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Expect a 2nd Official Complaint -- Against UK's OOXML Vote & Norway's Excuse
Tuesday, April 01 2008 @ 01:50 PM EDT

Adding to the first official protest, against Norway's sudden Yes vote on OOXML, now we have news from ChannelRegister that there will be a second complaint filed, this one about the UK's sudden about-face:
The delay on making any official announcement suggests the ISO is taking a cautious approach before telling Microsoft it can pop open the bubbly. Meanwhile, the Open Source Consortium (OSC) has bemoaned the British Standards Institute’s (BSI) own apparent change of heart on OOXML. Last week the BSI adjusted its stance on Microsoft’s somewhat controversial file format.

OSC president Mark Taylor said: "Once the BSI finally own up to what they've done, we will be lodging a formal complaint in the UK, as will many others.

The ISO has yet to put out an official announcement, but that article leaks the "news" that OOXML has "passed" and Microsoft, which yesterday said it wouldn't saying anything until OSI did "out of respect for the standards process" today put out a confirmation statement ("there is overwhelming support for OOXML") anyway. I wouldn't say overwhelming support, exactly. Some would call it overwhelmingly appalling. Michael Leenaars of OpenDoc Society says "This must be one of the worst results ever for a standard to pass within ISO/JTC1 in years."

Update 2: ECMA decided not to wait for the ISO official announcement either. That made it possible to announce on April Fool's Day. Perfection. Martin LaMonica details all the leaks.

Oh, and the man who more than anyone seems to have made it happen would prefer that we not hate him for it. Or I think that's what his list is saying. Here's the question I'd like to ask Patrick Durusau: did Microsoft make any threats that unless you supported OOXML they'd fight against the next version of ODF but that if you'd scratch their back, they'd scratch yours? If so, you should tell someone. Like the EU Commission, for instance.

His is not the only effort to paper over the mess. Here's Standards Norway's statement, posted in English by a Microsoft person, which is no doubt very busy indeed today with damage control. It's now available also here.

Standards Norway's Excuses

Here's the first part of Standards Norway's justification (note that in the update, below, we have a better translation for comparison):

The proposal of sending the ECMA standard Open Office XML to ISO/IEC in order to appoint this as the ISO/IEC standard has been handled through the use of a so called “fast-track”-proceedure. This kind of rapid handling is used by ISO to appoint standards that are developed by standardisation organisations that have established cooperation agreements with ISO, for ISO standards. These are often industry standards that already holds a certain degree of accept in the market. By turning such standards into ISO standards they become open standards that can be maintained and further developed in the ISO system. OOXML is an extensive standard (with more than 6000 pages) and using a fast track procedure on this document is very demanding. There have been heavy discussions in many countries as to whether this is an appropriate procedure for these kind of matters. Never the less was this procedure accepted as the appropriate method for handling the OOXML standard by ISO and IEC centrally in January 2008.

Often, but not this time. Microsoft doesn't even implement it. And as for what follows, it's an admission that this honking format's documentation was too extensive to fit in the fast track process. That is why they should have said no, not yes. Here's the next excuse:

Prior to the OOXML being distributed for voting, the document standard ODF had, after a proposal from the standardisation organisation OASIS, been through an equivalent procedure without any comments on this being problematic. ODF and OOXML are by many considered to be equal document standards, and due to the fact that ODF already has become an ISO standard , the questions has been raised as to whether ISO/IEC can have two competing standards. This question was settled early in 2007 by ISO and IEC centrally stating that there was no clash of interest between the two standards.

*We* aren't to blame. It's ISO's fault. They passed it on through and told us that there was no problem with two standards. It's true it's ISO's fault, and if you track revisions and date they were made in the Directives, I think you'll find it enlightening. But, no comments on having two standards being problematic? This is certainly not true. I've seen all the country's comments, and there were many such. Standards Norway seems to be saying that because *ISO* didn't tell them there was a problem, there is no such problem, and they were not allowed to notice any problems on their own.

Except there is a problem. OOXML is designed to destroy ODF and all who want to use it, using Micrsooft's monopoly power to effecuate it, in my view, and I know I'm not alone. That is, I believe, precisely why there is no current way to be truly interoperable and there never will be, due to two factors:

  • the proprietary extensions that no one but Microsoft can actually safely use;

  • the exclusion of the GPL and other Free and Open Source licenses from the coverage of patent safety that covers everyone else on the rest, the non-proprietary parts. So in effect, no one but Microsoft can functionally use OOXML perfectly, and they can't interoperate safely either. You tell me, Standards Norway, why that isn't a problem in a standard.
  • Here's the very best part of the self-justification:

    The public inquiry on the procedure for an ISO standard proposal is of high importance. This is an opportunity for all involved parties to state their opportunity and to make proposal for improvements. When Standard Norge sent the proposal out for public inquiry there were 47 comments, where 38 said yes to the proposal and 9 said no. As already known, many of the yes-responses were identical and phrased in a way leaving no doubt that they were the results of a campaign from Microsoft Norway. All the answers came signed and from known senders. Standard Norge cannot take other opinions into consideration than what have been expressed in writing. We would like to add that there is nothing unusual about receiving identical answers in controversial matters where involved parties are discussing the matter and supporting one another’s statements.

    Norway’s statement in this matter was scheduled to be ready for voting in ISO in August 2007. At this point however, there were controversies in the committee regarding Norway’s position, but with a clear majority wanting Norway to vote no. The ISO regulations state that in order for a member to get its no-vote approved it has to be complemented with comments that explains the reason for voting no.

    On the meeting of March 28 the committee thus focused on handling the received comments. According to the ISO regulations all comments that lead to a rejected proposal must be handled in a way that will incorporate them into the standard proposal. As a consequence the members can then chose to change their no to a yes, which was what happened during the OOXML process.

    So. They had to do what they did, because Microsoft flunkies sent them more letters. And they were 'prisoners of conscience', I gather, since the rules say they have to respond to the letters, and that is why they changed the vote.


    Aren't you thrilled to find out how standards are approved? On the basis of who sends the most phony letters? That's just the tale of how they voted in August. It should have been a straight NO with comments, but those letters made it a conditional Yes. Blech. Imagine what will happen to the standards process if this is all it takes.

    Next, they tell how they saw no evil and heard no evil at the BRM meeting, where many witnesses have already told you how bad it was, and then they justify their next step like this:

    Naturally the individual country’s comments also seen in context. Discussions at the BRM meeting led also that our comments had to include decisions that had been taken there.

    So once again they find themselves bound by conscience to deviate still further from the clear choice of Norway. They narrowed what they could do to a definition that if Norway's particular comments had all beeen resolved, they *had* to go against what the technical committee wanted, even though this would be highly unusual:

    In all standardization work in which Standard Norge participate it is Standard Norge that formally votes. The usual rule for international work is that we follow the advice that our mirror committees provide when there is general agreement in the committee. We have on occasion gone against the majority, and there have been instances when the committees feedback has been such that it has not been possible to respond with a yes or a no. In the case of the latter we can with the usual standardization procedure choose to abstain. With the ‘fast-track’ procedure we must provide notice of we want to alter our original vote or not, once the result from the BRM meeting becomes available. The main issue in the Norwegian committee meeting on March 28 was to clarify whether if our comments were given due consideration to the degree that we could change Norway’s vote from No to Yes…. Prior to the meeting 21 committee members had signe an open letter to Standard Norge which argued why Standard Norge should vot no to OOXML. Thus they had taken a position before the committee had discussed how our comments had been considered. In addition the letter also contained other and previously known arguments against the standardization proposal.

    During the meeting it became clear that it was not possible to reach and agreement in the committee about how good or bad our comments had been treated in ISO.

    Following consideration in the committee, at a meeting between delegates from the BRM-meeting and representatives from Standard Norge, there was a further effort made to create a degree of agreement which did not succeed. The leader of the committee has an important role succeed in creating agreement, but the leader of the committee had already in 2007 flagged his position which meant that he could no longer meet the criteria for neutrality. He had therefore renounced his task to lead the committees consideration of OOXML and Standad Norges deputy managing director therefore led meetings for consideration of this matter in the committee.

    You'll remember that they ousted the prior leader of the committee because he was opposed to OOXML. You are only neutral if you stand on your head to favor OOXML, I gather. And here his replacement shows one how to do that. With him on the job, no consensus could be arrived at because he didn't agree with the 80 percent who didn't want to approve OOXML, so he wins via a technicality:

    Its is correct that a majority of members in the committee believed that comments were not given sufficient consideration However, and in line with what the meeting leader stressed, Standard Norges comments were not formulated as absolutes. The phrasing provided, according to Standard Norge, some leeway which was important to find acceptable solutions through at an international level. During the commentary rounds in the committee meetings there were many that made absolute demands to fulfillment of comments which confirmed that the rigid positions were well established. Standard Norge thus considered any further discussion as futile with regards to achieving agreement in the committee.

    No absolutes. Some leeway for the leader. Get the hustle? Next, they admit the format doesn't actually work at the moment and needs work, but it's not their fault they approved it half-baked. ISO is responsible:

    In Standard Norges summary of the status of the case following the committee meeting we emphasized the following;
    • In the committee there is a clear majority that is opposed to making OOXML into a ISO/IEC standard. Standard Norge must however in its overall assessment also consider the result of the formal hearing, and thus there is a majority of yes votes. There was greater number of end-users of document standard formats among those in favor, than those who were opposed to the standard.
    • There is agreement about the need for improving the standardization proposal and Standard Norge believes this can best take place if OOXML becomes an ISO standard now. Work on revising can start immediately in the ISO committee which is responsible for this standard, and Norway should be in the best possible position to initiate and participate in this work. ( the ODF standard has has undergone several changes since it become an ISO standard)
    • Standard Norge believes that ISO should critically evaluate the ‘Fast-track’ procedure. We believe that work with OOXML would have been better served if it had been initiated as a new ISO project. The problem , however, was that the proposer ECMA justifiably launched the project as ‘Fast-track’. Standard Norge is also in 2008 one of the 12 members that comprise ISO ‘Technical Management Board’ (TMB) which is responsible for standardization work and the rules and procedures this should follow. We, at TMB, have already decided to discuss experiences with the use of the ‘fast-track’ procedure with the ISO/IEC 29500 procedure as a point of departure. The issue will likely be raised at TMB’s meeting june 3-4 this year.
    • As a member of ISO we are as members in our sister organization IEC required to do our best to ensure that the standarization proposals we are working on can be approved as ISO and IEC standards.

    And there, ladies and gentlemen, you have it. A format has been approved as a standard, despite it being impossible to implement it, and for reasons that do not bear close examination. Which is what they will now receive. Even the folks voting to approve it admit it still needs a lot of work. Yes, I view this statement as an admission. And that doesn't address the anticompetitive aspect, or the fast track inappropriateness or the OSP. If I were working for Microsoft, I'd be ashamed to post that on my webpage. I gather Microsoft doesn't even know when they look really, really bad.

    Update: A Groklaw member, Nils Grotnes, has now pointed me to the Standards Norway press release, if you'd prefer to read it there, and he's done what I think is a better translation:

    The process related to the voting by Standard Norway in ISO

    Criticism was not unexpected by Standard Norway after it became known that we would be changing our "no-vote with comments" on the proposed OOXML (Office Open XML) to a "yes" after the meeting in our national mirror committee for IT, SN/K 185 Friday 28th of Mars. We had also expected criticism if we had stayed with our no-vote.

    Important points in this matter have, as seen from our side, among other things been:

    1. The proposal to send the ECMA-standard Open Office XML over to ISO/IEC for making it into a ISO/IEC-standard has happened by the use of the so-called "fast-track" process. This type of speed treatment is used by ISO to be able to have standards that has been created by standards organisations ISO have cooperative agreements with into ISO standards. Often this involves business area standards that already are established in the marked. By making such a standard into a ISO-standard it becomes an open standard that can be maintained and developed in the ISO-system.

    OOXML is a very big standard to get to grips with (over 6000 pages), and a "fast-track"-procedure for such a document is very demanding. It has been highly debated in many countries if this was a good way to go. Nevertheless ISO and IEC centrally did in January 2007 approve that this method could be used for the OOXML standard.

    2. Before the OOXML was sent out to be decided, the document format standard ODF, after proposal from the standardisation organisation OASIS, had been through a similar process without that being considered as problematic. ODF and OOXML is by many seen as equal document format standards, and since ODF has already become a ISO-standard, the question has been raised if ISO/IEC can have two competing standards. Also this question was decided early in 2007, by ISO and IEC centrally declaring that this was not standards that was in conflict with each other.

    3. During 2007 Norwegian IT environments put a great deal of attention on the ISO-process for OOXML. The debate of what ISO should or shouldn't do, was quickly dominated by very active proponents and opponents of OOXML. The two questions about the use of "fast-track" and parallel standards has all this time been themes of discussion also in Standard Norway committee SN/K 185 (even though the questions as such, as far as ISO was concerned, was decided earlier that year). The interest for the treatment of the issue in Standard Norway led to our mirror committee expanding from 6-7 members to around 30.

    4. The hearing phase for the processing of a suggested standard in ISO is very important. This is where all interests have the opportunity to give their opinions and suggest improvements. When Standard Norway sent the proposal to the national hearing, it received in all 47 statements, whereof 38 replied yes to the suggestion and 9 replied no. As known most of the yes suggestions had identical wording and was initiated by a campaign from Microsoft Norway. All replies came with identified sender and was signed. Standard Norway cannot give independent companies other opinions than they express themselves in writing. We will also add that it is not unusual for us to receive similarly sounding hearing replies in controversial cases where different parties seek support of their views.

    The Norwegian view of the proposal was to be clarified for voting in ISO in August 2007. It was at that time disagreement in the committee about what answer Norway should give, but with a clear majority of members in SN/K 185 that wanted Standard Norway to vote no. ISO-rules are such that if a member want their no-vote recognized, it must be accompanied by comments explaining the no-view.

    At the meeting Friday 28th of Mars the committee therefore focused on the treatment of the received comments. It is also so in ISO rules that if the voting results in the standard not being accepted, the received comments shall be worked on, with the intention of having them incorporated into the standard. Then the members can decide if they want to change their "no" to a "yes", and this was exactly what happened for OOXML.

    5. To get a standard accepted a qualified majority of ISO-members is needed. Among the members that are part of the committee developing the standard, at least 2/3 must vote for the standard, while no more than 1/4 of all members voting must have voted against.

    As known Standard Norway decided to vote "no with comments" even though the result of our national hearing showed a clear majority for a "yes"-vote. Thus our decision was to be considered a conditioned yes, something we expressed in our press release 31st of August 2007. The basis of Standard Norway decision was that it was important to get an improvement of the standards proposal, in line with what the mirror committee expressed and the mechanisms for voting "no with comments".

    6. According to the ISO and IEC rules the national comments is to be processed in a special meeting called the "Ballot resolution meeting" (BRM). The number of comments (close to 3500) to be worked on in a short time was significant even though many countries had the same comments. The BRM-meeting itself was, according to the Norwegian delegation, handled in an effective and proper way in accordance with the instructions and rules that apply to ISO/IEC meetings.

    Before the BRM-meeting the comments from Norway was processed in the same way as the rest of the comments. The editor for the document put forward suggestions, and it was these suggestions the BRM-meeting based their work on. Two of our suggestions was refused, the rest was accepted or accepted with modifications. Naturally the individual countries comments must be considered in the full context. Discussions at the BRM-meeting of course also led to our comments having to be subjected to the decisions made there.

    7. In all standards work where Standard Norway participates, it is Standard Norway that formally gives the vote. The regular rule for the international work is that we follow the advices given by our mirror committee when there is a general agreement in the committee. It has happened that we have gone against a majority, and it has happened that the feedback from the committee is such that it's impossible to answer either yes or no. For the latter case we can during the regular ISO procedure select to not give a vote ("abstain"). With the "fast-track" procedure we have to, when the results from the BRM-meeting is clear, give notice about if we want to change our original vote or not.

    8. The main issue at the Norwegian committee meeting the 28th of Mars was to make clear if our comments was taken into consideration to a acceptable degree for us to change the Norwegian vote from "no" to "yes". Before the meeting 21 members of the committee had put their names on an open letter to Standard Norway that explained why Standard Norway should vote "no" to OOXML. They had therefore taken a stand before the committee had the chance to discuss how our comments was taken into consideration. Additionally the letter also contained other and earlier known arguments against the standard proposal.

    During the meeting it was quite clear that it was impossible to get to an agreement on how good or bad our comments had been treated in ISO.

    After the committee deliberation, at a meeting between the delegates from the BRM-meeting and representatives from Standard Norway, another attempt was made to create a degree of consensus, but this did not work out either.

    The leader of the committee has an important role to achieve the highest degree of consensus, but the leader of the committee had already in 2007 flagged a point of view that made it impossible for him to fulfil the demand of neutrality. He had therefore stepped down from the task of leading the committees work on OOXML, and Standard Norway vice administrative director was the leader for the work on this issue in the committee.

    9. It is correct that there was a majority of the members in the committee that considered the comments not taken into consideration to a sufficient degree. On the other hand and in accordance with what the leader of the meeting stressed, the Standard Norway comments was not formed as absolutes. The expressions gave, in the view of Standard Norway, a leeway that was important to be able to find acceptable solutions through work on an international level. During the rounds of comments in the committee meeting many put forward absolute criteria for the fulfilment of the comments which confirms how the sharp fronts were cemented in. Standard Norway considered any further discussion useless for achieving consensus in the committee.

    10. In Standard Norways summing up of the status of the case after the committee meeting we emphasises the following issues;

  • In the committee there's a clear majority against making the OOXML a ISO/IEC-standard. Standard Norway though, must in its complete evaluation also consider the results of the formal hearing, and therefore seen together there is a majority of "yes"-votes. There's many more end users of document standard formats among those for, than among those against the standard.

  • There's a consensus that the standard proposal in any case must be improved, and Standard Norway considers this best can happen by OOXML becoming an ISO-standard now. A revision can start immediately in the ISO committee that is responsible for this standard, and Norway should be in the best position possible to initiate and participate actively in such revision work. (The ODF-standard has since it became an ISO-standard, already been the subject of several changes).

  • Standard Norway considers that ISO should critically evaluate the "fast-track" procedure. We think the work on OOXML would have been better served if it had been initiated as a new ISO-project. The problem though was that the proposer ECMA was in their full right to start the project as a "fast-track". Standard Norway is also in 2008 one of the 12 members that makes up the "Technical Management Board" (TMB) which is responsible for the standardisation work and the rules and procedures this should follow. We have in TMB already decided to discuss the experiences with the use of the "fast-track"-procedure based on the ISO/IEC 29500 process. This case will most likely be part of the TMB meeting the 3rd and 4th of June 2008.

  • ISO stands for International Organisation for Standardisation. As a member we are, in the same way as the members of our sister organisation IEC (International Electrotechnical Committee), duty bound to do our best to try to have those standardisation proposals we work on be accepted as ISO- and IEC-standards.
  • It is with this background that Standard Norway considers that the standards proposal ISO/IEC DIS 29500 Office Open XML, with comments that will now be incorporated into the document, can be accepted.

    This case has been very difficult and it's not an light decision Standard Norway has had to take. Above we have given our view of the case and the issues that led to the Standard Norway vote.

    Read also the press release "Norway say yes to the document format OOXML" that was published Friday 28th of Mars.

    Are there differences, I asked Nils?

    "Never the less was this procedure accepted as the appropriate method for handling the OOXML standard by ISO and IEC centrally in January 2008."

    This is not quite right. There is no "appropriate" meaning in the Norwegian text, it only say that ISO accepted that the fast track method could be used for OOXML. Also the year is 2007, not his 2008.

    "The editor of the document presented the proposals that became the basis for the BRM meeting. The rest was accepted or accepted with modifications."

    He dropped the "Two of our suggestions were refused," between those two sentences. Probably a mistake?

    Update 3: To help you understand what Taylor means that once BSI owns up to what it has done, then there will be a complaint filed, here's the BSI press release and an email that a reader just sent me, a response to his request to understand why the UK changed its vote at the last minute, which we have permission to publish:

    ---- Original Message ------------
    Subject: RE: no information re: dis 29500
    From: "Lucy Fulton" [redacted email]
    Date: Tue, April 1, 2008 12:34 pm
    To: [redacted email]


    Dear Mr Wright,

    Many thanks for your email.

    It is not BSI's policy to make public the details of how it votes on International Standards. BSI sent a delegation to the ballot resolution meeting which took place in Geneva in February 2008 and subsequently requested that its technical committee carry out a review of its position on ISO/IEC DIS 29500.

    The technical committee did so, made a consensus decision and advised BSI on its vote.

    This is the procedure with any international ballot.

    Best wishes,

    Lucy Fulton

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