A Week (or Two) is a Long Time in Open Standards


When I wrote about South Africa's challenge to the ISO vote on OOXML, it looked like a plucky if rather forlorn last-ditch attempt to do something against a background of institutional indifference or impotence. Naively, I assumed that at this late stage we would not be seeing much more in the way of objections; how wrong I was.

After South Africa came Brazil and then India, followed now by Venezuela.

In addition to these formal appeals against the way the vote was conducted, personal testimony to what went on during the process is starting to provide some of the dirty details. For example, we have these two documents from Malaysia. But topping even these is this extraordinary cry de profundis from Professor Deepak B Phatak, a lengthy document that goes into great detail about what exactly happened in India (via Roy Schestowitz). Here's a sample of the passion that powers it:

Microsoft started filing complaints to various Indian authorities in early March 2008, claiming bias on part of several members of the committee because of their presumed membership of a group called ‘ODF Alliance India’. My Institution and its representatives are part of the group which has been falsely implicated in these complaints. Worse, the complaints have painted these organizations and their representatives, including the Indian delegation which attended the BRM, as acting against the Indian National interests. This is the most derogatory accusation to any Indian, amounting, personally for me at least, to intolerable blasphemy.

...The meeting of the committee on 20th March 2008 had clearly and unambiguously finalized the Indian position of retaining the earlier disapproval vote. In spite of this, Microsoft continued to make representations to top Indian leadership, pressurizing them to change the Indian vote. This act, in my opinion, goes well beyond the behavioral boundaries for a non-Indian commercial entity, amounting to interfering with the governance process of a sovereign country.

...I have lost my sleep and peace of mind for last two months over these distasteful activities by Microsoft. Their leaders in India sought a meeting with me and my colleagues to explain their point of view. We in turn reminded them of the positive approach taken by us and the work done by us to resolve technical issues. They appreciated the stand of IIT Bombay, and have apologized to us for the distress caused. We accepted their apologies as individuals, but have reminded them that the name of our Institution still stands maligned. I had suggested that they should immediately withdraw these complaints, and apologize to the Institute for their wrongdoing. There has so far been no action from Microsoft in this regard.

It seems to be the case that the more these heartfelt personal testimories appear, the more others are moved to add their voice. When South Africa lodged the first formal objection, OOXML's enshrining as an ISO standard looked pretty much a certainty; I don't think that's the case now. It's amazing what can happen in a couple of weeks....