During the ISO process we observed several flaws of procedure, this page is a non-comprehensive collection.

This is just a collection, please mail to gro.iiff|bulc-lmxooon#gro.iiff|bulc-lmxooon.

Netherlands: abstention

Slashdot user Frits1 explains a Dutch ISOC.NL press release

Netherlands [] (translation/summary: they worked very hard to stay professional and to stay away from all the turmoil and study the document, and then came to a almost consensus decision to vote "disapproval with comments". Almost consensus because Microsoft alone decided to vote "yes" (with no technical reasons given) so there was no consensus, so in effect the vote of the Netherlands was vetoed. According to the NEN rules, the Netherlands had to abstain, without comments, in this case. [N.B.: I think this means also that all of the dutch technical comments (5 months of work) will not be permitted to be sent on to ISO for review - me]

…one member …finds that it would be appropriate for the submitter of a standard to refrain from voting this actively, especially because Microsoft had already given out a press release that the result would become "abstain" before the vote was actually being held. In other words, they knew they were going to sabotage(*) the dutch "no with comments" vote and told the press in advance.


Portugal: yes with comments

TC-173 formed without due procedure[1] in a "first-in" selection, representativity questioned[2], refused participation for alleged representativity[3] and lack of chairs in the room provided when an auditorium was available, president with conflict of interest and quality vote[4].

Microsoft, as presidente of TC, Instituto de Informática (Informatics Institute), as organizer of the TC, and Instituto Português da Qualidade (Portuguese Institute for Quality) all claimed that CONDITIONAL APPROVAL is APPROVE WITH COMMENTS, contrary to the rules, which were confirmed by Alex Brown at the BRM.

A TC-173 member representing the City Hall of Cascais has a doubtful representativity: the City Hall's Ombudsman informed that the It Division is who has the necessary competence, and the IT Chief of Division declared there isn't a Pro or Con opinion on OOXML. When questioned also for the lack of technical participation (ie, only being present to vote in favour of Microsoft) his defense was literally "My participation has been my vote".

On February 19th, 2008, Microsoft, together with JP Sá Couto (who is a member of TC-173) and ISCTE (who had a prominent member participating in TC-173 as an "individual", officially representing himself) announced the opening of a Microsoft Innovation Center in Portugal. Both voted in favour of Microsoft without any technical discussion. This is a clear sign of, at the very least, an undue conflict of interest.

[1] This reading Portuguese NB (IPQ) set of rules, CNQ-2, which lists last, after all other kinds of participants, companies *only when convenient*
[2] huge number of participants which reflect Microsoft's interest (Microsoft, an agency pretending to represent local public administration of Alentejo, several certified gold partners)
[3] this under less than 48h after proper due procedure was known, and wasn't made public until the next meeting
[4] presiding the TC is Microsoft, and the vote had been decided to be simple majority, with the president having a quality vote

Sweden: heavily stacked "yes" vote was retracted by SIS officials

The working group within SIS responsible for DIS 29500 was originally 9 members, later expanded to 12. The group had discussed DIS29500 for months, and was reportedly very likely to decide on "disapprove with comments", with a reasonably sized list of agreed-upon comments. At the final meeting, 23 new members (Google Sweden plus 22 Swedish Microsoft partners) showed up and registered for participation. Instead of reaching a consensus on "disapprove with comments" a majority vote was forced, and the result was, not surprisingly, "approve" without comments. With this sudden and huge last-minute change to the committee, the vote was effectively bought by an obviously coordinated effort from Microsoft partners, and all the work in the committee was ignored. Registration for SIS and group membership was SEK 17,000 per member (approx. EUR 1,700), so the vote was changed by paying for 22 members, a total of less than €40,000.

Immediately after the vote, an e-mail was leaked to the press. In this e-mail, a Microsoft employee urged partners to show up, register and vote yes at the final SIS meeting. Promises were made to compensate them for the cost of registering, by giving them extra marketing support and access to Microsoft technology. Microsoft Sweden admitted that the e-mail had been sent, but played down the embarrassing incident by saying that:

  • It should never have been sent. (We can sure agree to that, but why was it even written?)
  • It was only ever sent to two partners. (Hearsay from Swedish IT industry suggests otherwise, we should look into that.)
  • It was sent out by a single employee, acting in direct violation of company guidelines. (He promised compensation in the name of the company, but he had no authority to do so, they said.)
  • The information was quickly retracted. (This is their wording, the information was retracted, a physical impossibility. What they meant is that they sent out a second e-mail telling people to ignore the first one.)
  • It would be silly to think that Microsoft was trying to buy votes. (Then what were they trying? And what did they actually do in that final vote?)

Microsoft damage control in the US quickly took over the official information flow in this issue. They emphasized that it was only a single case of one stupid Swede going crazy in a small local branch who did this, and that it had no influence on the vote. Everything else in the entire matter worldwide had been handled by the book. Evidence certainly suggests otherwise, but it was perhaps only here they actually broke the law by offering outright payment and telling people exactly what to do in a written message which left a trail.

A couple of days later, SIS published a press release stating that the vote had been invalidated for formal reasons, because "one member had participated with more than one vote". No further details were disclosed. The lack of a clear explanation and the unwillingness from SIS officials to comment further on the matter suggests that this was a last effort from SIS to save face and at least not send in a vote that was in direct contradiction of the result of the working group. There was not enough time to assemble the group for a re-vote, and not all members of the group agreed to an e-mail vote, so SIS never reached a formal decision. As a result, not even a formal notice of "abstain" was sent to ISO from Sweden, SIS simply failed to send in a vote. As a consequence, Sweden, (a P-member of SC34) was prevented from taking any active part in the standardization process. A large number of comments on defects sent in by Swedish technical experts were never forwarded to ISO.

Of the 22 Microsoft partners suddenly signing up for participation in the SIS working group, none showed up on any subsequent meeting, and none paid their membership fee for the following year.

Committee stuffing e.g. USA

Rob Weir (IBM) made the following graph:

The process in general

  • abusing the ISO fast-track process by ramming through a huge, unfinished standard at record speed: (as illustrated in this graphics by Rob Weir)
  • committee stuffing: an unprecedented number of countries that never before were interested in standard setting have been signing up just before the OOXML vote, and voted, with almost 90% majority pro Microsoft. Rob Weir's blog, Sep 4. New members have shown a lack of interest in participating in regular ISO work. []
  • spreading misinformation (as the one that "yes with comments" would be appropriate for conditional approval, or mysterious rumors that the ballot deadline had been extended beyond Sept 2)

Irregularities in specific countries

I would like to report irregularity in Egypt as well. I heard that MS asked as much as its partner to join the Egyptian Organization for Standards committee. MS has used those partners to vote Yes without comments and successfully gained majority inside the committee. They imposed the retaining of last Sept Egypt's vote Yes whatever the result of BRM meeting. This is clearly unclean play that MS used in most countries like in Sweden and other countries.

  • Finland: chairman fired Forum post
  • Hungary: rule bending (deadlines and majority rules were bent in favor of Microsoft; after a complaint, the government annulled the vote) []
  • India* astroturfing
  • Italy: committee stuffing (The number of members of the committee in charge of to decide the vote of Italy suddenly grew from 5 to 83 after Microsoft introduced a lot of its local partners paying 2.000 EUR per each one to be in it and get voting rights.) []
  • Kenya committee stuffing (local reports)
  • Libya, anonymous contribution:

Note about "Libyan case": Unfortunately it seems that ISO is the first one not following its own standards: Libya tried to submit its comments in ISO 19500-1:2005 (PDF/A) and ISO 26300 (OpenDocument), but they were not accepted by ISO itself.

  • Malaysia: (the two responsible technical committees reached the conclusion "no with comments"; this was then overridden by government, bowing to pressure from Microsoft) []
  • Mexico: committee stuffing and manipulation (NB voters were sent a 'pre-approved' form e-mail for their vote [])
  • Netherlands: denial-of-service (Microsoft alone vetoed the committee decision ("no with comments") without providing any technical arguments, thus preventing NL from submitting comments) []
  • Nigeria committee stuffind ITrealms: "Out of the estimated 19 participants, only four supposedly represented civil society group, while the rest were made up of government officials and Microsoft partners."
  • Norway: committee stuffing [isene blog1], flooding jtc1sc34 a mixed blessing [Isene blog], Microsoft denial of paying the letters writing of its 37 partners
  • Pakistan presents: "About presents :) well Microsoft did sent out offer for a fully paid trip to Dubai to promote the awareness about Microsofts's contribution in Open Source and quite a few members did took the trip."
  • Poland: after the responsible technical committee reached an unwelcome result ("no with comments") the subject was taken out of its hands and given to another committee which quickly rubber-stamped Microsoft's proposal, ''discrimination'' (several OOXML critical participants were not admitted to the technical committee) []
  • Portugal: discrimination (the technical committee did not admit several competitors of Microsoft with the argument that there were not enough chairs) []
  • Russia: voting irregularity (It is uncertain whether the "technical committee number 22" which was working on this had any impact on the vote, as the approval appears to trace back to a single individual dictating Russia's official vote of "yes" without any comments. No official protocols or documents have been presented to justify that vote.) []
  • Serbia: article
  • Spain: spreading misinformation (Microsoft announced that, among others, the autonomous region of Andalusia has urged acceptance of OOXML, while in fact it was strongly opposed) [] (spanish)
  • Sweden: vote buying (Microsoft urged its partners to join the technical committee and vote there in favor of OOXML, promising to make up the incurring costs by "market subsidies", this was admitted (and regretted) by Microsoft [] (Swedish)) [vuorio blog]and [] (eventually, the vote was declared invalid (Swedish))
  • Switzerland: committee stuffing (number of committee members increased from 20 to 50 just before the OOXML vote) [] and [] (both in German), conflict of interest (improper dismissal of technical comments by chairperson); the result has been appealed
  • Ukraine: discrimination (competitors not allowed in the technical committee) [sources?]
  • USA: committee stuffing, change of vote of government agencies through Bill Gates intervention
  • Venezuela: discrimination (competitors not allowed in the technical committee) [sources?]
  • Germany voting irregularity wirtschaftswoche, strong complaints of Rolf Schuster (foreign office) at OFE conference

Fanboys and girls

Misleading and confusing name

Office Open XML is neither open nor XML, nor is it a general "Office" file format, as it is specifically tailored to Microsoft Office 2007. It has often been called "Open Office XML", even by Microsoft employees, indicating strong confusion with, a free software office suite supporting the ISO office document standard ODF. A better, less confusing name would be "Microsoft Office Document ML" or something to that effect. No other names of XML markup languages actually contain the exact phrase "XML". This is not a special kind of XML, it is a set of specific schemas for encoding of specific document formats using plain and ordinary XML.

Furthermore, Microsoft further abuses the name by abbreviating it as "Open XML". This somehow suggests XML isn't an open standard, and that Microsoft is now remaking it as an open standard.

OOXML was branded as an 'Open Standard'

Open standards are defined in the EU IDABC European Interoperability Framework, recently confirmed by the European Parliament.1
OOXML failed to provide evidence of its openness but has obvious proprietary hooks. The patent provisions do not give markets sufficient confidence.

Bad Boy justification

The Burton Group study stresses the fact that competitors participated as an excuse for misconduct

On loopholes, that’s another subjective call, but since Microsoft competitors managed to establish control over a standards initiative with potentially dire consequences for one of Microsoft’s most important business domains, we are not surprised that Microsoft (legitimately, albeit with what some consider to be poor standards etiquette) exploited the loopholes. As we noted, we assume ISO will update its procedures to eliminate the loopholes in the future.