008, the Indian delegation to the BRM gave a debriefing to members of LITD15, which is reviewing OOXML. The very diplomatic Deputy Director General of BIS said that he had not attended such a meeting in 28 years of his career. Based on the debriefing, the LITD15 committee sent a message to ISO with India's suggestions (we are too polite to call it a protest!) on how the BRM should be conducted. Before sending off these comments, everyone was asked if they have any objections and since no one (including Microsoft) had any objections, these comments were unanimously approved.

LITD15's comments to ISO are given below along with my comments.

1. All technical issues raised by different member bodies should be discussed adequately during BRM. If balloting on technical issues is envisaged, it should not be done during BRM. Balloting may be done after discussion within corresponding mirror committees of the national bodies providing sufficient time for discussions. In other words, duration of BRM should be in consonance with the requirement of time to sufficiently discuss all technical issues raised.

MY COMMENT: The biggest complaint about the BRM was that five days is too little time to review the changes. The five day BRM was sufficient only to discuss 54 issues and the rest of the issues were decided over a paper ballot. The Indian delegation pointed out that if a paper ballot is to be done, why should countries go to the expense of sending four people to Geneva for five days? It would be much simpler to do a ballot from the home country after discussion with committee members.

2. If the basic structure of the submitted document is proposed to be changed during BRM, provision for circulation of restructured integrated document for consideration of member bodies should be incorporated in the Fast Track Process as well. Enough time should be given to member bodies to examine/carry out the impact assessment of the modifications proposed.

MY COMMENT: The scope of the document has changed. The document is being split into five parts. If the scope and nature of the document changes substantially (as it has in this case) then adequate time needs to be given to review the changed proposal. As one of the esteemed academic members of LITD15 says, "What document is there for us to vote upon?"

3. Definitions of newly introduced terminologies should be clearly articulated before discussions are initiated on the related issues.

MY COMMENTS: The fact that we have to make such an elementary request highlights the hollowness of the "Fast-track" process and the BRM.

4. Voting process especially in terms of considering simple majority/two-third majority and counting of P member/O Member votes at BRM should strictly be adhered to as defined in JTC 1 Directives.

MY COMMENTS: This is a serious ethical and governance issue. If O member votes are not counted (as per JTC 1 directives) then the Microsoft claim of getting "more than 98 percent of the comments were accepted" falls flat. The voting was forced upon the BRM after overruling the objections of several countries, including India. The vote was to be decided by a simple majority by paper ballot for 847 issues which could not be discussed. Four P members (Czech Republic, Finland, Norway and Poland) voted for approving the 847 issues, Four P members (including India, Malaysia, South Africa and the US) voted against these issues. The votes of two O members (Chile and Ivory Coast) was improperly counted in contravention of JTC1 rules. The head of the Chile delegation landed in Geneva on the last day, just to vote Yes. The head of the Ivory Coast delegation is Wemba Opota, a Senegalese citizen, who is responsible for Microsoft West Africa!

Even by the "simple majority" rule imposed by the ISO conveners on the BRM, the result is a TIE and not a majority, as claimed by Microsoft.

5. It is suggested that the resolution to the issues raised during the process of development of standard shall be provided before the publication of the standard and shall be included in the published standard and shall not be deferred to the maintenance phase.

MY COMMENTS: As the delegation said, maintenance is for issues that are identified *after* the standard has been frozen. Known issues cannot be swept under the carpet under the guise of "maintenance."

Alex Brown has begun to blog again, and although he does so using a metaphor, I think his snarky comment is clear enough. He writes about a local supermarket that wants to build in a neighborhood that doesn't want them to do so:

The No Mill Road Tesco Campaign is highly organised and professional, and as an opposition campaign is deserving of study. It is fascinating to compare it to the (somewhat less organised and professional) campaigns surrounding a certain ICT standard about which I sometimes blog – and it is a reality check to note that this local group of campaigners have managed to get more national media attention (BBC Radio 4 mp3 audio) than DIS 29500 ever did!

And then on the comments page, he goes even further:

It would be wrong to over-read the comparisons between the two, but so far as the campaigning went there are some resonances -- though perhaps (as your comment reveals) the Tesco campaign has lower levels of disinformation and conspiracy theory!...

I do get the impression though that the "campaign" against DIS 29500 (with some exceptions) spent rather too much time addressing itself.

Four things:

1. ISO is supposed to be handling the process in an unbiased way, with technical experts deciding whether or not the format merits adoption as a standard. It is not supposed to be political, where campaigns are needed. The fact that he would even make that suggestion is disturbing. Why would a technical standards procedure be a matter for activists to interfere with or feel any need to campaign about? No one knew in advance that they would fail so miserably to do their job, beginning with permitting Microsoft to stack the committee. Plus, the simple fact is, the process was closed to the public, and ISO made that decision. WIth a "law of silence", how could the public even know what was happening, let alone participate?

2. His bias in favor of Microsoft is now clearly evident, as far as I am concerned, by the disdain he expresses for opponents of OOXML.

3. In my personal case, I decided when asked to join an email list for an NB's advisory committee, which came with a requirement of confidentiality, that I could do more good that way. That is why I was restricted in how much I could say. But I learned plenty, and I can tell you this from what I saw personally: the pressure on the NB came entirely from Microsoft. It was in my estimation misleading and dishonorable, the things that were said. It failed, but not for a lack of trying.

4. Finally, it's obvious by now, if anyone ever had any doubt, that Microsoft is guilty of politicizing what isn't supposed to be a political process, and although it has been spinning the media that it was just vendors on both sides each doing the same things, not only did I have the opportunity to see that it's not true, Alex's scornful words actually are a clear proof that the Microsoft story just is not true. IBM and Sun didn't play the Microsoft game, and it wasn't organized to do so. Alex may view that as a reason to disdain, but in the standards world, those that understand the importance of standards know that when politics enters into it, and vendors control the result by sheer money and influence, standards lose all meaning. And in the end that destroys not only interoperability, in this case, but standards bodies. We all know now that a "victory" for OOXML in no way means it is ready to be one, just that it's possible to game the system. And in that sense, I return his disdain, and I sincerely hope that the investigation by the EU Commission includes the role of ISO in what turned out to be a stomach-sickening display.

Update 2: Norway has just announced that OOXML is not on its list of approved formats, and even ISO approval is not necessarily going to change that. Thanks to a reader, we have a translation:

IT-minister Heidi Grande Røys will not be bound by an eventual ISO-approval of OOXML.

The government has decided that all government agencies must publish documents on the internet in one of three formats: The ISO-standards Open Document Format (ODF), PDF and HTML.

The format Office Open XML (OOXML) is not on the list.

People have eyes. OOXML is a mess, and the whole world knows it. And there is no way to wipe that stain away. Ironically, had Microsoft put it on the regular track, it would probably have at least been made usable, if not necessary. No one can make it necessary. And there can be no doubt that Microsoft's reputation has taken another hit, due to its behavior. We know now that there is no "new" Microsoft. I believe a major factor in the Microsoft brand's decline began with the antitrust trial in the US. Despite their machinations to avoid penalties, the public saw what they were for the first time, and it stuck. I remember how shocked I was. It's been downhill for them since, a lesson they clearly have not learned. It's only normal for people to want to use products from companies they feel they can trust.

Update 3: More now from Singapore, where we see the same pattern, a recommendation ignored to favor Microsoft:

Microsoft Singapore (led by Mr. Barney Lau) has been running an intensive lobbying campaign to the members of the Information Technology Standards Committee (ITSC) to vote "Approve" on OOXML and disregard the "Disapprove" recommendation of Singapore's Information Exchange Technical Committee. Sure enough, in September 2007, ITSC voted "Approve" despite its technical committee voting a strong "Disapprove"....

Microsoft Singapore got all its business partners to write in standard template letters of support to ITSC to get ITSC vote "Approve".

In particular, the Information Technology Management Association (ITMA) and the Singapore Infocomm Technology Federation (SITF) (highlighted in red above), specifically wrote in to ITSC supporting OOXML as an ISO standard. Amazingly, both letters were CC-ed to Mr. Barney Lau (Microsoft Singapore Managing Director). I honestly did not know that ITMA and SITF were answerable to Mr. Barney Lau of Microsoft Singapore. Oh wait, he is a member of the SITF council.

That may be the most cogent explanation yet of Singapore's "Approve" vote I've seen to date.

Here are the letters sent by ITMA and SITF (as provided by a source in Microsoft who was not happy with the approach the regional Microsoft office took to railroad OOXML through Singapore's standards body).

You can read the letters by clicking the link.

The technical people all over the world have been pretty much singing in chorus that this format isn't ready for prime time, and they get ignored by those who may not understand the tech as well and were subject to organized pressure or are "drilling for gold", as Geir Isene puts it. So, what should that tell you about whether it will work out well for you?

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