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Re: Microsoft buys the Swedish vote on OOXML?

  • From: Jim Melton <jim.melton@a...>
  • To: "Rick Jelliffe" <rjelliffe@a...>
  • Date: Tue, 28 Aug 2007 12:37:05 -0600

Re:  Microsoft buys the Swedish vote on OOXML?

Before I say anything else, let me make myself very clear: I DO NOT 
SPEAK FOR MY EMPLOYER ON THIS TOPIC.  In fact, I have removed my 
normal signature block to avoid any possibility of confusion on that 
subject.  But, in the interests of full disclosure, I have to reveal 
that I work for Oracle, which has been perceived (incorrectly, as it 
turns out) as having a strong position on this subject.

Speaking strictly as a multi-decade participant in international and 
domestic standardization, I share Jonathan's concern about the 
seeming abuse of the standards processes in this situation.  In 
several National Bodies, not just Sweden, a flood of new members 
arrived literally days before a vote was scheduled to be held on this 
specific fast-track document.  In all but one or two of those 
National Bodies, that flood was sufficient to reverse what would have 
been a vote against the standard.  The vast majority of those new 
members were Microsoft partners, some closer than others.

In addition, several new National Bodies suddenly joined the process 
at the last minute -- National Bodies that had never previously 
expressed the slightest interest in international standardization 
related this subject.  Every single one of those National Bodies have 
been reported as having voted in favor of progression, and most are 
reported as having a membership made entirely, or primarily, of 
Microsoft partners.

Is all of this "legal"?  Yes, of course it is...the processes have, 
as far as I have been able to tell, been within the letter of the ISO 
Directives.  (Of course, I have no clue whether any process 
violations have or have not occurred in any given National Body, 
other than in the USA.  In the USA, as far as I have been able to 
tell, there were no process violations.)

But, is it in the long-term interests of international standards?  I 
submit that it is most certainly not!  If very large companies are 
always (or nearly always) able to complete subvert the spirit of the 
consensus-based process by ensuring that new members with favorable 
positions join various standardization bodies just in time to avoid a 
defeat (or to ensure a defeat), then everybody else might just as 
well quit trying.  And then we're back to the situation 20 or 30 
years ago, where another giant was able to do exactly that.  (Clue: 
its common name has three capitalized letters.)  We didn't like it 
back then, and we shouldn't like it now.  (In fact, Microsoft is 
alleged to have complained in several forums about the dominating 
tactics used by that other giant...but that was before Microsoft had 
the sort of muscle it takes to pull it off.)

Don't get me wrong.  Microsoft has every right to press their 
interests in the standards arena, as well as in the marketplace 
itself.  But it must do so fairly and within the rules.  I believe 
that it has an ethical obligation not to subvert the process for 
short-term gain at the cost of destroying the process's long-term 
credibility.  Any standards process that comes to be perceived as 
nothing more than a marketing arm of some commercial enterprise will 
not for long be perceived as a standardization process at all.

One more thing: I have it on impeccable authority that at least two 
of the last-minute joiners of one National Body said during a meeting 
break that they didn't understand the subject was on which they were 
going to vote, but Microsoft had instructed them of exactly what to 
say and how to vote -- and paid their membership fees and other 
expenses.  If that's true (and, since I wasn't there to hear it, I 
can't tell if that "impeccable authority" I mentioned misunderstood 
something), then it is probably illegal -- and I do not mean 
"violation of standards bodies' rules", but "violation of the law" -- 
in the country involved.  In the USA, we would call it restraint of 
trade, I guess.

In closing, I want it to be clear that I have no personal opinion 
about the proposed standard itself.  I have not read the 6500+ pages 
of the document, nor have I read the ODF standard.  I love 
competition (but doubt that the effect of this is going to be 
increased competition) and I care very much about being able to 
express complex document semantics in XML.  I use Microsoft products 
and I have a love-hate relationship with those products.  I do not 
think that Microsoft is the devil incarnate.  What I care about is 
the long-term viability of the standards processes.  And I believe 
that the, um, fiasco that has been happening with respect to this 
proposed standard is truly a train wreck in effect.  Microsoft will 
almost certainly (I give it better than 99% probability) of 
succeeding in making OOXML an international standard.  But, in the 
process, they will have significantly damaged the credibility of the 
process itself, and of their own relationship with standardization.


At 8/28/2007 11:15 AM, Rick Jelliffe wrote:
>Jonathan Robie said:
> > One of these new companies was Google, which strongly opposes OOXML, and
> > has created the following position paper:
> >
> > http://www.odfalliance.org/resources/Google%20OOXML%20Q%20%20A.pdf
>Doubly interesting in that Google is the world's most prolific generator
>(Google Maps to IE) of VML, which is part of the Open XML standard. I
>suppose it is much easier to generate documents than to accept them, so
>they need a standard for one but not the other...
>There is an organized campaign by the fringe of the anti-Open XML people,
>fanned by closed source vendors of ODF products, where if they cannot
>persuade the various National Bodies that there is no value in having
>Office's format open and documented and with clear IP so that everyone can
>use it, then they will attack the National Body, ISO and the process. But
>don't believe what everything you read: for example, it was claimed that
>the Portuguese committee refused to admit IBM and Sun into a meeting
>claiming that there was not enough chairs, but in fact IBM and Sun applied
>past the deadline to join a fixed-size committee and there were no seats.
>Don't be conned.
>Jonathan, do you seriously think that people who want a standard should
>not be allowed to participate, especially as they find (perhaps to their
>surprise or alarm) that there are so many people trying to block it? Or do
>you believe that it is legitimate to join a standards committee with the
>goal of blocking a standard that other people need (i.e., to use the
>standards process to create a cartel: the US at least has strong
>anti-trust laws against this.)?
>If you don't like ISO C# as a language, don't use it. Use ISO C++, or ISO
>Common LISP, or ISO Pascal, or ISO FORTRAN, or ISO ADA, or ISO Eiffel. But
>an ISO C# person should not try to block developments in ISO C++ just
>because it is not their liking, or because it goes against their corporate
>Rick Jelliffe
>P.S. For an update on the current approval process, see
>P.P.S. For my comments on why a "No with Comments" vote (conditional
>approval) is a good thing, see

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