Writings on technology and society from Wellington, New Zealand

Thursday, August 30, 2007

World votes No to Microsoft standard

Updated 5 September – the vote in the the world standards body is “no“. Sanity rules. Well done, everyone who has worked for this. It’s still not over, though. More below.

Updated 1 September – are votes being bought in the international standards body?

Standards New Zealand has voted “No” to the proposed Microsoft standard, OOXML. This is the Right Thing for many, many reasons, one of which I blogged a few days ago.

And make no mistake, Standards Bodies have to reject the proposed standard, because, according to the rules of JTC1 (the relevant part of the international standards body ISO):

NBs [national bodies] may reply in one of three ways:

– Approval of the technical content of the DIS…

– Disapproval of the DIS for tehcnical reasons to be stated, with proposals for changes that would make the document acceptable (acceptance of these proposals shall be referred to the NB concerned for confirmation that the vote can be changed to approval)

– Abstention

Now, the OOXML draft standard is technically broken in many, many ways – even Microsoft admitted that in the Wellington meeting, rather lamely saying that they would fix all of it. So by the JTC1 directive I’ve quoted above (link, it’s a big PDF) national standards bodies have to vote “No with comments”. And that’s just what StandardsNZ has done.

The process run by Standards New Zealand has been first-class. They called a large technical workshop – and remember, this is a technical matter – and let all the parties produce their arguments. Then the Standards staff went away and figured out which set of arguments was better, and recommended the vote to the Standards Council.

This is a far better way than voting among all present (that leads to people trying to stack meetings) – or listening to the people who buy the biggest adverts in the newspaper. And there have been all kinds of grumbling about processes in other standards bodies around the world, including in Sweden where they had a vote and Microsoft – cough – apparently voted twice. Frankly, seeing how StandardsNZ has run this makes me proud of New Zealand.

It’s far from all over for OOXML yet. Countries are joining up in droves to the international standards body where the vote takes place. Malta joined yesterday, Trinidad and Tobago a few days before. I sincerely hope that these countries’ votes aren’t effectively being purchased by one of the players in this debate. If a company did that it would make them little better than the whale killers who try to stack international whaling meetings.

Update 1 September: ten countries have joined the original thirty “P-members” (voting members) of the relvevant ISO committee in the last few days. Oops, make that eleven – that hotbed of software, Côte d”Ivoire, signed up this afternoon. If all these new members vote one way – and it’s hard to imagine that they won’t – we could be witnessing the corruption of an international standards process to suit the commercial aims of a single company. I wonder if governments around the world will tolerate this kind of behaviour?

Update 2: ISO has announced the failure of the vote:

The five-month ballot process ended on 2 September and was open to the IEC and ISO national member bodies from 104 countries, including 41 that are participating members of the joint ISO/IEC technical committee, JTC 1, Information technology.

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.

Microsof’t’s release on the vote is relentlessly positive, failing to mention that it lost. It signals that Microsoft intends to work on the standard until the ballot resolution meeting held at ISO in February, when countries voting “No” will get the opportunity to change to “yes”. I think Microsoft would better spend their time talking to the committee which defines the real world standard – ISO26300 or ODF – to get its material incorporated into a single standard. Having two standards would be the wrong thing – while Microsoft argues that this is about choice, standards like this are exactly there to stop suppliers making choices that adversely affect their customers.

Disclosure: Google paid me to attend the technical workshop in Wellington. Google bought my time, not my views.

posted by colin at 3:11 pm  

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