The latest chapter in the Open XML standardization story is focused on Sweden. There are accusations flying, emails floating around, and no shortage of theories about what has been happening there. As you can image I have been following up with a number of people and here are the issues and what I have found out so far.

Microsoft encouraged partners to participate in Sweden:

An employee in Sweden sent an email to 2 partners that was inconsistent with company policy. When he realized what he had done, he did the right thing by immediately reaching out to the two partners to address the situation. He contacted them by phone and email letting them know that they should disregard the mail. Here is what I know about this situation so far:

  • 2 partners were sent an email making a request to participate in the Swedish process, telling them that they would be responsible for paying the membership fee if they did, but also making a related reference to marketing activities and extra support.
  • Within hours both partners were contacted by the same MS employee who initiated the mail to notify them that the information in the email was incorrect and that they should disregard it. 
  • When the Microsoft Sweden management team became aware of the situation they proactively notified SIS, the national standards body, of this situation and shared the communications with them. There was no impact on the vote due to this situation.
  • It is important to note that instructions from corporate to our regional teams around the world throughout this process have been to completely adhere to the rules of the national standards bodies, and that any party wishing to take part in the national standards body is directly responsible for paying any related fees. This means partners must decide whether to participate and vote based on their own determination as to the importance of this standard to their business.  To say it more directly, offers to pay standards participation fees are totally inconsistent with our internal policy.

Organizations joining the committee late in the process:

Yes, many organizations joined the committee very late in the process. There were parties both for and against the vote that joined late. The local team did reach out to partners and encouraged them to join the process. Many of the partners had been called by IBM as well, encouraging them to join the process and to vote against the proposed standard. Many of these companies are business partners for both IBM and Microsoft and have business interests related to office automation technologies – thus, they were contacted by both firms. It is critical to note that the addition of voting members at that time was completely within the rules of the national standards body. While there are many arguments to be had over the relative merits of this rule…it is a rule nonetheless.  If you are looking for other situations to think about – look at the late addition of Red Hat (and many others…I know) to Committee V1 in the United States. Their presence was simply to vote no – not based on deep technical review – but because it is in their business interests have Open XML fail to achieve ISO/IEC standardization. Google joining the SIS late is the same thing. So – for both sides, seeking to have participation of organizations with interests is within the boundaries of the rules.

The issue with the email is extremely unfortunate as it casts a pall over the hard work of so many, and the process as a whole. The Swedish team has been working for months with the national standards body to address technical issues and as a participating member in deliberations by the committee. The companies that joined the process did so of their own accord – they were being contacted by both Microsoft and IBM. They had complete autonomy to choose how to vote – which they did this week.

If Open XML is to be approved for standardization at JTC1, it needs to do so by the book. We may all disagree about the book (witness the arguments about no with comments vs. yes with comments), but it is critical that these activities remain within the realm of ethical behavior as well as behavior defined by the rules for the JTC1 process.  In this case, I understand the concern raised by this error in judgment by an MS employee. The only thing I can say is that the right things were done as the issue was identified.  The process and vote at SIS were not affected.

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Updated - Aug. 30: The Swedish national body looks like it will invalidate the existing yes vote and move to abstain. The public statement points to a proceedural reason for invalidating the vote. The public statement also says that there will not be another vote prior to Sept. 2. I don't have any other info on this than that at the moment, but will keep up with things as possible.