The OOXML Vote: How Bad Can it Get? (Keep Counting)

There is no question that all over the world the competing interests in the Open XML standardization process are going to use all tactics available to them within the rules.  -  Microsoft's Director of Corporate Standards Jason Matusow
 Well, you have to hand it to Microsoft.  They are nothing if not thorough, and leave as little to chance as possible.  Previous reports from all over have indicated sudden, surprising surges of membership in National Body voting committees in multiple countries throughout the world (most recently in Sweden), and I have reported recently (here and here) that there has been a sudden surge of interest among ISO members in upgrading their privileges to "P" status, which will entitle to them (just in time) to a more influential vote on OOXML
When I first noted that I had heard concerns over upgrading at the global vote level,. only two nations had upgraded.  When I wrote about it the second time, that number had risen to six.  It's now only a few days later, and the number has risen to nine (bear in mind that the original number was only thirty).  And there are still a few days left during which stealth countries, their votes already taken, can make the cut.  Where will it all end? [Updated 8/29:  The number is now forty - the most recent addition is Malta.]  [Updated:  the number is now forty-one - Cote e'Ivoire is the latest addition.  And see this blog entry for additional implicationss]

Perhaps it already has.  Why?  Because Microsoft is keeping close tabs on how every already-qualified member is likely to vote.  They therefore know how many additional countries may be needed in the "yes" column in order to get the level of approval they want – but no one else does.  And, of course, no one knows which countries may yet jump out of the box, nor did anyone know which ones just did in time to present any evidence in addition to that which, how to say delicately, other parties may have made available to those casting their votes.

As someone who has spent a great part of my life working to support open standards over the past 20 years, I have to say that this is the most egregious, and far-reaching, example of playing the system to the advantage of a single company that I have ever seen.  Breathtaking, in fact.  That’s assuming, of course, that I am right in supposing that all of these newbie countries vote "yes." 

I guess we’ll just have to wait and see a few more days to learn whether that assumption is true.  Want to place your bets?

* * * * * * * * * * * * *

Below if the current roster of "P" countries.  Those marked with an asterisks are the recent upgrades.


USA (ANSI) [Secretariat]



Australia (SA)

Azerbaijan (AZSTAND)

Belgium (NBN)

Canada (SCC)

China (SAC)

***Cyprus (CYS)

Czech Republic (CNI)

Denmark (DS)

***Ecuador (INEN)

Finland (SFS)

France (AFNOR)

Germany (DIN)

India (BIS)

Iran, Islamic Republic of (ISIRI)

Ireland (NSAI)

Italy (UNI)

***Jamaica (JBS)

Japan (JISC)

Kazakhstan (KAZMEMST)

Kenya (KEBS)

Korea, Republic of (KATS)

***Lebanon (LIBNOR)

Malaysia (DSM)

Netherlands (NEN)

New Zealand (SNZ)

Norway (SN)

***Pakistan (PSQCA)

Saudi Arabia (SASO)

Singapore (SPRING SG)

Slovenia (SIST)

South Africa (SABS)

Spain (AENOR)

Switzerland (SNV)

***Trinidad and Tobago (TTBS)

***Turkey (TSE)

United Kingdom (BSI)

***Uruguay (UNIT)

***Venezuela (FONDONORMA)

Comments (23)

  1. Brazil is (already was) a P member. We will (proudly) vote No with comments. Not that sure about countries like Venezuela and Equador… right now it seams to be that M$ have at least a good chance to get an approval. We have to admit that M$ implemented a good strategy on this. From their perspectives and following their corporate values, they are executing pretty well.

    What is a real shame is that it’s not their first time with this kind of tactics and values and, despite of that, corporations and governments all over the world are still doing business and partnering with them.

    • "Not that sure about countries like Venezuela and Equador."

      Are you kidding? Chavez is committed to FOSS and even created a PC company to building PC pre-installed with Linux to distribute to school and for export. You think he goes MS way? No way!

      Lebanon I believe will vote Yes. Business is business.

      • I wouldn’t be too sure about that…

        China was going FOSS pretty hard too (Red Flag Linux?) until Gates had the premier over his house for tea and cakes… the direction doesn’t seem so sure any more…

        The fact that Chavez is publically going FOSS is a perfect reason for M$ to become Venezuela’s buddy…


    • “… We have to admit that M$ implemented a good strategy on this. …”


      I presume you don’t mean this in an “ethical” sense…

      It may be a “working” strategy but sometimes an “end justifies the means” strategy carries a backlash…


  2. Not likely that Venezuella will vote yes. Don’t see Hugo Chavez and Steve Balmer as best buddies. Officials could still be corrupt, but generally the political climate in Venezuella seems Open Source friendly.

    • There is a lot at stake here for Microsoft.

      I hear a lot of my IT friends talking about Vista being MS’s last OS, and this from non-Linux or Mac users. So if they are inevitably moving into a software and services only company, possessing a de-facto standard document format would be beneficial to them.

      I personally feel, though that whatever they do, in the end, they will still diminish as other players, such as Apple, Linux, Google, Cisco, Citrix etc grow. Hopefully this will create a more balanced market than we have now.

  3. Well, from the sound of Andy’s description, Microsoft has managed to buy this election.  I’ll admit I didn’t see it coming, I think mostly because I know next to nothing about how standards bodies operate.  Perhaps those who are more familiar with the process could have foreseen this possible strategy and started to raise efforts against it a few months ago.  I’m not sure whether that would have been helpful.  Should we have engaged in packing the committees with anti MSOOXML participants?  Something about two wrongs not making a right comes to mind.  Microsoft probably would just have spent even more to overwhelm that approach, anyway.  I can’t really speculate much about what might have worked because, as I said, I don’t know how the standards machine works, so I don’t know how to try to defend it against tweaking.

    Maybe we’ll be pleasantly surprised with the "No" side barely squeaking by, but we probably should start thinking about what to do after Microsoft gets the "Yes" vote it is buying.  Perhaps we should devise an approach to make the existence of the bogus MSOOXML "standard" irrelevant.  Like TCP/IP made the OSI stack irrelevant. Perhaps focusing on persuading large organizations that continuing to hand control of their data over to Microsoft is a dangerous idea.  Maybe promoting the idea that unless a format has multiple independent implementations, it is a dangerous one to use.  Perhaps others will have better ideas than those.

    Or find some little-used mechanism in the existing ISO process to challenge the result, or turn it into something that isn’t what Microsoft wanted.  I have no idea what that might be.  Others might have some ideas about that.

    Despite this spectacular failure, it probably isn’t a good idea to try to undermine ISO and thus discredit everything it has done.  As with most large organizations, I imagine there are lots of things suboptimal about ISO, but they probably are useful, on the whole.  I mention it only for completeness.

    There probably are other directions to explore, too.  I hope others will bring some good ideas forward to stimulate  enough thought by enough people that we can find a way or ways to continue to advance the true open standard, despite the probable failure on this vote.

    We need to think of a way or ways that Microsoft can’t nullify by using its big bankroll and existing installed base and mind share.  Even a successful strategy isn’t likely to work quickly.  I expect that Microsoft’s money and other influence will be able to slow down any strategy, even one that is ultimately successful.  If we are right, the advantages of true open formats will eventually make most users and organizations accept nothing else.  What we want to do is make "eventually" happen a lot sooner than it would otherwise.

    • Noticed the interest about the vote in Sweden – then it might be interest that Microsoft also offered some candy for the partners that joined up at the SIS meeting:

      "Vote Yes to Open XXML and we’ll make sure that you get extra marketing money for you campaigns; this is Microsoft’s Sweden’s own words when they rounded up their Gold Partners in Sweden."

      For more information check following url:

  4. Do you suppose Microsoft is in it for the money or the recognition?
    You expected honesty and morality from Microsoft?
    With all due respect, climb back on your turnip truck.

  5. To hang on to its credibility, the only decision ISO can make at this point is to push the voting at least 6 months to investigate all this suspicious activities going on everywhere. Other than a delay or "NO" vote with comments, ISO is never looked at as respectful as it has been.

    • “To hang on to its credibility …”

      Ah, no…

      The reason M$ is behaving as they are is for one reason: to preserve their monopoly.

      Their document formats are the most important thing they have because they are, for all intents and purposes, the linchpin of their entire monopoly. They will, therefore, protect them at any cost.

      Anyone who was around the industry back in the late 80’s and early 90’s will remember the mantra that everyone was spouting: “We have to have windows so we can have office so that we can be compatible with the office docs that everyone else is using!” Whether or not “everyone” was actually using them was moot: it became a self-fulfilling prophecy. Since M$ kept their formats secret, you had to have office. Since office ran on nothing but windows, you had to have windows. And this is how the monopoly was created.

      If ODF becomes the new standard that “everyone is using”, we will no longer be bound to office and windows and the monopoly will start to disintegrate. If you’re M$, that is the last thing that you can allow to happen.


      • Oops, sorry, I just realized I read the GP wrong: it was actually referring to ISO’s credibility. I agree with that.

        Nevertheless, I think my post does make clear what M$’s motiviation is. Please accept it as such…


  6. Having just read about the Sweden vote, a scene from the West Wing came to mind. Josh is discussing gun control with a guy who has put his name to a quote on an about-to-be-published book. The guy advocates a very novel approach:
    "See one thing I have never understood. There are about 2 million members of the NRA in the US. Why cant the gun control lobby get 3 million like minded people together, join the NRA then all vote to disband it."
    (Not the correct phrasing but you get the idea)

    It seems M$ is totally on the ball when it comes to "getting the right result". Does IBM and Sun not have partners that could suddenly join these committees to balance the vote (or make it even more farcacle)? Google maybe joining late but they are only 1 against 20!

    Totally bemused!

    • The problem is even if these entities do get on the committees then underhand tactics like the locking out from meeting can happen. From reports this was the situation with the meeting in Portugal where Sun and IBM  where given the weak excuse of not having enough space for them even though there were empty chairs in the room.

  7. What a great book "Microsoft vs the World – the extraordinary lengths that Microsoft goes to to maintain its control on global PC users"

  8. I can’t help wondering… Since it is now obvious that there are actual technical issues with the "standard " as proposed and that the proponent (MS or ECMA, take your pick) is clearly not intending to do anything to resolve those issues within the five month window, would it be possible for ISO to observe that the decision to use fast track processing was erroneous and revert to the normal method of processing standard proposals? Is there any precedent?

    • Ok, we know what the problem is, what can we do about it?


      Time to rally people around the world into action; rather than just inform.  We need links to folks on those panels so that people in their respective countries can express their displeasure with them potentially being "bought out" by MS in this situation.

      Name, addresses of MPs, senators, Tech advisors, etc, and maybe a form letter that people can send (or adjust and send).

      Clearly, MS is rallying their troops (corporate greed) time to rally the freedom loving peoples of the world!

  9. Hi

    I find myself disgusted with this process and my confidence in ISO lowered,

    Is there someone at ISO to complain to ???

    Sean Hennessy

  10. I assure you that Venezuela will vote for NO, and Ecuador will do what Venezuela wants.

    Pakistan and Lebanon  will vote NO likely.

    All of then for political reasons

    Believe or not, I think on contrary that you think. Shame for USA will vote YES, and a bunch of European countries, forced by USA will vote YES too. Only very high pressure from citizens in those countries can force the vote to abstention at best.

  11. Keeping counting : Malta has just been upgraded to P status.  There are now 40 P-Members.

    • Brazil is (already was) a P member. Our vote (proudly) will be No with comments.

Comments are closed.