Evidence of Microsoft Influencing OOXML Votes in Nordic States

As the date draws near for the first round of discussions before the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) on the topic of adopting Microsoft's Office Open XML format, allegations have arisen that Microsoft may have used influential tactics to sway the outcomes of recommendation votes in Sweden, Denmark, and Norway.

Indications from voting members attending yesterday's meeting of the Swedish standards agency SIS are that between August 12 and August 27, the membership of the working group responsible for evaluating OOXML grew from 9 to 34. Apparently, under SIS rules, new members may pay a fee for the right to vote on a important ballot at any time prior to ballots being cast. And SIS members are apparently familiar with these rules, based on the account of one voting member who blogged this morning that he himself was asked to join on the last day, to help balance out an anticipated surge in pro-Microsoft votes.

But he was outflanked, as 23 other member companies who joined the working group that day were obviously Microsoft certified partners. While being a Microsoft partner doesn't necessarily commit you to supporting its way of doing business (case in point: Symantec), the sudden surge in partnership membership does look a little blatant.

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Illuminet CEO Jonas Bosson was one SIS member who was urged to join at the last minute by one of the leaders of the Foundation for Free Information Infrastructure, to help balance an anticipated Microsoft-driven surge of five to seven members.

As Bosson relates for a Swedish blog in English, "First I spoke with Torbjtzrn Cederholm [a project manager] at SIS to see if it wasn't possible to stop companies that had not participated in the earlier meetings from voting. But SIS did not want to do that." Then, Bosson writes, he put up Illuminet's membership fee of 17,000 SEK, hoping to do his part as a balancing agent.

Independent developer Wictor Wilen was invited by Microsoft to attend yesterday's SIS working group vote as an observer. Yesterday Wilen blogged about his experience, which included personally witnessing Bosson's passionate speech. He wrote, "The representative from Illuminet, flanked with Sun and Google, did try to convince all the yes-sayers for a long time and the discussion went pretty harsh! I have to give credit to the guy, who fought for his cause and really had put some time into the specification."

But then, Wilen added, Bosson was cornered. At the climax of what was probably a heated debate, someone asked Bosson whether he'd be voting yes if this were OpenDocument Format on the table and not OOXML. As Wilen chronicled, "After some thinking he answered 'No, I would not!' This ended the discussion."

"This is how a standard is bought," Bosson wrote later. "I left the meeting in protest - pissed off."

The SIS did not tally the final vote in its own press release (PDF available here), though one report states it was 25 yea, 6 nay, with 3 abstentions.

Sweden is not alone in having a standards organization suspected of being manipulated. Late last month, neighboring Denmark's standards organization DS saw its working group membership grow by a considerable amount, with most or all new members (depending on the account) being Microsoft partners.

In Norway last week, it turns out the working group membership there didn't have to grow in order for things to turn out Microsoft's way anyway. As Linux developer and former Linpro CEO Gier Isene reported for his personal blog, although many members of Standard Norge had serious comments and reservations about OOXML - himself included - due to a procedural loophole, none of them ended up mattering.

"The formal committee work in each country is very different," Isene wrote. "In some countries, the committee responsible for the nation's voice in ISO is voting on the matter. In other countries like Norway, the process is determined by consensus. And here consensus is defined as unanimity. Yep, that's right. What Norway will say to ISO has to be agreed upon by all the committee's members. No voting, only consensus."

During the Norway group's vote, the time came for all comments to be put on the table, one by one. Isene's was first: "It seems contrary to ISO and [World Trade Organization] policy to approve a standard that is overlapping or competing with an existing standard."

Microsoft issued its objection: "We disagree." And that was all the company needed to undo Isene's and every other comment that followed.

Isene objected, and after some procedural dickering, Microsoft's representative was eventually asked to give an explanation for its disagreement. It didn't have one ready, Isene reported, and here is where the "hole" part of the "loophole" kicked in: Since there were so many comments that Microsoft would not have time to register its reasons for disagreement - which would necessitate a response from the commenter - the whole explanation process would be suspended.

"The farce kept on for about 4 1/2 hours," Isene went on, during which a discussion arose over whether it should be suggested that Microsoft create a mapping which would translate its older, proprietary Office 2003 formats and its proposed standard Office 2007 formats. But that discussion led nowhere.

These three instances could be indicators of things to come at the ISO, where observers have noted the number of countries applying for "privileged" or "P" status - countries that want to claim the right to vote on standardization - has increased dramatically in recent weeks.

As Linux Foundation board member and attorney Andrew Updegrove has noticed, nine countries have recently applied for, and apparently received, "P" status in the ISO: Cyprus, Ecuador, Jamaica, Lebanon, Pakistan, Trinidad and Tobago, Turkey, Uruguay, and Venezuela. Norway and Denmark are already voting "P" members, though Sweden (at least currently) is not.

"As someone who has spent a great part of my life working to support open standards over the past 20 years," Updegrove wrote today, "I have to say that this is the most egregious, and far-reaching, example of playing the system to the advantage of a single company that I have ever seen. Breathtaking, in fact. That's assuming, of course, that I am right in supposing that all of these newbie countries vote 'yes."'

36 Responses to Evidence of Microsoft Influencing OOXML Votes in Nordic States

  1. yohimbe9 says:

    I must have missed it, where was the "evidence". If its the fact that companies that are Microsoft partners suddenly joined in hopes of swaying a vote that could potentially help their business, I don't think that's really evidence, its just common sense. It does sound like there's evidence that the Foundation for Free Information Infrastructure did persuade people to join to vote "no" though.

    • sjc001 says:

      M$ apologist.

      How do you know that M$ is corrupt? Its a mega-corporation that has a near monopoly. :)

      • PC_Tool says:

        Gotta love it.

        A call for evidence gets one accused of being an apologist instead of, ya know, someone who actually wants to see if there's any basis for the accusations against them prior to making a judgment.

        Figures.

        Logical, thinking person: Any evidence?

        MS Troll: You don't need evidence. Facts will only confuse the issue. M$ is Evil.

      • 9h0s7 says:

        I'm not a M$ fan boy but I'm certainly not an M$ troll. You do have to consider the lack of real competition M$ has. Competition drives better price, better products as a result of company A trying to out due company B. Instead you have Big M (lol) which simply buys out or shuts up the little people, ie. Giant (before Windows defender), Winternals, ect. What I'm getting at is M$ is not with out it's faults and short comings, and therefore is evil. :P

      • PC_Tool says:

        [i]What I'm getting at is M$ is not with out it's faults and short comings, and therefore is evil.[/i]

        That clears things up.

        Everyone is evil, then. Well, except Me. I have no faults or shortcomings. :p

        So, if everyone is Evil, why is MS worse than anyone else?

      • 9h0s7 says:

        Why is MS worse? They aren't. Everyone needs someone/thing to blame. MS is a big name and therefor gets lots of press just like Sony and Apple.

      • PC_Tool says:

        Pretty much my point from the beginning...

    • 12ab12 says:

      There is actually eveidence. The swedish IDG.se reported that they have a mail from MS sweden sent to MS Partner that urged them to attend the voting in exchange they would be compensated with support and better deals.

      In de facto, they payed for the vote

      • Scotch Moose says:

        I am glad it was just an offer for marketing support (cash) in an email.

        I was afraid Microsoft had turned all their business partners into soulless zombies. But that is still a possibility.

      • PC_Tool says:

        [i]The swedish IDG.se reported that they have a mail from MS swede[/i]

        Let's see it.

      • Scotch Moose says:

        http://www.idg.se/2.1085/1.118337

        How good is your Swedish?
        In that case you will want to see Groklaw for the translation.

      • PC_Tool says:

        Damn. Babelfish doesn't do swedes. :p

        Looking at the groklaw translation, I'm still left wondering...

        Just reading it makes it sound bad, but I am sure that was the intent. I'd *love* to see a real translation of the actual email. Without the intent, how abnormal is it to pay partners membership costs to technology groups? Perk of being a partner, right?

        The timing and the "if you vote yes" bit is really the only thing here that casts an ill light on this, and we don't know when the email was sent, nor do we have exact quotes from it.

        Not exactly hard evidence, but enough circumstantial (given the timing) to raise questions.

        I'm not giving MS a pass on this, I just really want to see that email.

        Has anyone posted the full contents of the email? ...and if not, why? If it's damning, you'd think that would be at the top of the list.

      • anonyman says:

        No, the full content has not been published due to anonymity reasons (for both the company and the employee). But IDG has letters from a couple of sources. Microsoft has confirmed sending the letters, but claims it was a mistake (so, we will have to conclude that the 20+ Microsoft Gold Partes just randomly showed up at the vote without any organization behind it). :)

        Anyhow, Microsoft did not pay, or offer to pay, the fee for SIS membership. But they did say what they expected from a "Partner" and they did offer "extra support in forms of Microsoft resources" and "market subsidies" (freely translated) and they gave a bunch of arguments in support for OpenXML, so that the uninitiated partner could answer the committees questions, if asked why they supported the specification.

      • PC_Tool says:

        [i]No, the full content has not been published due to anonymity reasons[/i]

        Assumed. Without seeing the emails in full, there's no way to tell if it's truly for "anonymity", or because there's nothing there.

        And since when is offering support and services to partners against the rules? If it wasn't for the timing, this wouldn't even be an issue.

      • anonyman says:

        IDG, the newspaper, has confirmed receiving the e-mails (it was actually a friend of mine who sent it to IDG). MICROSOFT has officially confirmed sending the e-mails [1], and claims that it was a mistake of one of its employees. They say the e-mail was sent to 2 partners. Still 20+, all Gold Partners, that hadn't showed any interest before, showed up at the vote.

        What's wrong with it is that it is a form of bribe, when the offer is connected to this type of service in return: to go and vote YES (the voters are corrupted if motivated by it). You can also say that it was a form of implicit "threat" (how Microsoft "expected a partner to behave"). In addition, many voters did not have sufficient knowledge of the issue (6000 pages of documentation, 0 hours of presens at the meetings preceding the vote) and where handed a set of prearranged arguments from Microsoft. This is not the way we want standards to be established.

        [1]
        http://blogs.msdn.com/jasonmatusow/archive/2007/08/29/open-xml-the-vote-in-sweden.aspx
        [2]
        http://computersweden.idg.se/2.2683/1.118623

        However SIS has void the decision now (officially because of an error in the vote counting) and will probably not vote in the international ISO vote.

      • PC_Tool says:

        [i]IDG, the newspaper, has confirmed receiving the e-mails (it was actually a friend of mine who sent it to IDG). MICROSOFT has officially confirmed sending the e-mails[/i]

        Great! So you have a copy. Let's see it.

        No? Pfff...

        Even if it were illegal and ms just bought a standard, is it really that big a deal? Is having OOXML *and* ODF going to destroy the world as we know it?

        No? Pfff...

      • 12ab12 says:

        Additional news: The head of microsoft sweden first responded that the mail was badly formulated and not intended to influence the voting process, later their offical stand point was that it was an employee at microsoft that sent that mail without any authorization and only to few companies

    • PC_Tool says:

      Same here. There's plenty of

      "Illuminet CEO Jonas Bosson was one SIS member who was urged to join at the last minute by one of the leaders of the Foundation for Free Information Infrastructure, to help balance an anticipated Microsoft-driven surge of five to seven members.".

      So if it's at all true, both sides stacked the vote.

      Some actual evidence of wrongdoing would be nice prior to these accusations, but then, the anti-MS bunch has never had need of such things.

      I must say, after the recent comments from Scott regarding his belief that the 90% drop in gigabit network performance during media playback was intentional and they just thought we were too stupid to notice, I can't say I'm surprised the title claims "Evidence" while the article, in fact, contains none.

      Good work, Scott.

      What's your next trick? Proving the Bush administration is part of Al Qeada with the same kind of "Evidence"?

  2. Scotch Moose says:

    Reminds me a guy I used to golf with. Always found a way to make some noise during my back swing.

    Anything it takes to win.

    More guidelines than actual rules you see.

  3. kbsoftware says:

    What a mess. I wonder when all the smoke clears if the ISO will have any real meaning or value after this.
    Should be interesting to see what takes places in the near future.

  4. pitdingo says:

    M$ is a totally corrupt company that will stop at nothing to get their garbage, proprietary, closed standard approved. It is sickening.

    I am selling my XBox 360. (I will keep the Wii) The only reason i will keep Windoze XP is to play games. Otherwise, i am done with M$.

    • xyzcb1 says:

      Go stick with your MAD. Maybe if the MAD is good enough, developers will start developing games for the MAD and it's MAD users like yourself.

      Stop trolling and go away.

      • pitdingo says:

        statements of fact == trolling ROFLMAO!!!!!!!

        What is "MAD"?

      • PC_Tool says:

        *laughs*

        What's funny, is you think your post above passes for anything resembling "fact".

        Either that, or you just have a *very* interesting definition of what constitutes a "fact"...

      • pitdingo says:

        "M$ is a totally corrupt company"
        1) proven anti-competitive behavior in both America and the EU
        2) cough...Sweden...cough

        "garbage, proprietary, closed standard"
        1) MS OOXML _is_ a horribly defined standard by any measure except M$'s. Are you saying it is a good format?
        2) MS OOXML was created by M$ without any input from anyone else.
        3) MS OOXML is controlled exclusively by M$.

        "It is sickening."
        1) my stomach did in fact turn upon reading at how M$ is perverting the system

        "I am selling my XBox 360. (I will keep the Wii)"
        1) i will link the Ebay auction as soon as i post it

        "The only reason i will keep Windoze XP is to play games."
        1) you are saying i am lying?

        PC_Tool Destroyed again..........

      • PC_Tool says:

        [i]"M$ is a totally corrupt company"
        1) proven anti-competitive behavior in both America and the EU, and my no means "total".
        2) cough...Sweden...cough[/i]

        Proven in EU, by *their* standards. History in the US.

        Sweden is conjecture at this point.

        [i]"garbage, proprietary, closed standard"
        1) MS OOXML _is_ a horribly defined standard by any measure except M$'s. Are you saying it is a good format?
        2) MS OOXML was created by M$ without any input from anyone else.
        3) MS OOXML is controlled exclusively by M$.[/i]

        1) By your standard. Apparently many are actually willing to look at it.
        2) I am sure you would be the first to argue that *nothing* MS has ever done has been original. Didn't we talk about hypocrisy earlier?
        3) Once it is a standard, MS will likely lose a good degree of control.

        [i]PC_Tool Destroyed again..........[/i]

        Rarely, and definitely not in this case.

      • pitdingo says:

        PC_Tool looks like a fool again. response after response of nothing but drivel.

        Can't argue with facts M$ drone. You failed yet again.

      • PC_Tool says:

        Can't argue facts because *you* ignore them.

        I love how MS fails, I fail, HDDVD fails..

        It's always fun to watch people deny reality.

    • asellus says:

      First thing first, what Microsoft has done it Sweden is not illegal. Immoral maybe, but not illegal. Microsoft does the same thing too with C#, no one complains.

  5. zridling says:

    It is sad and weird that less than a hour before the vote, the same 20-25 Microsoft business partners show up at the door, pay $2500 to become a voting member of the national body, and completely reverse the last six months of work done by the people who have served on those technical committees. That's a flawed process if there ever was one. Ironically, Microsoft is making sure that MS-OOXML will hang in JTC1 for a long, long time. And it's still not clear who will resolve the problems with MS-OOXML — Ecma? Microsoft itself? Either way, once they're corrected, then Office 2007 will not even be implementing MS-OOXML. ODF wasn't messy; why is MS-OOXML having so much trouble, and having to go through so many loopholes to get votes?

    [b][url=http://www.groklaw.net/article.php?story=20070827111019189]Groklaw[/url][/b] has more on MS-OOXML voting fraud reports all over the world. Go figure.

    • pitdingo says:

      "And it's still not clear who will resolve the problems with MS-OOXML — Ecma? Microsoft itself?"

      Remember, OOXML is a closed proprietary standard. Only M$ created it, and only M$ controls it.

    • asellus says:

      What happened in Sweden is not illegal. It has precedents in the past, like Microsoft with C#.

      I like the Groklaw link, especially the Sun link. Is this the same Sun who systematically undermine ODF after their Java settlements in 2004?

      edit: If ODF standard is really that clear, why even OpenOffice cannot implements it fully? Why is there no full fidelity between OpenOffice and koffice? Is ODF really that easy to implement when open-source software like AbiWord does not want to implement it natively (converters does not count, because Microsoft Office also has it)?

  6. robmanic44 says:

    Standards, standards, we don't need no stinking standards. Microsoft has lost all the goodwill it ever had. It has already sold many of its partners down the river and will continue to do so.

    I was involved in ISO certification for a
    pharmaceutical company. It was an FDA requirement. This is going to put some egg on their face as well. I didn't realize they were for sale. ISO certification is for processes and procedures. I still have my old ISO 9000 book and it looks like I need to do some reading.

    Something very bizarre is happening here and I'm not sure we've heard the full story. I can't see how the EU can allow ISO to be compromised. This would have repercussions far beyond office standards.

  7. bosson says:

    Please fix: David Vuorio represented IllumiNet AB at the meeting and did that passionate/heroic speech, not me. Also David answered the question about adopting ODF in the same manner at a fast track standardization...

    I left in anger as mentioned in the noooxml.org-blog.

    David's blog tells even more:
    http://vuorio.blogspot.com/

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