ISO votes against fast tracking Microsoft's Office Open XML

Good news came to me from Patrik:

The International Organization for Standardization has voted against a proposal to fast-track Microsoft’s Office Open XML format as an international standard. Here’s how the vote went: all 41 of the of the countries that had worked on the proposal participated in the vote. There were 17 “yes” votes, 15 “no” votes, and 9 abstentions. Without counting the abstentions, that works out to 53.12 percent approval, far short of the two-thirds majority needed. Of the 87 national standards bodies voting, 18 voted against OOXML, leaving OOXML just shy of the 75 percent threshold for that vote.
The run up to the vote had been long and contentious, with allegations that Microsoft had tried to stack the vote in its favor aired last week. In Sweden, 20 new companies joined the Swedish Standards Institute after receiving assurances from the software giant that they would receive “market assistance” and “extra support in the form of Microsoft resources” for joining and voting to approve OOXML.

Why the news is good? For several reasons, and you can search technical ones at Google, but here’s a human one:

As you may know, a Microsoft employee offered incentives for support of the OOXML. With such a practice in Sweden (of all places), one can only imagine what incentives are being offered in other countries, with less democratic traditions…

Jason Matusow of Microsoft wrote about the case in Sweden at his blog. I strongly recommend you read it, with the comments. There’s no more clear way of understanding Microsoft’s policy, but read their director of corporate standards’ blog.

Well, what is this standard, that in order to be accepted, requires companies to be bribed in order to join the Swedish Standards Institute and vote “in favor”? Having said that, and having blogged a lot about Microsoft’s pro-corruption policy in Bulgaria, there’s no need for more evidence that they are guilty as charged.

Here’s the official press-release from the ISO:

A ballot on whether to publish the draft standard ISO/IEC DIS 29500, Information technology – Office Open XML file formats, as an International Standard by ISO (International Organization for Standardization) and IEC (International Electrotechnical Commission) has not achieved the required number of votes for approval.

The five-month ballot process ended on 2 September and was open to the IEC and ISO national member bodies from 104 countries, including 41 that are participating members of the joint ISO/IEC technical committee, JTC 1, Information technology.

Approval requires at least 2/3 (i.e. 66.66 %) of the votes cast by national bodies participating in ISO/IEC JTC 1 to be positive; and no more than 1/4 (i.e. 25 %) of the total number of national body votes cast negative. Neither of these criteria were achieved, with 53 % of votes cast by national bodies participating in ISO/IEC JTC 1 being positive and 26 % of national votes cast being negative.

Comments that accompanied the votes will be discussed at a ballot resolution meeting (BRM) to be organized by the relevant subcommittee of ISO/IEC JTC 1 (SC 34, Document description and processing languages) in February 2008 in Geneva, Switzerland.

The objective of the meeting will be to review and seek consensus on possible modifications to the document in light of the comments received along with the votes. If the proposed modifications are such that national bodies then wish to withdraw their negative votes, and the above acceptance criteria are then met, the standard may proceed to publication.

Otherwise, the proposal will have failed and this fast-track procedure will be terminated. This would not preclude subsequent re-submission under the normal ISO/IEC standards development rules.

ISO/IEC DIS 29500 is a proposed standard for word-processing documents, presentations and spreadsheets that is intended to be implemented by multiple applications on multiple platforms. According to the submitters, one of its objectives is to ensure the long-term preservation of documents created over the last two decades using programmes that are becoming incompatible with continuing advances in the IT field.

ISO/IEC DIS 29500 was originally developed as the Office Open XML Specification by Microsoft Corporation which submitted it to Ecma International for transposing into an ECMA standard. Following a process in which other IT industry players participated, Ecma International subsequently published the document as ECMA standard 376.

Ecma International then submitted the standard in December 2006 to ISO/IEC JTC 1, with whom it has category A liaison status, for adoption as an International Standard under the JTC 1 “fast track” procedure. This allows a standard developed within the IT industry to be presented to JTC 1 as a Draft International Standard (DIS) that can be adopted after a process consisting of a one-month review by the national bodies of JTC 1 and then a five-month ballot open to all voting national bodies of ISO and IEC.

Michiel Leenaars of ISOC-Netherlands wrote in a mailing list: “The details about the vote will become known over the next couple of days, but it looks like the larger or economically more important countries like China, India, Japan, UK, France, Iran, Korea, Canada) either voted against or abstained. Of the original 30 members of JTC1 it seems almost half (14) voted against. For the vote to turn less than a handful of countries will need to be convinced one way or another, technically the vote of Ireland counts the same on the ballot as say India or China. It will be interesting to see what the body count on the comments will be, and how many countries will join between now and February for that matter.”

Here are the votes:

NO
Brazil, Canada, China, Denmark, Czech Republic, Ecuador, France, India, Iran, Ireland, Japan, Korea, New Zealand, Norway, Philippines, South Africa, Thailand, United Kingdom

YES
Armenia, Azerbaijan, Bangladesh, Barbados, Belarus, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Congo, Costa Rica, C?te-d’Ivoire, Croatia, Cuba, Cyprus, Egypt, Fiji, Jamaica, Jordan, Kazakhstan, Lebanon, Morocco, Kuwait, Nigeria, Pakistan, Panama, Qatar, Romania, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Serbia, Sri Lanka, Syria, Tanzania, Ukraine, United Arab Emirates, Uzbekistan

YES with comments
Austria, Bulgaria, Colombia, Germany, Ghana, Greece, Kenya, Malta, Poland, Portugal, Singapore, Switzerland, Tunisia, Turkey, Uruguay, USA, Venezuela

ABS
Argentina, Australia, Belgium, Chile, Finland, Israel, Italy, Luxembourg, Malaysia, Mauritius, Mexico, Netherlands, Peru, Slovenia, Spain, Trinidad and Tobago, Viet Nam, Zimbabwe.

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