Chairman of Norwegian ISO mirror committee reveals whole story

The chairman of the Norwegian standard body’s SC34 (K185) group has resigned after 13 years, in protest of the recent acceptance of MS-OOXML by Standard Norway. He now reveals details on the entire (farcical) voting process:

http://topicmaps.wordpress.com/2008/04/18/the-norway-vote-what-really-happened/

The Swiss working group may have gone through some of these things as well.

Norwegians protest against OOXML

While Switzerland’s people can see nothing wrong with the scandalous acceptance of MSOOXML as an ISO standard, Norway sees it differently. Perhaps that’s because Norway is more successful in the international software business (Opera, Funcom, Trolltech etc.) and therefore has something to lose, while Switzerland has a very passive and consumerist attitude.

But never mind the reasons, Norwegian people were smart enough to gather in front of the ISO SC34 meeting for a demonstration to kick OOXML out of ISO. One sign even asks Neelie Kroes to intervene. Seeing that the EC has started an investigation into the irregularities encountered during the OOXML voting process, it looks like she read the sign.

Yes, throw IS 29500 out. It’s a broken specification, and there is proof. If any other company had submitted this spec, they would have been sent back to the drawing board to fix all the defects. But Microsoft has the power and the money to manipulate and to bribe, so they can undermine ISO’s integrity and force steaming piles like this through an erstwhile respectable standardization process.

The general idea being tossed around by leaders of the Swiss standardization body is now “let’s all be happy and hug each other, and start to fix IS 29500 together”. Come again? Why should we waste our time and money to fix a broken product that we do not even control, because of the patents on it and because of the proprietary extensions that are at any point possible? Why shouldn’t we instead invest this time into making the existing ODF standard even more interoperable and accessible? It’s not impossible that IS 29500 at some point is mature enough, but the problem is that it should have been mature enough to begin with. Microsoft should not have submitted such a broken spec and come through with it. That they have shows that the standardization process has failed.

Link via noooxml.org.

ISO approves broken standard amidst massive irregularities

The whole voting process for fast tracking DIS 29500 (i.e. MS-OOXML, Microsoft Corp’s broken new format for office documents) was full of irregularities. Votes that were not counted or counted wrongly, Microsoft Gold partners that were bribed into joining national standards bodies to swing their opinion around in the last minute, meeting rooms for discussing these issues that were deliberately too small for people who could point out the flaws in the formats, but not too small for its supporters.

I read the news reports as all of this was happening and couldn’t help but be reminded of fake elections in a corrupt country. I also had to laugh. I believed that ISO was on top of all this, would not stand for such corruption and would use their own processes to find the people responsible, punish them appropriately and bring the voting process back to a reasonably democratic shape. I was so naive. ISO has failed. Failed in their mission to jointly introduce new standards for and with its members, failed at assessing a technical standard objectively, failed at taking the voices and concerns of their members seriously, failed at being a neutral body without bias.

There are ways within ISO to disapprove a standard, but if they are governed by the same people, I see no hope of getting this severely broken standard to a place where it belongs.

Today is a black day for freedom. And if you like democratic process, it’s a black day for that too.

Update: Mark Shuttleworth (founder of Canonical, maker of Ubuntu) is sad too: “It’s sad that the ISO was not willing to admit that its process was failing horribly.” He offers a few more details. I’m not willing to risk talking about things I am not allowed to talk about, so I’ll leave uncovering the internal failings to the real news sources for now. Shuttleworth provides a good summary.

Update 2: The European Commission is investigating the irregularities encountered during the standards approval process. Maybe there is still hope to get rid of some of the corruption and hopefully get the standard revoked, so that its vendor can apply for standardization again and do it properly this time.