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To read comments to this article, go here
Formal Protest Filed Asking that Norway's Vote Be Annulled & KEI Statement
Monday, March 31 2008 @ 02:47 PM EDT

The uproar over OOXML just won't quit. There has now been a formal protest filed, stating that due to irregularities, Norway's Yes vote should be changed to No and informing ISO that there has been a request for an investigation by the Norwegian Ministry of Trade and Industry:
Formal protest regarding the Norwegian vote on ISO/IEC DIS 29500

I am writing to you in my capacity as Chairman (of 13 years standing) of the Norwegian mirror committee to ISO/IEC JTC 1/SC 34. I wish to inform you of serious irregularities in connection with the Norwegian vote on ISO/IEC DIS 29500 (Office Open XML) and to lodge a formal protest.

You will have been notified that Norway voted to approve OOXML in this ballot. This decision does not reflect the view of the vast majority of the Norwegian committee, 80% of which was against changing Norway’s vote from No with comments to Yes.

Because of this irregularity, a call has been made for an investigation by the Norwegian Ministry of Trade and Industry with a view to changing the vote.

I hereby request that the Norwegian decision be suspended pending the results of this investigation.

Yours sincerely,
Steve Pepper
Chairman, SN/K185 (ISO/IEC JTC 1/SC 34 mirror committee)
(sign.)

I feel confident this won't be the last. Pepper is the chairman of the committee that had the job of evaluating OOXML.

Update: ISO now says they will tell us the results Wednesday, not today after all. I suspect there may be a connection. And Microsoft says it won't say anything until Wednesday either, "out of respect for the standards process." Hahahahaha. Priceless.

Knowledge Ecology International has reacted also, with this statement:

"It appears as if OOXML will be approved by the ISO. If so, we are disappointed. Microsoft's control over document formats has destroyed competition on the desktop, and the fight over OOXML is really a fight over the future of competition and innovation.

At this point, few software programs can implement the OOXML standard, and it is likely that Microsoft will use this standard as a weapon against its competitors, by introducing various obscure elements of the standard into MS Word and PowerPoint documents, so that only their products can be trusted. They have been doing for this decades already.

The TransAtlantic Consumer Dialogue (TACD) will meet with European and US trade officials next week and likely recommend procurement policies that would look at the practical implementation of document formats. Specifically, they will ask that procurement be limited to software programs that support multiple effective implementations for word processing on at least each of the three leading operating systems for consumers. This is a test that OOXML does not meet."

This story is so not over.

Groklaw member trtl sent me a helpful email, taking a look at how appeals work. He's been slogging through the rules in JTC-1 Directives [PDF]. Keep in mind that an appeal is something you'd normally see a failed applicant to file, and it's not the same thing as filing an objection, which is what just happened regarding Norway. And frankly if you think the fix is in, appealing to the folks who you suspect helped to fix it probably isn't so helpful. But it's interesting to try to understand the JTC 1's labyrinthine rules. Not that anybody seems to follow them. Here's what he found:

According to JTC1 directives, approving a standard would be an appealable decision, with appeals handled by Section 11 of the JTC1 directives:
11.1.1 NBs have the right of appeal • To JTC 1 on a decision of an SC; • To TMB/SMB on a decision of JTC 1; • To the Councils on a decision of the TMB/SMB. Appeals shall be made within two months after receipt by the P-members of the report of JTC 1 or SC on the relevant meeting or vote by correspondence. The decision of the Councils on any case of appeal is final.

This means that NBs can appeal to the Technical Management Board/IEC Standards Management Board and have to do so within 2 months of receipt of the vote by correspondence. If I read it correctly, even the report/results of the BRM can be so appealed, because 2 months haven't passed yet since.

11.1.2 A P-member of JTC 1 or an SC may appeal against any action, or inaction, on the part of JTC 1 or an SC when the P-member considers that such action or inaction is:
  • Not in accordance with these directives; or
  • Not in the best interests of international trade and commerce, or such public factors as safety, health or environment.

OK, so the appeal *has* to come from a P-member. This leaves Canada, China, Ecuador, France, India, Iran, Japan, New Zealand, South Africa and Venezuela as likely appealers. Setting aside possible procedural faults, sub 2 can be successfully argued, as having a bad 6000-page 'standard' is not in the best interests of international trade and commerce.

11.1.3 Matters under appeal may be either technical or administrative in nature. Appeals on decisions concerning NPs, CDs and DISs are only eligible for consideration if:
  • Questions of principle are involved;
  • The contents of a draft may be detrimental to the reputation of IEC or ISO; or
  • The point giving rise to objection was not known to JTC 1 or SC during earlier discussions.

It would be interesting to find out what 'questions of principle' are. They aren't further defined as far as I can see. The second point I consider to be easy to prove, seeing the irregularities in the process and the quality of the 'standard'.

11.1.4 . All appeals shall be fully documented to support the NB’s concern. The complaint shall state the nature of the objection(s) including any direct and material adverse effects, the section(s) of these procedures or the standard that are at issue, actions or inactions that are at issue, and the specific remedial action(s) that would satisfy the appellant’s concerns. Previous efforts to resolve the objection(s) and the outcome of each shall be noted.

Some work to be done here. It would possibly help to make it a community effort to create such a documentation.

11.1.5 When an appeal is against a decision respecting work in progress, the work shall be continued, up to and including submission of the final text to the ITTF (see 12.2.7.3 or 13.9).

So everything continues in the meantime, which makes sense. It helps to realize this though.

11.2 Appeal Against an SC Decision 11.2.1 The documented appeal shall be submitted by the P-member to the JTC 1 Secretariat with copies to the ITTF.

11.2.2 Upon receipt, the JTC 1 Secretariat shall advise all its P-members of the appeal, and take immediate action, by correspondence or at a meeting, to consider and decide on the appeal, consulting the Secretaries-General in the process.

11.2.3 If JTC 1 supports the SC, the P-member who initiated the appeal may either

  • Accept the JTC 1 decision, or
  • Appeal against it.

Probably 11.2 isn't needed here, as the vote is a JTC 1 decision, not one of a SC. Or is it?

11.3 Appeal Against a JTC 1 Decision

11.3.1 Appeals against a JTC 1 decision may be of two kinds:

  • An appeal against an original decision of JTC 1, or
  • An appeal arising out of 11.2.3 above.

11.3.2 The documented appeal shall, in all cases, be submitted to the Secretaries-General, with a copy to the JTC 1 Chairman and Secretariat.

11.3.3 The Secretaries-General shall, following whatever consultations they deem appropriate, refer the appeal together with their comments to the TMB/SMB within one month after receipt of the appeal.

11.3.4 The TMB/SMB shall decide whether an appeal shall be further processed or not. If the decision is in favour of proceeding, the Chairmen of the TMB/SMB shall form a conciliation panel (see 9.2). The conciliation panel shall hear the appeal and attempt to resolve the difference of opinion as soon as practicable. If the conciliation panel is unsuccessful in its endeavours, it shall so report within three months to the Secretaries-General, giving its recommendations on how the matter should be settled.

11.3.5 The Secretaries-General, on receipt of the report of the conciliation panel, shall inform the TMB/SMB, which will make their decision.

I haven't had time to work this out, unfortunately. But in short it seems that after handling the appeal at this level there's another level to go to to appeal:

11.4 Appeal Against a Decision of the TMB/SMBs

An appeal against a decision of the TMB/SMB shall be submitted to the Secretaries-General with full documentation on all stages of the case. The Secretaries-General shall refer the appeal together with their comments to the members of the Councils within one month after receipt of the appeal.

The Councils shall make their decision within three months.

And then it's final.

To make it short: Appeal against JTC1: 2 months to appeal, 1+3 months to handle it, plus an unknown time for the Secretary General to make a decision. Then an appeal against TMB/SMB decision: another 1+3 months. We might make it into 2009 this way ;-).

But what you are all asking is, what can we do? Glynn Moody in Linux Journal talks about what Microsoft has done, and has a few suggestions, in an article titled, Microsoft's Great Besmirching:

Microsoft has managed to besmirch the entire ISO process, which is now effectively worthless. Microsoft has shown that it knows how to get what it wants there, and will doubtless be applying that knowledge to further "standards" in the future. ISO has turned from being a kind of gold standard, into a worthless rubber stamp wielded at the behest of the rich and ruthless.

But is not only the ISO that Microsoft has sullied. It has also sullied itself, at a time when the perceived value of its brand is already plummeting. It may have been successful in somehow persuading various National Bodies to see its point of view, but it seems not to have noticed that something has changed from the good old days of meetings behind closed doors. In the age of the blog it is simply impossible to keep this stuff locked up. As the days and months go by, I predict that more and more and more details will emerge about what really happened. And then the real battle begins....

Writing to MEPs (if you're European) or to Neelie Kroes, the European Commissioner for Competition, (if you're not) is one obvious action we can all take to press for an independent, transparent inquiry into possible irregularities during the OOXML voting process in Europe. But I think there's something just as important that we need to start doing immediately.

It is striking that some parts of Microsoft have been making soothing noises to the open source world, speaking of their desire to work alongside free software projects and to ensure "interoperability" - a favourite concept at the moment - between the open and closed worlds. Those voices have become increasingly seductive to some, especially in the open source business world, who would rather work with than against the Seattle behemoth, and who seem to believe that Microsoft is genuine in its offers. But if the whole sorry OOXML saga shows anything, it is Microsoft's deep and utter contempt for the whole idea of an open, collaborative process based on mutual respect and consensus. Henceforth, members of the open source community must view with deep cynicism all - not just some - offers by Microsoft to work more closely with the free software world. If they don't, they could find themselves used and abused just like the once famous, and now former, International Standards Organisation.

Andy Updegrove, interviewed by Elizabeth Montalbano of IDG, says it best:

Norway's protest likely means that the debate over OOXML won't end when the ISO announces the results of the final vote.

"Things are getting weirder and weirder," said Andrew Updegrove, a supporter of ODF, a rival to OOXML, and an open-source and open-standards attorney with Gesmer Updegrove in Boston. "I think OOXML is going to be in the news for a while."


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