Shenanigans Alleged on Road to OOXML Vote

After a long and bitter battle, Microsoft’s Office Open XML (OOXML) appears to have finally been accepted as a standard for open documents by the International Organization for Standardization (ISO).

Or has it?

The ISO is not going to make an official announcement until Wednesday.

However, ECMA International, a private standards organization based in Geneva, has announced on its Web site that the ISO has approved OOXML as an international standard.

ECMA’s standards include Open XML, and Microsoft chairs the technical committee leading that standard’s development.

“The International Standards Organization and International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC) have approved ISO/IEC DIS 29500, Office Open XML File Formats as an International Standard,” ECMA said in a statement put out by its secretary general, Istvan Sebestyen.

“My office got an official phone call from ISO while I was on a business trip, and it confirmed the adoption of the standard,” Sebestyen told LinuxInsider.

He denied knowledge of any protests against the adoption of OOXML as an international standard because “ECMA’s role as submitter is limited; we do not see what kind of conversation is going on between ISO, IEC and their members,” Sebestyen noted.

Not so Fast, Boys

“Microsoft’s jumped the gun again,” Marino Marcich, managing director of the Open Document Format (ODF) Alliance, told LinuxInsider.

The ODF “won’t make any official statement until the ISO has announced their decision,” he added.

OOXML is “the first specification in history that was approved without the national bodies having seen it, and it was approved as a standard without having been implemented in a single product, and that will prompt governments to adopt a wait-and-see attitude,” Marcich said.

The Polish Pirouette

The events leading up to the ISO’s decision on OOXML can best be described as strange.

Take the case of KT 182, the Polish technical committee responsible for the OOXML standardization process, as described on Groklaw: Chairperson Elzbieta Andrukiewicz was instructed that KT 182 should abstain from voting if a consensus was not achieved. Well, it wasn’t, and she said the members who were absent could vote by e-mail — but if they didn’t vote, she’d take their non-response as a yes.

Later, when presenting the results of the ballot resolution, she showed a slide that claimed 98 percent of the OOXML issues had been resolved during the KT 182 meeting.

When reminded this wasn’t true, and told that the author of the PowerPoint file was Paul Pesch, platform strategy manager at Microsoft Netherlands, she threatened to sue anyone who repeated the assertion that Pesch was the author.

That slide had been shown at another meeting, and one of the Brazilian delegates had complained about it.

Other Oddities

Cuba had voted against OOXML in September of last year but its vote was counted as a yes.

Yet the ISO had announced that Cuba had voted to approve OOXML.

Norway has approved OOXML, but the chairman of the Norwegian technology committee looking at OOXML has complained there were serious irregularities in the decision and that 80 percent of his committee members felt the vote should have been no.

Last year, a Microsoft employee in Sweden offered to compensate local technology executives if they joined the country’s standards committee and voted in favor of OOXML. Also, there were reports that Bill Gates contacted Mexican President Felipe Calderon to get Mexico to vote for OOXML.

There were 20 Microsoft employees and many representatives from companies affiliated with the software giant among the voters, said Jomar Silva, a delegate from Brazil, which voted no on OOXML, adding that “Microsoft is approving its own standard.”

Crime and Punishment

Longtime Microsoft nemesis the European Union will be investigating the standardization process around OOXML.

At the very least, it will look into the Polish case.

“There were many documented irregularities that will be the subject of investigation,” Marcich said. “It’s been recorded that the EU has been investigating the process.”

Microsoft has announced that it will contribute to Apache POI, an Apache project that will let Java applications use OOXML. “Apache POI support for OOXML makes it easier to integrate, manage and deploy across the enterprise and opens up valuable user contributions and feedback,” Microsoft said. “Developing future libraries to support the Open XML standard used in the 2007 Microsoft Office system will play an important role in new interoperability scenarios where XML-based standard formats will be key for Office documents.”

Muscle Isn’t Everything

Even if the ISO has approved OOXML, it won’t mean a thing, Marcich said. “No matter what the outcome, nothing about the process and the vote will change any government’s mind about OOXML or inspire any more confidence in OOXML’s openness and interoperability than they had before the vote was taken,” he explained.

OOXML is “still a community of one” and has undocumented features — the Software Freedom Law Center determined that Microsoft’s open specifications promise was not adequate for use in open software, Marcich said, adding that “intense lobbying and pressure may win votes but it won’t change the hearts and minds of governments because, if they actually start using, saving, and creating documents in OOXML they know full well they’re tying themselves into an upgrade to Office 2007 and Vista because the format for OOXML was derived from Office 2007.”

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