Swedish Standards Vote on OOXML Declared Invalid, SIS to Abstain

After considerable suspicion was cast on the reasons why, and the methods how, 23 extra members joined the Swedish international standards body SIS as recently as the day before it was to vote on recommending Microsoft's Office Open XML to the ISO, the SIS has decided to invalidate its "Yes, with comments" vote, and to cast an abstention in next week's ISO proceedings.

There are three conflicting accounts as to why. Two days ago, Microsoft's corporate standards director Jason Matusow responded to inquiries by BetaNews and others with a blog post that attempted to explain the problem as having been caused by a single Microsoft Sweden employee acting out of bounds.

"An employee in Sweden sent an e-mail to two partners that was inconsistent with company policy. When he realized what he had done, he did the right thing by immediately reaching out to the two partners to address the situation. He contacted them by phone and e-mail letting them know that they should disregard the mail."

In a further explanation of the affair, Matusow said the unnamed employee originally told these two partners that they would be responsible for their own costs in joining the SIS, but that Microsoft would try to help them out later with promises of product support. Since these were Microsoft partners anyway, and they would already be receiving product support, such a promise appeared awkward. Why, we wondered, would Microsoft promise something to partners that they should already be receiving?

But in a second account of the affair which may or may not conflict with Matusow's, the company's interoperability and standards GM Tom Robertson told Computerworld yesterday that money was also promised. Robertson did not say whether this was the same Microsoft Sweden employee as Matusow referred to the day before, nor whether the money was offered to the same two partners to which Matusow referred.

Robertson said the offer was readily retracted once managers were made aware of it, implied that no money actually changed hands, and said that the final outcome of the SIS vote was not affected.

Yet both stories may or may not conflict with the SIS' own statement, of which multiple translations to English (frankly, something partly resembling English) seem to say that it has invalidated its working group's vote and will abstain after discovering two votes that come from the same source.

There are two possibilities: If the SIS has determined that the vote from two of its members was manipulated by a single source, as Matusow's account indicated, then it may have concluded that those two votes were virtually cast by the same member - which is against its regulations, the SIS stated. But if a single voting member truly did vote twice, then the cause for invalidation may have nothing to do with either of Microsoft's accounts.

In his explanation of the Swedish affair, Matusow said both Microsoft and IBM contacted SIS members and urged them to join the voting process, as SIS rules permit them to do. But in the end, he said, all members voted their conscience, and all voted equally.

"If Open XML is to be approved for standardization at JTC1, it needs to do so by the book," he wrote. "We may all disagree about the book (witness the arguments about no with comments vs. yes with comments), but it is critical that these activities remain within the realm of ethical behavior as well as behavior defined by the rules for the JTC1 process. In this case, I understand the concern raised by this error in judgment by an MS employee. The only thing I can say is that the right things were done as the issue was identified. The process and vote at SIS were not affected."

Or maybe they were. If the SIS' own assessment proves to be accurate, it would appear some consciences are more equal than others.

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