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How to Hack ISO

By now you have all seen the news. Andy Updegrove appears to have have the most coverage and analysis of that story, so I’ll try not to repeat stuff that you can easily read there.

The short of it is that DIS 29500 has failed in its attempt to be approved as an International Standard. The Microsoft spinmeisters are trying to make defeat sound like it is a good thing, that this is just the next step in the approval process.

Jason Matusow claims that “The next 6 months will be where the rubber really meets the road for the work on Open XML.” This is nonsense. The work should have been done back in Ecma, before submission to ISO. Fast Track is not a standards development process. It is intended for standards that are already completed and for which there is already industry consensus, to quickly transpose them into International Standards. Fast Track starts at the last stage, the Approval stage, of ISO’s 5 steps. By this point it is assumed that the text is complete, accurate, and has already been thoroughly reviewed. Since JTC1 NB’s have registered hundreds of technical flaws in OOXML, it is clear now that it never should have been put on Fast Track in the first place. The types of errors that are being reported now should have been found and fixed back at the committee draft stage or earlier, in Ecma. This defeat is an indictment of Ecma’s shoddy review. It is an abuse of ISO process for Microsoft to try to ram it through Fast Track in this state. They deserve the rebuke they have been given for this poor judgment.

Let’s drill into the numbers a bit and see what this all means.

First, recall JTC1’s two approval criteria for Fast Track submissions:

  • 2/3 of JTC1 P-members must approve
  • No more than 25% of total votes may be negative

In both cases those NB’s that Abstain or do not vote are ignored.

So, the ballot results for OOXML appear to be:

P-members: Approval: 17, Abstain: 9, Disapprove: 15. With only 53% Approval of P-members, DIS 29500 fails by the first criterion.

Overall vote: Approval: 51, Abstain: 18, No: 18. With 26% overall Disapproval, DIS 29500 also fails by the second criterion.

Microsoft highlights this second number (74%) in their press release, but does not even mention the P-member number. This is deceptive since even if they raised that number to 76% OOXML would have still failed. Only P-members can cause a Fast Track to be approved.

What is interesting is the large number of NB’s who participated in this process that have never participated in JTC1 before (at least to my knowledge). In fact, a number of them have such a strong interest in JTC1’s activities that they have joined as P-members — the highest level of participation — in some cases only in the last week or so. This is, I assume, what Tom Robertson, Microsoft’s GM of Interoperability and Standards, means when he talks of “rejuvinating” standards bodies:

Robertson dismissed criticism of Microsoft’s efforts to encourage its partners to join standards bodies. Most standards bodies are filled with “an old guard” membership that needs rejuvenation, he said. He also likened Microsoft’s recruitment efforts to a voter registration drive. “Have we been speaking to our community of companies about this issue? Yes, we have,” he said. “They needed to know. They, in many cases, decided to participate. [But] there is no basis to allegations that we are gerrymandering the process.

“Old Guard” NB’s appear to be those like Canada, France, New Zealand, Japan, Korea, Ireland, China or Norway that voted against OOXML. The new blood presumably are countries like Cote d’Ivoire, Syria, Kazakhstan and Tanzania that are participating in JTC1 for the first time, and voting in favor of OOXML.

JTC1 has historically had a rather stable membership of NB’s active in its technical agenda. There has been only a slow increase in membership, 1 NB joining in 2001, but none in 2002, 4 joining in 2003, 1 joining in 2004, none in 2005, 4 joining in 2006. But in 2007 JTC1 has been blessed with 12 new P-members, many of then joining in only the last week. There is a very clear trend in how these new P-members have voted:

Approval Abstain Disapproval
Old Guard 7 8 14
New NB’s 10 1 1
Total 17 9 15

In that table I’m defining “old guard” as those NB’s who were P-members of JTC1 before the OOXML process started. As you can see, the “old guard” voted overwhelmingly against OOXML by 2-to-1 margins. But the new P-members have almost all voted in favor of OOXML.

We can look at this graphically as well, showing the P-member composition of JTC1 over time and how they ultimately voted. As you see, JTC1 was overwhelmingly against OOXML until the blip at the very end, when Kazakhstan, etc. joined.

Another difference between the “old guard” and the “rejuvenated” membership is the level of public input and industry participation in their national committees. The old guard members had public forums, invited all sides to come in and speak, had all their stakeholders participate, reviewed technical comments and tried to come to a consensus. With openness like this, no wonder Microsoft believes they need rejuvenation! The new members, well… let’s just say the transparency of their decision making process is not uniformly great.

(6 Sept 2007 Update. I’ve removed the previous mention of CPI correlations to avoid confusion. The “transparency” of a national standards body’s process does not bear any necessary relationship with a country’s overall business climate. We’ve certainly seen in-depth, thorough technical reviews in the developing world, and we’ve seen suspect political dealings even in the United States. With the specific instances so damning to Microsoft, there is no need to make generalizations.)

I suppose that no one should be surprised that Microsoft, which has been stuffing committees at the national level throughout this ballot, would also attempt the same at the JTC1 level. From what I have been able to determine, NB’s, never having sat in a single JTC1 meeting and never having joined a single JTC1 technical committee, were able join as a P-members, in the last hours of the OOXML ballot, simply by sending an email to ISO.

Although this attempt to juice their results by signing up new P-members did not help Microsoft win approval for OOXML, it remains to be seen what adverse effect this will have on other JTC1 activities. We need to remember that a participation rate of 50% of JTC1 P-members is required to transact most JTC1 business. So this “rejuvenation” may very well paralyze JTC1 entirely unless the new members are earnest and participate in ballots beyond OOXML.

{ 37 comments… add one }
  • Anonymous 2007/09/04, 3:38 pm

    Where do we go from here?

    I seem to recall hearing that there are likely to be more votes in the future, and with the *ahem* rejuvenated interest, OOXML can be rammed through at that time?

    Still, it’s good that they’ve been temporarily derailed, I just don’t want to see people with their guard down once they’re back on track. The more time they have to plan, the more likely it is that they’ll find new ways to force OOXML adoption whether anyone wants to use it or not.

    I remember a really old interview of someone leaving Microsoft where he recounted how they do business. He was constantly being asked how can we *force* our customers to do things, not merely how they could convince them to.

    I don’t think I’m alone in not wanting to do business with anyone who treats me like that. True, IBM did that kind of business once (“Nobody ever got fired for buying IBM.”) but IBM finally repented.

    I wonder what it’d take to get Microsoft to repent?

  • Chris Ward 2007/09/04, 3:55 pm

    In principle, everyone who benefits financially from the sale of a copy of Microsoft Office should vote ‘for’, and everyone else on the planet should vote ‘against’.

    So there should be many more votes ‘against’.

    It’s just that those who benefit financially are very well funded at the moment.

  • Rob 2007/09/04, 4:20 pm

    Where do we go from here? I think the interesting constituencies to talk to are our new JTC1 P-members, so many of them from the developing world. I think they would be natural supporters of open source and ODF. What virtue does OOXML hold from them, since it is so backwards looking?

    For example does Tanzania, whose workforce is 90% agricultural and which is rated 162 out of 175 in the UN’s Human Development Index (HDI)really have a big concern with legacy Office binary documents? If not, then their logic choice is to move to ODF and open source. Otherwise it is like deciding to go with a telephony standard that is 100% compatible with telephone poles and infrastructure that you don’t have. Better to skip a generation and go cellular.

    So I’d suggest that educating these new P members is the most effective way to make progress and cement our victory. Show them some Ubuntu, some OpenOffice, some ODF, and ask why they are helping to prop up Bill Gates? And not just the standards organizations, but the press, the politicians, local businesses as well. My guess is the decision to vote for OOXML in some of these new P-members was a very narrowly localized decision, without larger input from other stakeholders. Just a guess on my part, with no proof claimed or offered.

  • Luc Bollen 2007/09/04, 5:02 pm

    Having IBM to repent involved changing the head of the company. They replaced John Ackers by Lou Gerstner (by the way, Gerstner was a ex-client, not an ex-manager of IBM…). This is indeed “listen to customers”.

    The new boss had a clear vision about how to change things in order to **rejuvenate** IBM !

    Probably MS needs more rejuvenation than ISO.

  • rsandu2007 2007/09/04, 5:10 pm

    Hello, Rob and all,

    The same is true for Romania, which is not so new in this game. Microsoft had no need to stuff comitee here, since most of the participants are so accustomed to using non-free programs (even pirated) that they naturally followed the few Microsoft Partners in the comitee.

    Please see the references of long sweet partnership between Microsoft and Romanian officials in noOOXML site.

    The significant part is that no single public information have been released before the vote. No press debate in the IT magazines, ni forum, no Ministry site announcement, nothing. Simply a bunch of Microsoft supporters meeting in a room at ASRO.

    I wonder what we may practically do on this matter? How to organize ourselves – maybe around the local IBM representative? We have no Red Hat or Sun representative here…
    How can we penetrate this official mob? I’m seriously considering registering my small business at ASRO just to gain a possibility to defend my own rights on this kind of matters…

  • Rob 2007/09/04, 5:41 pm

    Luc, I joined IBM under Gerstner, as part of the Lotus takeover. So I’ll take that as a compliment. Maybe I’m part of that “rejuvenation”.

    Rsandu, good questions. I wish I had a good answer for you. Anyone have ideas?

  • Anonymous 2007/09/04, 6:32 pm

    > The new boss had a clear vision about how to change things in order to **rejuvenate** IBM !

    > Probably MS needs more rejuvenation than ISO.

    Gates is going or gone, I forget which. After which at least Ballmer would need to leave as well. Then there’s the DRG and that memo of theirs that popped out a while ago on Groklaw. Have to get rid of all those who follow that thing’s advice. Many of the developers aren’t so bad to my knowledge, even if they’re forced to develop crap for business reasons at times. Though the only people I know connected to Microsoft were a few recruiters I gave a resume to once in college (never got called) and one nice young lady who worked with a Microsoft partner. Nice woman, lost touch, hope that ‘partner’ didn’t get the usual partner’s treatment from Microsoft: cannibalize their tech and end the relationship.

    I wonder who else would have to swept away before they’d listen to customers instead of seeking to control them?

    Of course, the people who need to get swept away are at the top. The people who usually get swept away are at the bottom …

  • Anonymous 2007/09/04, 7:11 pm

    rsandu, would it be possible to file a lawsuit in Romania about this? (Even if it is not winnable, it might get publicity which might be helpful in stimulating reform for the process.)

  • Nathan T. Freeman 2007/09/04, 7:11 pm
  • Gopal 2007/09/05, 12:33 am

    When ODF 1.2 is finalised, does it have to be ratified/approved by ISO. If so can Microsoft thru its new P(uppet) country votes create trouble ?

  • KRS 2007/09/05, 12:43 am

    Rob, let me congratulate you for the stupendous efforts you have put in to shed light on the abuse of ISO. The rejection of OOXML has shown Microsoft in a poor light; and the ISO in a worse light than Microsoft. So many questions arise, I list them in no particular order; maybe you might consider blogging about them in detail; so we can reform the ISO:

    1. How is it logical that Cote de Ivorie, Tanzania, Kazakhstan, Cuba, Syria and Cyprus have the same rights…. as India and China which together are home to over 33% of the world’s population? If the ISO seeks to represent International Interests, the by-laws must be reformed so as to give weighted voting based on the indl. nation’s population. I know it’s not perfect, but it would be much much better than the present situation when tiny countries can be bought over, thereby subverting the process.

    2. It appears Sweden’s vote was changed from ‘Yes’ to ‘Abstain’ because of a reported multiple voting. No action has been initiated against Microsoft despite their public admittance of having influenced their ‘gold’ partners to vote in favour. Why?
    2a. If the Swedish agency is incapable of conducting a simple vote involving about 50 members, it must be debarred from the ISO.
    2b. Since MS has admitted of wrong-doing; they and their partners must be debarred from particpating in ISO voting processes as punishment – for a period of atleast 1 year.
    2c. Charges must be brought against members who voted under inducements, and they must be expelled from the Swedish standards body.

    3. The so-called fast-track has consumed 18 months; without tangible progress on technical glitches. How can the ISO expect significant improvements within 6 more months? OOXML must be rejected outright – let MS resubmit a significantly altered specification which can then be subject to the full process.

    4. By allowing last-minute joinees who never participated in deliberations to vote; the ISO stands discredited and open to ridicule. To regain credibility they must address both these issues immediately; else no one will respect ISO standards in future.

    5. From all accounts, it appears there is not a single complete reference implementation of the written-down spec; not even in the latest version of MS Office. The ISO must make it a pre-condition to have atleast 2 verifiably accurate implementations before voting on a spec as a standard.

    6. All the thousands of ‘comments’ and objections must be made publically available for inspection; and MS must address every single one of them in a transparent manner. Else, the BRM process must be curtailed.

    I’ll think of more aspects and post them here. It seems a crime to watch idly by when our very standards bodies are corrupted and abused by a few commercial outfits.

  • Anonymous 2007/09/05, 1:38 am

    Chris Ward, everyone who is a *user* of Microsoft Office should vote ‘for’ and everyone else on the planet should vote ‘against’. Hmm, I wonder how that would pan out…?

  • Anonymous 2007/09/05, 4:54 am

    The 76% only adds up if you take the set of P and O members (69 total) then sum the approvers, approvers with comments and abstentions (51) and 51/69 is 76%. Microsoft are claiming all the abstentions in the O and P group as supporting votes.

  • PolR 2007/09/05, 7:15 am

    Rob asks where do we go from there.

    We should not forget about those who voted “Yes with comments”. What do they want to do with their comments? Will they revert their votes to No if the comments are not addressed?

    Also would it be possible that those who abstained decide to vote or fix the irregularities that led to abstention?

  • Karl O. Pinc 2007/09/05, 12:54 pm


    You must be kidding when you suggest educating the officials in Kazakhstan and Tanzania and so forth regarding document formats. These countries _have_ no concern over document formats. Given the high correlation between economic development and software piracy it’s virtually a given that for the indefinite future these countries will be getting whatever software they use for free.

    Whatever the ISO rules on OOXML will have no effect on these countries, especially when compared with other pressing economic and social issues, and their officials know it. But Microsoft can surely make a difference when it comes to the individual officials’ professional and personal lives, or their charitable interests. Even supposing that document formats _are_ of some import to these countries, given human nature it is unreasonable to assume that many or even most would forgo some sort of Faustian bargain. The history of public officials, from Caesar’s crossing of the Rubicon to the plundering of Nigeria’s oil wealth, speaks otherwise.

    No, the only hope is within the ISO itself. It has always been willing to tolerate the gaming of the system to a certain degree, but it knows it cannot tolerate overt corruption. Regardless of what happens with OOXML, there’s bound to be some reform within the ISO. What needs to be done is to convince the people at the top of the ISO that the spotlight is on them. That if, after this warning, the system remains corrupted, that heads will roll. All the world wants is a open and fair standards setting process. Shining a little light into the upper recesses of the ISO might get us there, if Microsoft hasn’t already hidden little golden parachutes. ISO officials must want an open and fair process too. Especially once you’ve got enough to feed your family, shame can be a powerful motivator.

  • TemporalBeing 2007/09/05, 1:01 pm

    What’s interesting here, is that for Microsoft to succeed, they will need to convert 5 to 7 ‘No’ votes to ‘Yes’ without losing any ‘Yes’ votes among the P members. (Don’t know if that could happen or not, I would think so.) The O members are easier – they only have to get 1 or 2.

    Now to make it more complicated:
    If a P-member changes from ‘no’ to ‘yes’ (their best scenario) they only need 5 P-member votes; however, if they simply drop their ‘no’ and chose to abstain instead, then they will need 7 P-member votes. Likewise in the O-members, if 1 changes from ‘No’ to ‘Yes’, they are ok – however, they will need two if the ‘No’ votes turn into abstains.

    In other words, Microsoft has an uphill battle on this. Here’s hoping they fail.

  • Nate 2007/09/05, 2:48 pm


    I think it’s pretty likely that the strategy will be to move more of the yes-voting O members into the P group. That is certainly the path of least resistance here.

    Then it’s only necessary to change a a single No to a Yes.

  • Anonymous 2007/09/05, 11:51 pm

    The problem here is not strictly or even largely a failure in the ISO. A large part of this problem originates with Ecma. Ecma’s special status allows proposals submitted through them to bypass most of the ISO review process. Ecma states that 80% of the standards which went through the ISO fast-track procedure originated with Ecma.

    Ecma has a standard presentation on their web site describing what they do. In the section titled “What is Ecma’s value?”, they state:


    Offers industry a “fast track“, to global standards bodies, through
    which standards are made available on time;

    … balance between timeliness and
    quality …

    Balances Technical Quality and Business Value

    Offers a path which will minimise risk of changes to input specs


    The emphasis shown above is as in the original text. In other words, Ecma themselves claim that you should use them to ram your proposals through the ISO as quickly as possible and without changes. This isn’t some wild claim being made by a Microsoft opponent; these are Ecma’s own words on why you should go through them. I can’t imagine a more damming indictment.

    Given this and given the current fiasco, it is difficult to see why the ISO should maintain the current fast track special relationship with Ecma. Ecma can’t provide a reasonable review process which substitutes for the ISO’s own; indeed as they admit themselves, they don’t even try to.

    TC45 was the Ecma committee that produced OOXML. TC46 is the Ecma committee that is working on XPS, which is Microsoft’s proposed replacement for PDF. In the XPS presentation (from the Ecma web site), Microsoft draws out a comparison between OOXML and XPS, where they see XPS as following directly from OOXML. In other words, we are looking at repeating this whole process again with another standard.

    The ISO should suspend Ecma’s fast track privileges until and unless Ecma can show that they can provide adequate review of standards with openness and proper public participation. If the ISO doesn’t take this measure, then Ecma will be a millstone around the ISO’s neck dragging it down into disrepute and irrelevance.

  • Anonymous 2007/09/06, 5:03 am

    From my point of view…

    ODF will need two elements to appear as superior to OOXML. One is the spreadsheet parts included in the standard. This is already on the way…we must make sure that all voting members at the feb meeting understand this.

    The second thing is that ODF need to have macro support in the long run. Most people probably agree that macros don’t serve much purpose except virus spreading…yet their absence mean that Microsoft have something critical. They can state that it impossible to convert old office documents to ODF since the macro part, that “might” be needed by their customers, can’t be converted. If ODF work included a branch that works on macro extensions the whole reason to have ooxml as standard becomes void.

    Could an open source work group be started that examine how ODF might be extended with macro capability? If there was such group I think it would weaken microsofts position even if the group had not any official position. Even better if the ODF crew could start up work with macros themselves…they don’t need to make much progress or promise that the macros will be included in the end. Just the fact that ODF works with the problem would make Microsoft unable to claim that their new standard solves something that ODF lacks.

    Finally this brings us to what we can do…surely the fact that Sweden changed its vote show the way to go. SIS in sweden used a formality, that by logics did not affect the outcome of the vote, to change the vote to what was morally right. The reason is most probably that the papers wrote about it. When nobody watch people are inclined to avoid to take the fight, they are just a single vote and it is very unpleasant to stand on your own.

    Yet if main stream papers has highlighted how flawed ooxml is, what kind of countries that support the standard, that the final ODF standard will handle everything despite what Microsoft claims and how Microsoft tries to abuse the fast track procedure…the SB personal will have the situation that their credibility will be challenged if the don’t reject ooxml. They will be opposite the public opinion if they vote postive.

    Make main stream papers write about what is happening and Microsoft will be doomed. If only blogs like this are source of information about what is wrong with ooxml most voting persons next year will probably never have heard the valid critcism because the public opinion does not require them to really investigate the criticism.

  • BSchröder 2007/09/06, 5:59 am

    Hi Rob,

    I was looking for exactly the same numbers on JTC-1 evolution but I have different results.

    From notes taken when ODF was ratified, I have 24 P members in May 2006 and another note with 30P members in January 2007

    However, you say + 4 in 2006; + 12 in 2007 while I have + 6 and + 11

    As your vote total of 43 P members is obviously wrong (the ISO web sites today identifies only 41 P countries), I think you may have a problem with your numbers.

    Could you share your sources about P member evolution at JTC-1?

  • Anonymous 2007/09/06, 7:12 am

    “No, the only hope is within the ISO itself. It has always been willing to tolerate the gaming of the system to a certain degree, but it knows it cannot tolerate overt corruption.”

    I think we saw in Sweden what would be the easiest action. The real problem in Sweden was that MS had bought votes, ie, blatant corruption. Instead of going through the difficult and uncertain way of starting legal action, the Swedisch committee rejected the vote on a “technicality”: One member had voted twice.

    I would think the most we can expect from ISO is that they throw MSOOXML from the fast-track on a technicality. Eg, the fact that MS’ online patent pledge falls far short of the required “IP” formalities (as I understood). Or the fact that MSOOXML clashes with another ISO standard (eg, the rediculous date problem). MSOOXML can still become an ISO standard, just not in fast track. Say, use the French proposal of making it a technical “standard” for three year.

    Then ISO does not have to change its rules in a hurry, and does not have to challenge MS in court. They can even formulate it in ways that would save MS’ face.


  • Rob 2007/09/06, 7:43 am

    BSchröder, remember the ODF ballot was a JTC1/SC34 ballot, but OOXML had a JTC1 ballot. So these are two different committees with two different memberships. Certainly many NB’s are members of both, but the size of these two memberships are not related. The numbers I gave are for JTC1. It sounds like you are starting from with the SC34 membership in 2006.

  • Anonymous 2007/09/07, 11:25 am


    The following link shows outstanding ballots fro JTC1/SC34:


    If I read this correctly combined with your post, is 50% participation required for this business to complete? There are six outstanding ballots between now and the end of the year.

  • Rob 2007/09/07, 12:53 pm

    JTC1 Directives 9.1.10 says “At all levels of voting, if more than 50% of the P-members have not voted, the vote will have failed. Late votes shall not be counted. No extensions shall be granted.”

    If you look at recent ballots you’ll see that there is a core membership that participate and vote on most proposals. This core membership previously constituted over 50% of P-members, but think this is no longer true. So we may have a problem on our hands.

  • PolR 2007/09/07, 3:02 pm

    This raises an interesting question. What if the new P-members stop participating now that OOXML has been voted on? Could SC34 be stalled until someone finds a way to relegate these countries back to O status?

  • Rob 2007/09/07, 5:55 pm

    Indeed, that is my concern: the paralysis of JTC1.

    Now there is procedure for a P-member to be demoted to an O-member if they miss votes and fail to respond when reminded of their voting obligations. The NB could then reapply for P-membership after 12 months. I do not see this rule being currently applied.

    So in theory this problem is correctable, though a number of ballots could still fail while awaiting this procedure to kick in.

    Maybe we need a new category of membership “JTC1 M-member” who are only counted for Microsoft/Ecma fast track ballots.

  • PolR 2007/09/08, 12:22 am

    Thanks for the explanation Rob.

    Then the next question is how much does Microsoft need a working JTC1? Or more to the point, how much do they need a *non* working JTC1?

    They need it working fine to fast track things like XPS and Silverlight into ISO standards.

    On the other hand they have been burned with ODF. They may not want more ISO standards they don’t control that could get in their way.

    My understanding of your explanation of the P to O demotion process is it is designed to handle a single inactive P member in an otherwise well behaving group. It is not designed to handle the paralysis resulting from multiple inactive or obstructing P members. Am I correct?

    Now that the techniques to hack ISO are known, denial of service attacks are possible if a sufficient number of P members only vote on matters of interest to Microsoft. They may not even need to vote No on other matters to stall JTC1 if it means JTC1 doesn’t meet the 50% voting threshold.

    By the time someone figures what is going on and the demotion process is done, more new P members may join in and take the relay. This can go on for years before the process is fixed and JTC1 can function again.

    I don’t say Microsoft will do this. I just say that the possibility is there, available for use to anybody with enough motivation and resources to use such tactics.

    It is scary what you get when you apply what you learned about computer security to ISO standard processes, isn’t it?

  • Torsten Werner 2007/09/08, 2:26 am

    After the irregularities in Germany Microsoft tries to prevent the publication of the german comments now. But SC34 has already published all comments at http://www.jtc1sc34.org/repository/0950.htm#N0904 (document 0904).

  • Rob 2007/09/08, 12:10 pm


    If you want to look at it that way, there are three magic numbers:

    * 1/3 of P-members can prevent any ballot from passing by actively voting No.

    * 50% of P-members can prevent any ballot from passing by passively not voting. Think of it as a “pocket veto.”

    * 2/3 of P-members can make any ballot be approved.

    So if someone wanted to be the “gate keeper” and be able to extort a toll from every standard that passes through JTC1, they would need to at the very least line up 1/3 of P-members and have them vote No on every proposal that they did not favor.

    I certainly wouldn’t recommend this to anyone, and I don’t want to suggest that this is Microsoft’s motive. But they have assembled an army sufficient to do this, and it is prudent to at least consider the consequences if they decided to use it. One strategy certainly could be, if you can’t beat them, then destroy ISO and the other systems that produce open standards. The first thing the ugly queen does is order all the mirrors in the kingdom to be broken.

  • PolR 2007/09/09, 12:51 am

    Rob, thanks for the answer.

    There is another scenario to look at.

    Suppose over 1/3 of the P members don’t vote on a standard Microsoft doesn’t want approved. They effectively raise the bar to get the 50% P-member voting threshold.

    I don’t know what is the usual participation of P-members to ballots but if there routinely is 1/6 of P-members that happen not to vote on a given ballot due to lack of interest or other reasons, then over 1/3 + 1/6 is over 50% which is the second of your magic numbers.

    The key point here is there is no need to obstruct by actually voting no. Mere inaction will do.

    In such scenario proving motive is hard. Non voting P-members don’t cast votes and don’t issue comments. They may even not hold any meetings at NB level and won’t leave a track record of meeting minutes. How do you tell a non-voting member doing obstruction from a non voting member that just lack interest in a particular ballot?

    The only way to show motive that I can think of is to observe a trend in behavior over a series of ballots. Microsoft has the ability to jam such observations by generating noise in the behavior pattern. If they want to, they may themselves vote in the opposite direction of their interest, relying on the inaction of P countries to block the proposed standard. They also have the ability to call its army to vote somehow on insignificant (to them) standards and reserving the obstruction tactics to ballots that really matter. Both tactics will make behavior patterns harder to show and harder to attribute to Microsoft actions.

    I don’t say this is Microsoft strategy and I don’t want to suggest they intend to do something like this. With the evidence we have, such statements would be conjecture at best. But as you said, they have the capability to pull out this sort of things and it is prudent to consider the consequences of such action.

  • dario 2007/09/09, 2:33 pm

    rob said:
    Although this attempt to juice their results by signing up new P-members did not help Microsoft win approval for OOXML, it remains to be seen what adverse effect this will have on other JTC1 activities. We need to remember that a participation rate of 50% of JTC1 P-members is required to transact most JTC1 business. So this “rejuvenation” may very well paralyze JTC1 entirely unless the new members are earnest and participate in ballots beyond OOXML.

    It seems that the paralyzation just started:

    See the result of this recent JTC1/SC34 ballot:



    “Based on an insufficient response from the SC 34 participating membership, this ballot has automatically failed according to Directives 9.1.10 that states “if more than 50% of the P-members have not voted, the vote will have failed.”

    Worrying … may be Microsoft could instruct his P-memberts to leave SC34 once this OOXML voting has finished. So, the “original” P-members could continue working ( this is the goal of SC34 isn’t it?: to do technical work and not to “overflow” ballots )

  • Rob 2007/09/09, 4:55 pm

    Yes, it has begun.

  • PolR 2007/09/09, 5:44 pm

    In all fairness, there are only 8 NB that had actually voted on this one. It would have failed even without the new members.

    I suppose the OOXML ballot has siphoned all the attention from the SC34 members lately. There was little time left to consider the issues in other ballots. The real test will be with ballots occurring post-OOXML.

  • Anonymous 2007/09/11, 1:46 pm

    The rejuvenation of ISO has begun. In this ballot we see how the energetic new participants contribute to the standardization process by not even bothering to return a comment:

    Thus, the proposal fails.

    Will ODF 1.2 and PDF be rejuvenated?

    MS has launched a DDOS attack on ISO and the global quest for open standards. Isn’t it obvious?

  • Anonymous 2007/09/17, 1:17 pm

    When the same thing happened at INCITS, there was at least a plausible possibility that it wasn’t Microsoft packing the board.

    Many people were fooled by Microsoft into believing OOXML was already and “open” “standard.” Some of these people created new projects, or even startup companies, to support OOXML on this basis. Presumably these people also believed that it was technically at least acceptable.*

    So, imagine that you’re a CTO whose entire future is now bet on OOXML being a ubiquitous standard. You discover that it hasn’t been voted on yet, and appears likely to lose. Whether you love Microsoft or hate them and are planning a lawsuit doesn’t matter; your choice is clear: You shell out the $800 and delegate one of your employees to go vote yes. So, maybe Microsoft didn’t pack INCITS.

    But you can’t make the same argument over ISO. No country has bet its technological future on OOXML. (Surely a much larger percentage of, say, India’s GNP comes from Microsoft technologies than Cote d’Ivorie, and yet India voted no.) The only possible explanation is that Microsoft deliberately packed the board.

    * I have actually seen business plans for companies that declared that some Microsoft technology was a piece of crap, and by acknowleding this their new startup would be able to better compete with those who drank the Koolaid, but this is pretty rare, and I haven’t heard of any successes. Let’s just say that I almost invested in a company making Exchange appliances on this model, and I’m glad I didn’t.

  • Anonymous 2007/09/17, 1:31 pm

    krs (and others) have been saying that this discredits not only Microsoft, but ISO. I don’t think that’s true.

    ISO has always worked on the assumption that no single interest will be powerful enough to game the system at the level of countries, while being desperate and brazen enough to want to. You can call this naive, but it worked for decades until now.

    Jon Postel didn’t take spam into account when he designed SMTP; maybe he was naive, but it worked for over a decade. For that matter, it may have been naive of IETF to create a process that would lead to the internet’s daily running being based on hundreds of RFCs that were likely to never become STD. Companies have tried to take advantage of that, by claiming that RFC822; in fact, I remember IBM claiming that Notes didn’t have to follow the RFC822 standard because “ït’s not really a standard.”

    But the IETF wasn’t discredited, and Postel even less so. In fact, the explosion of bad-faith business on the internet caused the better businesses to look more to IETF as the only ones who had any inkling how to solve the problems.

    The same thing has to happen here–countries have to realize that ISO is the only real protection against Microsoft and against rubber-stamp standards bodies like ECMA.

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