In Close Vote, Germany Stays in the OOXML “Yes” Column as More Reports Dribble in – Updated

With fewer than 48 hours to go throughout most of the world, only a small percentage of the 87 countries that voted last summer on OOXML have announced whether they will stand by, or change, the votes that they cast during the original six month voting period.  To my knowledge, only one National Body (NB) has formally announced a change of vote thus far (Czechia has changed from "disapprove" to "approve").  Pamela Jones earlier today posted an informal report that Kenya, a P member, has switched its vote from "approve" to "abstain."  And Pamela also reported that Cuba has not only announced a "disapproval" vote, but that it's earlier vote to approve was incorrectly registered, placing it in a unique category of its own.  In yet another category can be found reports that a committee has recommended one action or another, but is not itself the committee that is able to make the final decision for the NB (the United Kingdom is an example).

All other reports, official and informal, of which I am aware are to the effect that the prior vote will stand, including the United States (approve), Brazil and India (both disapprove).  And I've now learned that Germany can be added to the "no change" category as well, although the vote was not only very close, but, as has become almost more the expected rather than the unusual, was also unique to the circumstances and decisions made within the NB committee about what options would be permitted in the vote. The following is the message that I received a few hours ago from a German expert that I know personally who sits on the relevant DIN (the German standards body) committee:

Germany is voting “YES” on DIS 29500 at ISO. The relevant committee was given by DIN only the choice between “YES” and “ABSTAIN” on DIS 29500, since changing from “YES with comments” in September 2007 to “NO” in March 2008 was deemed impossible. Everyone could vote “yes”, “abstain” or “no” on the question whether Germany should vote “YES” or “ABSTAIN” on DIS 29500.

8 votes were in favour of “YES”, 6 were in favour of “ABSTAIN”, some pointing out that they would have preferred to vote an outright “NO”. 4 voted “abstain to the DIN vote”, i.e. on the vote between “YES” and “ABSTAIN” to ISO. 2 of the 4 had initially voted for a German “ABSTAIN”, but under pressure changed within 48 hours their vote from a German “ABSTAIN” to “abstain to the DIN vote”; one of the 4 was compelled by instruction to vote “abstain to the DIN vote”, even though he wanted to vote at least “ABSTAIN”. That means: without very strong pressure from Microsoft Germany would have voted “ABSTAIN”, with 9 to 8.

That’s a bit hard to unscramble, given the ability to abstain to a vote that includes “abstain” as an option.  The bottom line is that a vote of “disapprove” was not an option, and that out of 18 votes, only 8 were to maintain the German vote at “approve.”  And, according to this report, the vote changed in the final hours from a vote to abstain to a vote to maintain the original vote to approve.

It is possible that a small flood of announcements may be made tomorrow, once there is virtually no opportunity for additional pressure to be brought on those involved to change their votes.  Many NBs, I expect, will make no announcement at all before Monday, many for the same reason.  The bottom line is that, in my view, this race will be too close to call until the final announcement is made on Monday, or the vote reaches the public informally through one of the NBs, who will be given private access to the results once they are tabulated.

Updated March 29:  The official statement from DIN (in German), the German standards body, is now available (in German), and includes the official vote count as recorded.  A news article (also auf Deutsch) is here.  As you would see in the official statement, the committee vote was a 7 to 6 vote on, with 7 abstaining.  This is slightly different from the total I reported earlier.  I checked back with my original source on the reason, who reports that the manner in which the vote was calculated by DIN appears to have been (surprise) complicated.  He reports in greater detail as follows:

Two People were allowed to vote in the voting booth without having voting rights, and then their vote was not counted afterwards; and DIN counts people who did not vote as “abstained”. A total of 18 votes were cast, not 20, as DIN insinuates. According to DIN there were 7 “no” to a complicated question no. 2 about whether there were “severe deficiencies in the procedures, especially at the BRM” – which would then only lead to a German “abstain” at ISO -, 6 “yes” who saw severe deficiencies of the procedures, and 7 abstained according to DIN on these questions.

Even that is incorrect: 2 did not vote, which is not the same as to vote “abstain”.  DIN explained on its website why the steering committee could not vote “no” to DIS29500 by stating that the working group had decided with a 15 to 4 vote in favor of a YES to OOXML after the BRM.  However, the  working group was limited to a maximum of 20 participants, and was stuffed from the very beginning with a clear majority of pro-OOXML guys, like MS gold partners, which means that DIN did not follow its own rules to ensure a balanced composition.

Since the vote of the working group was “yes”, the steering committee could only vote on the question whether the report of the chairman of that group “is acknowledged with agreement” – a biased report which did not tell about the obvious problems at the BRM. This question had the sole purpose of requiring people to offend the chairman of the working group if they voted against OOXML (i.e. to vote “abstain” at ISO). Only IF you voted not to agree on that report (i.e. were willing to offend the chairman) were you eligible to vote “yes” to the next question, which asked whether there were severe deficiencies in the procedures. Even then, beause of the way the vote had been set up, severe deficiencies in procedure would still not be an adequate reason to change the vote of the working group from YES to NO, but only to a German ABSTAIN. This and strong pressure forced several people to change their vote after having cast their vote.

It is also interesting to note that even the guy from DIN cast his vote in favor of OOXML; he could have abstained, since the committee was clearly divided and the committee was far away from consensus.

So: to the best of my knowledge, Germany would have changed its vote from “approve” to “abstain” on OOXML if people had voted without pressure according to their intentions and their personal judgement, and without arbitrary restrictions on how you could vote.  And the count on the second question (there were severe deficiencies of the procedures) of those who cast their vote and where eligible would have been 8 yes, 6 no, 2 abstain. If the DIN representative had not taken sides, it would have been 8:5:3.  And finally, if you add back in the vote of the person who did not vote as a reaction to pressure, but who wanted to vote yes, the actual vote on the second question would have been 9:5:3.




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Comments (13)

  1. DS (Danish Standards body) has officially annonced that Denmark will change from No to Yes. This is dispite that the commity could not reach any consensus whether to maintain the No or change to Yes. From what I have been told the numbers was close to 50/50.

  2. Daniel,

    Unfortunately, my high school German is pretty rusty by now.  But given that (a) my source is a member of the committee and participated in the meetings, and (b) it should surprise no one when a public announcement is, at best, opaque when it reports on an OOXML decision in this process, I’ll continue to stand by my source and assume that the public announcement is not for the purpose of giving a detailed explanation of what actually happened.

      –  Andy

    • I guess my English is as bad as your German. I’ll try translate the content of the DIN press release, though.

      According to the press release the executive committee didn’t decide whether to approve or disapprove DIS 29500 (this decision was made by the technical committee on 11 March 2008) but only whether the standardization process for DIS 29500 has to be regarded as regular or irregular. The executive committee decided with 7 to 6 votes and 7 abstentions that the process was regular. In the case that the majority considered the process as irregular Germany would have changed its ISO vote from “approval” to “abstention”.

      So, IMHO the account of your source is not entirely wrong but a rather polemical description of the procedure. The press release helps to understand the reasons for this procedure, particularly why there was only a German “abstention“ as alternative to a German “approval”.

      Best regards,

      • Stefan (Daniel?!?)

        Thanks for the clarification.  I’ll send your last comment along to my source and ask for comment.  In the meantime, though, I’m confused about your signature; I recognize that it takes me to two different posts, but still, the difference in name is a bit confusing (i.e., "Daniel" in the first comment, and "Stefan" in the second).

        In the meantime, I’m intrigued by the name of the blog your "Stefan" points comment  points to, entitled "Meneteqel."  In English, the "writing on the wall" in the Old Testament story is translated as, "Mene, Mene, Tekel, Upharsin," which, as translated, is "You have been weighed in the balance and found wanting; you will be destroyed by Medes and Persians."

        Leaving aside the attribution to the specific instrument of destruction, I would suggest that the Writing on the Wall would apply well to the future of OOXML (see my blog post of today for further details).  Coincidence, doubtless.  But a rather enjoyable one, nonetheless.

        Hmmm.  Our other differences aside, perhaps even Patrick Durusau might appreciate that one.

        Best regards,

          –  Andy

      • Hello Andy,

        regarding your confusion about identities: Daniel and Stefan are two different people. Daniel is a Microsoft employee. I’m just a simple scholar of sociology and theology employed at the technical university Munich. I thought, however, I might post a short English summary of the DIN press release if Daniel doesn’t.

        Regarding Patrick Durusau, I actually had an interview with him two yours ago about OpenDocument and biblical sholarship. I was rather disappointed when I noticed Patricks’s call for support of OOXML as ISO standard.

        Best regards,

      • Stefan,

        Thanks very much for the clarification and the new links.  I found the interview to be very interesting, especially (of course) is Patrick’s comparison of the two formats.  One question:  did you mean both links to point to the same page?

        Also, please note the update that I posted a little while ago, which explains and resolves the voting discrepancies.

          –  Andy

  3. Finland has gone from abstain to approve. Link in Finnish. The group could not even reach a consensus on how to vote properly. In the end the chairman just decided the issue himself.

    • That is as depressing as it is disappointing.  The only solace to be found in that sorry story is that it provides yet one more example of what a fatally flawed process this is.

      Thanks for the information nonetheless.

        –  Andy

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