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M$: Fixing Elections (Again)

Microsoft outed for rigging standards vote on their controversial 'Office Open XML'.



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'You don't need to discuss the technical aspects of the spec but be prepared to tell them your reasons for voting 'yes' - you'll get these reasons from Microsoft', wrote Microsoft Sweden to their 'certified partners' and 'gold certified partners' last week in preparation for the standards vote on Office Open XML, Microsoft's mess of a mostly closed proprietary alternative to ISO's ODF.

And suddenly when the working group of Swedish standards institute SIS had finished their long preparatory work, thirty new companies turned up out of nowhere, paid two membership fees for a total of US$2500, and sat down to vote.

Several members of the working group including IBM left the meeting in protest.

It was later found at least one of Microsoft's 'certified partners' behaved too zealously, casting illicit votes to sway the results even further; as a result the board of SIS overruled the working group and declared the results void.

Sweden will have no vote to submit to the ISO on 2 September.

No with Comments

Office Open XML has been heavily criticised, and not only because it comes from Microsoft, 'the company you're least likely to trust': the word processing, presentation, and spreadsheet file format has fallen under considerable technical criticism as well.

  • It's not really as 'open' as the name implies.
  • It continues to use binary code tied to platform specific features.
  • Microsoft won't clarify their licensing plans for third party implementers.
  • Unlike other ISO standards it has not gone through the traditional review process.

File format guru Stéphane Rodriguez has a lengthy piece on just how bad Office Open XML is. His monster treatise talks of 'exploding spreadsheets', 'entered versus stored values', and countless ways the format falls apart - and the pieces fall in the control of Bill Gates.

Proprietary date formats admittedly munge data and refuse to conform to ISO standards; nonexistent document security: Rodriguez calls it 'defective by design'. Unsurprisingly most contributors were expected to vote 'No with Comments' to the proposal. Even Google are vehemently against it.

As Google point out, there already is a standard - a standard that works well: Open Document Format (ODF) - what Google call 'a driver for innovation'.

'We do not think it is beneficial to introduce an alternative standard when the Open Document Format already meets the common definitions of an open standard, has received ISO approval, and is in wide use around the world.'

Indeed. But that's precisely the reason Bill's now getting involved - with yet another third rate product no one wants.

The Blacklist

Thirty Microsoft 'certified partners' and 'gold certified partners' in Sweden turned up out of nowhere at SIS in the days before the final vote and on the day of the vote itself. They were told by Microsoft they'd have to pay their own membership fees but if they voted in Microsoft's favour they'd be awarded 'market subsidies' and 'extra support in the form of Microsoft resources'.

They were also encouraged to attend a few meetings after the day of the vote 'for appearances sake'.

And they were told they needn't understand the technical details of the spec but that they might be called on to explain why they were supporting it - but no worries: Microsoft would supply them with all the rhetoric they needed.

The following Microsoft 'certified' and 'gold certified' partners showed up at SIS to vote for Office Open XML.

Exor AB, Formpipe Software AB, H-Vision AB, HP, Cybernetics, Ibi2kitAB, Readrift AB, Emric AB, Strand Interconnect AB, Nordicstation AB, Sourcetech AB, Cornerstone Sweden AB, Solid Park AB, Fishbode Systems AB, FSSystem AB, KnowIT Sverige, Modul 1, IDE Nätverkskonsulter, Connecta AB, Camako Data HB, Sogeti AB, Tieto Enator Corp.

Several websites are calling for a boycott of these companies.

More Cheating

But astro-turfing isn't enough for the orcs in allegiance with Redmond: it namely came to the attention of the directors of SIS that certain 'last minute members' had actually managed to vote more than once.

Because of which SIS have declared the vote null and void. Sweden will not be part of the international decision.

PRESS RELEASE
From SIS the Swedish Standards Institute
30 August 2007

Office Open XML: SIS Invalidates the Vote

The workgroup 'Dokumentbeskrivningsspråk SIS/TK 321/AG 17' of Swedish Standards Institue SIS voted 27 August 2007 in favour of Office Open XML as an ISO standard. Today the board of SIS decides to invalidate that vote.

The reason for the decision of the board is that SIS have information which points to one of the participants in the workgroup having voted more than once. Such behaviour is not in accordance with the rules of SIS which state that each project financier has but one vote. The board have therefore made their decision exclusively with respect to SIS regulations. The decision does not convey any further opinion in the matter.

Further we judge it practically and formally impossible for the SIS workgroup to carry out a new vote before 2 September 2007 when the global vote will end. If a new Swedish vote cannot be carried out then Sweden will abstain from voting.

Background

Briefly the proposition Sweden voted on concerned defining document formats for word processing, presentations, and spreadsheets. Office Open XML has its foundation in the need to maintain electronic documents for a longer time and to be able to migrate files between different applications. Approximately 100 membership countries in ISO have the ability to partake in the vote. The ISO vote is concluded 2 September 2007.

SIS is an independent not for profit organisation where the needs and wishes of the members govern the direction of the work of standardisation. Corporations, organisations, and government are all represented.

Worldwide Outcry

The Swedish media from independent (IDG) Computer Sweden to the state owned companies have not been kind. 'Ekot' confronted Microsoft platform manager Anita Arkéus-Åheden who naturally denied all charges.

'We don't buy votes' insisted Åheden. 'The partners who are present are their own independent companies and we can't go in and buy anyone's vote.'

But when asked about the letter Computer Sweden was given she had this to say.

'That we contact them: we have a continual dialog with them and when we discussed whether it was important to have an ISO standardisation we had that dialogue together with them and those who thought it was a good idea also took the initiative to attend.'

Bolsheviks In, IBM Out

Johan Westman was IBM's rep at the meeting. Westman has considerable experience with this type of work and with SIS. He left the meeting on Monday in protest as he thought it turned into a 'farce'.

'Standardisation is about building a consensus: coming to an agreement about the best solution. When I was at that meeting and there were so many new people coming in that I'd never seen before and who had not been involved in the process I knew that the meeting would not be able to follow the procedure we have to follow when doing such work.'

'I can't believe what I'm hearing when people tell me about that vote', wrote Lars Danielsson of Computer Sweden. 'Mostly it reminds me of popular science descriptions of how things worked when the Bolsheviks took over in Russia.'

See Also
OS2 World: Microsoft forced partners to vote Yes!
OS2 World: Microsoft buys the Swedish vote on OOXML
OS2 World: The Swedish OOXML vote has been declared invalid!
Beta News: Evidence of Microsoft Influencing OOXML Votes in Nordic States

Slashdot: Sweden's Vote on OOXML Invalidated
Slashdot: NZ, Sweden, Hungary Reflect OOXML Turmoil
Slashdot: Microsoft Bought Sweden's ISO Vote on OOXML?

Swedish Television: Microsoft Anklagas för IT-Kupp
Swedish Radio: Microsoft Anklagas för Påtryckningar

Computer Sweden: Computer Sweden: Riktigt, Riktigt Illa
Computer Sweden: Microsoftkupp mot Formatomröstning
Computer Sweden: Microsoft Pressade Partners att Rösta Ja

Digg: Microsoft Buys the Swedish Vote on OOXML
Groklaw: Sweden's SIS Declares OOXML Vote Invalid

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