Some Fun with Microsoft and OOXML, Ecma-376 or DIS 29500

It’s been a very interesting day.

Early this morning UK time we got this from the big M:

Strong Global Support for Open XML as It Enters Final Phase of ISO Standards Process

REDMOND, Wash. — Sept. 4, 2007 — Today the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) released the results of the preliminary ballot to participating National Body members for the ISO/IEC DIS 29500 (Ecma 376 Office Open XML file formats) ratification process. The results show that 51 ISO members, representing 74 percent of all qualified votes, stated their support for ratification of Open XML. Along with their votes, the National Bodies also provided invaluable technical comments designed to improve the specification. Many of the remaining ISO members stated that they will support Open XML after their comments are addressed during the final phase of the process, which is expected to close in March 2008.

Which roughly translates as “Oh dear – we didn’t get enough votes from the “P” members of the committee to get our proprietary, customer lock-in document format standardised. Now we’ll have to go back and start bribing committees all over again…

However they have already started. The JTS-1 Sub Committee 34 (SC34) has grown in membership dramatically in the last couple of months whereas before that time – it’s membership had barely changed in 2 years. A little curious don’t you think?

Anyway – finally the ISO managed to get a press release out:

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.

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.

That doesn’t sound much like M$’s statement does it? This translates into something along the lines of “you failed on both counts despite trying to buy your way to instant success.”

As most readers will be aware, the JTC-1 committee has seen 11 member countries change their status from “O” (Observational) to “P” (Participatory) in the last few weeks and at least 15 new members have joined the SC34 subcommittee. Some quick and insightful analysis of the voting numbers was posted in the comments on the website.

– 32 valid votes by JTC1 P-Members : 2/3 is 21.33, and there are only 17 YES votes —> FAILED
– 69 valid votes by ISO Member Bodies. 25% is 17.25, and there are 18 NO votes —> FAILED

Amongst the 30 “original” JTC1 P-Members : 8 Yes, 14 No, 8 Abstain
Amongst the 11 “late-comers” JTC1 P-Members : 9 Yes, 1 No (Ecuador), 1 Abstain (Trinidad & Tobago)
Amongst the 15 “late-comers” SC34 P-Members : 12 Yes, 0 No, 3 Abstain (Chile, Finland, Trinidad & Tobago)

About a possible vote stuffing: I think that the figures speak for themselves.

Luc Bollen

So, without the sudden influx of new membership to the main JTC-1 committee, the vote would have been:

  • Yes: 8 (36%)
  • No: 14 (64%)
  • Abstain: 8 (Ignored from percentages)

That kind of result would have been a definite NO and the whole process would have almost certainly stopped there. And remember that some of these “yes” votes and abstentions were cast after rather dubious goings on: for example, the USA initially votes a resounding “no” then after some reputed phone calls from Gates and Balmer, it changes to a Yes.

Just so we are clear then, the new members of JTC-1 voted Yes: 9, No: 1, Abstain: 1. Now this doesn’t look like a representative sample of the voting patterns of the existing membership does it? It looks like a bit of a whitewash to me. An almost identical voting profile happened with the Sc34 subcommittee existing vs. new membership. No coincidence there then…

Here is a very good visual indication of what the voting looked like without the new “P” members. Very telling I think…

If we now go back and read M$ press release again:

“We are extremely delighted to see that 51 ISO members, representing 74 percent of the qualified votes, have already voiced their support for ISO ratification of Open XML, and that many others have indicated they will support ratification once their comments are resolved in the next phase of the ISO process,”

Really… Pull the other one M$.

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