The reasons behind the OOXML appeals

The story so far:

  1. December 2006: 7 ECMA approves OOXML as ECMA-376

  2. December 2006: ECMA submits ECMA-376 to ISO for consideration as an ISO standard under the fast track process

  3. September 2007: ISO ballot process votes against adoption of the specs as a standard

  4. April 2008: OOXML gets approved as an ISO standard

  5. South Africa, Brazil, India, Venezuela, (possibly Denmark too) have for the first time in ISO history, appealed against the decision to make OOXML an ISO standard.

So what happened between (3) and (4)? Stories are now emerging of the tactics used by the organization behind the OOXML standard.

India

Prof Deepak B Phatak (IIT Bombay) writes in an open letter to the BIS committee which worked on the Indian response to this standard:

The final Indian position at ISO was decided by the committee on 20th March 2008, which retained Indian ‘disapproval’ vote.

Microsoft started filing complaints to various Indian authorities in early March 2008, claiming bias on part of several members of the committee because of their presumed membership of a group called ‘ODF Alliance India’.

Worse, the complaints have painted these organizations and their representatives, including the Indian delegation which attended the BRM, as acting against the Indian National interests.

The meeting of the committee on 20th March 2008 had clearly and unambiguously finalized the Indian position of retaining the earlier disapproval vote. In spite of this, Microsoft continued to make representations to top Indian leadership, pressurizing them to change the Indian vote. This act, in my opinion, goes well beyond the behavioral boundaries for a non-Indian commercial entity, amounting to interfering with the governance process of a sovereign country.

Not that this succeeded in changing India’s vote at the final ballot. India still admiringly voted aginst the standard.

However, India’s appeal was against the way in which the final decision was taken - instead of the established method of technical discussions in solving issues with the standard, only a few issues were resolved while the rest were just put to vote. A vote which went like this - 6 for, 4 against, 22 abstained/no-position. Out of the 6 voting for the standard, only 4 had participation status, while two had observation status. All the 4 voting against the standards were participating countries.(These numbers are from Prof. Phatak’s post. I find the break-up of the ‘for’ votes contradictory to the numbers stated by ISO about the final result. ISO mentions all the positive votes to have P status).

Brazil

Peter who was part of the brazilian delegation reports what happened in the ballot and why brazil is appealing against the vote:

When Brazil decided to vote NO on OpenXML, the kindergarten argument of “lack of time to read everything” wasn’t used. We’ve made an tremendous effort to review the specification and we vote with a complete technical knowledge of the facts. …

According to him, the ballot process went like this. On Sunday evening(before the meeting), all delegations were told that they have to reach some decision by Wednesday to resolve all the outstanding issues against the standard. By Wednesday, only 18% of the 1027 issues could be covered (also in these 18% many were simply asked to be taken offline because they weren’t enough time).

On Wednesday, the delegations were told that the rest 80+% of the issues will not be discussed and simply put to vote. The final vote resulted in the approval.

He writes about the people who didn’t vote (NB = National Body).

At that moment, there was a very interesting protest of a delegation which said that they didn’t went Switzerland to vote, which could be done from home (they were there to discuss) and the answer: “Patience…”.

Another NB protested saying that they only received the document containing the answers to their own questions and didn’t even had the opportunity to read and discuss the whole responses document (1027 responses on a 2500+ document). For this reason the option “We do not wish to record any position” was created on the ballot. That highlighted problem also happened on other NBs and there are NBs that simply voted on proposals that they never even read! (This is really cool, right?).

This joke of a standards process (in which only 6 of the 33 members actually had a positive position on the standard) is what India, Brazil and the other countries are complaining about.

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