The Norway Vote – What really happened

The process which led to Norway’s Yes vote on OOXML was so surrealistic that it deserves to be recorded for posterity. Here’s my version of the story.

It is not impartial. I was the Chairman of the Norwegian mirror committee for SC34 (K185) for 13 years until resigning a couple of weeks ago in protest against Standard Norway’s decision to vote Yes. On the other hand, I was present throughout the whole process and have more first-hand knowledge of what went on than anyone (excepting two employees of Standard Norway). Here I describe the fateful meeting on Friday March 28. More background will follow.

The meeting started at 10 and we spent an hour on other business before proceeding to the main agenda item: reviewing Ecma’s responses to the comments that accompanied our No vote in the August DIS ballot. I led the first part of the meeting and then handed over to the VP of Standard Norway for the last part, as I had done on previous occasions when OOXML was under discussion.

K185 meeting, Friday March 28 2008There were nearly 30 people present: three employees of Standard Norway (the VP, the committee secretary, and the JTC1 representative); the rest were technical experts. The VP opened by declaring that our only purpose was to discuss the comment responses and decide whether they had been addressed to our satisfaction. If so, Norway’s vote would change from No to Yes. I suggested that we should also take account of changes made at the BRM and base our decision on a total assessment. The VP did not disagree, but insisted that the discussion should focus on the comments. He also made it clear that the goal was to achieve consensus and that there would not be any voting.

The next four hours were spent going through the 12 comments submitted by Norway. My tally of the final result was as follows:

Consensus that the comment had been satisfactorily resolved: 2 comments.
Consensus that the comment had not been satisfactorily resolved: 2 comments.
No consensus that the comment had been satisfactorily resolved: 8 comments.

Regarding those last 8 comments, there was a roughly 80/20 split between those who were dissatisfied and those who were satisfied. (Since there was no voting, this is just an estimate, but it’s pretty accurate.) There was not even a shadow of consensus that the comments as a whole had been satisfactorily addressed and I naturally assumed the No vote would stand.

But lo… at this point, the “rules” were changed. The VP asserted that “Ecma has clearly made steps in the right direction.” The most important thing now was to ensure that OOXML came under ISO’s control so that it could be “further improved”. However, the committee was not allowed to discuss this.

The VP thereupon declared that there was no consensus, so the decision would be taken by Standard Norway.

Halfway through the proceedings, a committee member had asked for (and received) assurance that the Chairman would take part in the final decision, as he had for the DIS vote back in August. It now transpired that the BRM participants had also been invited to stay behind. 23 people were therefore dismissed and we were down to seven. In addition to Standard Norway’s three, there were four “experts”: Microsoft Norway’s chief lobbyist, a guy from StatoilHydro (national oil company; big MS Office user), a K185 old-timer, and me. In one fell swoop the balance of forces had changed from 80/20 to 50/50 and the remaining experts discussed back and forth for 20 minutes or so without reaching any agreement.

The VP thereupon declared that there was still no consensus, so the decision would be taken by Standard Norway.

The experts were dismissed and the VP asked the opinion of the Secretary (who said “Yes”) and the JTC1 rep (who said “No”).

The VP thereupon declared that there was still no consensus, so the decision would be taken by him.

And his decision was to vote Yes.

So this one bureaucrat, a man who by his own admission had no understanding of the technical issues, had chosen to ignore the advice of his Chairman, of 80% of his technical experts, and of 100% of the K185 old-timers. For the Chairman, only one course of action was possible.

That’s the story. Here’s the management summary, based on the song we used to sing as kids when going on long trips in the car:

There were 30 in the bed and the little one said, “Roll over, roll over.”
So they all rolled over and 23 fell out.

There were 7 in the bed and the little one said, “Roll over, roll over.”
So they all rolled over and 4 fell out.

There were 3 in the bed and the little one said, “Roll over, roll over.”
So they all rolled over and 2 fell out…

There was 1 in the bed and the little one said, “Norway votes Yes!”

The meeting was a farce and the result was a scandal. But it’s not over yet, and one thing is clear: the “little one” is unfit to represent the interests of Norwegian users. It’s time he was told, “Roll over, roll over…”

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80 thoughts on “The Norway Vote – What really happened

  1. Thanks for documenting the “process”. It is amazing and very surreal indeed.

    All supporters of freedom and openness support you in your endeavours. Let’s hope that someone (Canada or Brazil perhaps?) might see fit to lodge a formal complaint…

    Best Regards

    Alan

  2. Thank you very much for posting your report of the meeting. I find it very disturbing. It would help if further documentation was available, such as statements from the other attendees, gathered in one location where it is accessible to everyone who is studying the events around the approval of DIS29500.

  3. Pingback: Boycott Novell » Steve Pepper Spills the Beans on MSOOXML in Norway

  4. Pingback: The Musings of Chris Samuel » Blog Archive » Norways OOXML “yes” vote was down to ONE person

  5. “F.T.M.”
    Follow the money, and all will become clear. You don’t approve as a standard something that has IP and patent overhead hanging out the yin-yang without someone paying someone else off. The EU is correct in slapping M$ with big fines and penalties. This is the standard practice for legal trolls who set their traps for the unwary.

  6. Incredible. It would even seem as if the reshuffling of the people of the meeting had been calculated to ensure a stalemate (but cautious enough to seem balanced), thus giving the final vote to the bureaucrat.

    Wish I could do something :(

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  8. Thanks for finally explaining what really happened. OOXML is the biggest farce I have ever seen, and I’m glad that the world is exposing the manipulation that happened behind the scenes.

    My only comfort is that my country (Canada) voted no. I sincerely hope that Norway and others will follow suit and cause this silly masquerade to end once and for all.

    Keep up your great work. I think there’s hope still.

    Regards,

    J-F

  9. The fact that one man with no understanding of the technical issues made the decision for a committee thats opinions were ignored is ridiculous. It is great that you are letting people know what really happened and hopefully your resignation will attract the attention it deserves to see that this doesn’t happen again.

  10. To quote Frank Zappa:

    I know when i’m licked, all over…

    But don’t worry too much. The OOXML ‘standard’ is not yet complete. And due to it’s complexity it probably never will be. Just ignore it, it will self-destruct in due time.

  11. Is there any way I could emigrate to Norway? It would be like breathing air again, instead of this sludge we have here in the US, to be in a place where at least some people actually do their jobs and stick to principle!

  12. Its actually good to see someone shortcutting the bureaucractic process and making the right decisions. The biased views of a bunch of committee members should not stand in the way of standards, or the needs of users. I applaud the fellow for doing the right thing.

  13. Pingback: Technophile Monkey » Blog Archive » Chairman of Norwegian ISO mirror committee reveals whole story

  14. And the Chairman couldn’t have stepped in and said to the VP: “you’re a loser, I’m running the show now”? Is he a pussy or something?

  15. Pingback: The Angrykiwi - A box of smurfs and a hammer, please! at The Angrykiwi - A box of smurfs and a hammer, please!

  16. In the UK there is legal action occurring to overturn what is suspected to be a similar process. See UKUUG’s website

  17. Pingback: klog » Blog Archive » How to get your own way

  18. None of this surprises me. Here are a few questions that indicate where I am coming from.

    If the purpose of the ISO is to sell physical copies of documents and operate a publishing company, “What is the benefit to ISO in approving a Microsoft initiative that is obviously monopolistic, unpopular, and not to the benefit of the industry, companies, or users of computer software?”

    It has been obvious for several years that ECMA exists to promote rand licensing of the member companies patented material. That is to say, an advertising agency.

    Since Microsoft (a convicted monopolist) already has the market force to push their proprietary format into the sales channel, “Why even bother pretending it is a STANDARD?”

    I thought standards existed to promote compatibility between products for the benefit of the public at large. I can see how ODF fills that role, but “What is it about OOXML that is so great it deserves to be promoted by ISO?”

    I don’t think Microsoft bought the VP a new Villa. Maybe just a computer capable of running VISTA with AERO.

  19. Gee! I have always thought of Norway as a clean country above corruption. Your Trade Minister had better get Standard Norway VP on the phone quickly and have a serious talk about his decision.
    –Bob Scanlon, SYDNEY, Australia

  20. You’ve done the right thing in telling this story – not just for those of us in the rest of the world who were wondering how on Earth it came about that Norway returned a ‘yes’ vote, but for all those on your committee whose voices were ignored. It should be the VP who resigns and the ‘yes’ vote withdrawn. I’m certain your course of action will be proved the right one by time. Good luck.

  21. microsoft behavior is unforgivable :(
    putting preassure on some, giving money to others, to ensure their format would be approved.

    they should be penalised for that and their format banned from iso standards until ooxml become satisfactory on both technical and ethical (openness/accessibility) fronts.

    i hope this case will open people’s eyes ..so something can be done on that matters..
    i mean to ensure standardisation cannot be bought illegaly as microsoft is trying to do.

    i can’t believe noone is opposing them.. is microsoft above laws ?

  22. If it is that easy to utterly ignore the consensus, it should be not much harder to throw this incompetent out- using the rules of course. This is such a sham- and it is a complete black eye for Norway- this needs to be urgently rectified.

  23. Interesting. Finland also voted ‘yes’. According to news articles about the Finnish Standards Association meeting, there was no consensus and in the end the chairman made the decision. Apparently the situation was something like 50-50 so it wasn’t as dramatic as Norway’s case, but it still seemed fishy somehow.

  24. Rotten business. But who knows … maybe one day the truth will come out and Microsoft will have to pay a high price for organizing the widespread subversion and corruption of the standardization process. In this case, I’d also like to see those individuals held to account, who turned out to be corruptible.

  25. Pingback: dead fish » Blog Archive » The full story what has happened in Norway

  26. With the damage been done already I doubt this can be undone, but if any consolation exists here, it’s that once again, a bitter lesson learned.

  27. Pingback: Babies, Norway, and Spring « Harlem’s Mac Blog

  28. Pingback: Akamaro » Blog Archive » Historien bakom Norges Ja till OOXML

  29. As many posters before me said, this is verry worrying. As I understand a somewhat simular event took place when finland said yes to OXML.

    On the other hand this WAS to be expected, Microsoft DOESN’T play fair, they really never have….

  30. You wrote:
    Consensus that the comment had been
    satisfactorily resolved: 2 comments.

    Consensus that the comment had not been
    satisfactorily resolved: 2 comments.

    No consensus that the comment had been
    satisfactorily resolved: 8 comments.

    I read the Norwegian comments, but cannot
    tell which one is in which group. Are
    NO-0002 and NO-0005 in the first group?

    FYI: JP-0039 is identical to NO-0007,
    but Japan believes that JP-0039 has been
    satisfactorily resolved, since well-defined
    conformance requirements have been added
    to Part 2 (see JP-0040).

  31. Pingback: Stetner.org » Blog Archive » Norway’s Yes vote on OOXML - What really happened

  32. Pingback: OOXML ISO approval - Norway

  33. This is an appalling state of affairs. Thank you for bringing it to our attention. We can only conclude that the changes by other nations (like my own, Ireland) are at best similarly unethical and at worst similarly corrupt.

    I am a long time advocate of the ISO and the need for standards (in my field software), and I can’t help feeling like a fool.

  34. The justification for their decision was given on the first bullet under Point #10.
    There was greater number of end-users of document standard formats among those in
    favor, than those who were opposed to the standard.

    In other words, there are more users of Microsoft’s Word and Office than there are of other document formats.

    The MS Lobbyist being among the final four before they were dismissed tells the whole story. Now the question is: In what way and HOW MUCH was the VP paid?

  35. Truly a shame, Scandinavian countries always seem to have some of the best democratic practices in place. It’s a shame that such a rotten egg eggsists among the upper echelons. Would it be fair to write a complaint to this VP?

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  37. Not too different from how yes vote happened in Finland. At least Norway had the decency to discuss it as if the decision was not predetermined and people make some noise about it. In Finland, to put it simply, there was just a meeting, where the Microsoft connected chairman told that Finland would vote yes.

  38. Pingback: Sobre lo que jamas iba a volver a postear | Amephist Braindamage

  39. My personal favorite part of the standards process was when people were accused of being paid off by Microsoft to vote for something they didn’t really support. Someone asked one of the top guys at Microsoft if they did that and the answer was basically, yes, we paid people off, its perfectly legal and good business practice. The truth is, as far as I can tell, it is legal. I’d argue that paying to get a “standard” passed is unethical, but it is perfectly legal.

  40. Thank you for having the courage to resign, and to bring this scandalous behaviour to light. As much as the VP’s behaviour shames Norway and the entire standards process, your actions give some hope that this might yet be set right. I wish more people of your quality were to be found in the DIS 29500 process, and in the world in general.

  41. I was always taught that meeting protocol says that when the meeting cannot agree and the Chair is forced to take the decision, he should always vote for the status quo, i.e. no change to the current state of affairs, which in this case would be either ‘No’ or ‘No decision’. This protocol has the force of law in most jurisdictions. If the process was indeed as you record, it would probably be open to legal challenge.

  42. Just out of curiosity, what does it cost to hire a private investigator in Norway and ask them to look into the finances of the VP of Standard Norway? People who get to the VP level are not stupid, and politicians seem to take money for favors these days (its more fungible into votes than favors are).

    –Hmmm?

  43. Pingback: gnuwes » Blog Archive » Il sì della “Norvegia” a OOXML

  44. Pingback: OOXML - the saga goes on… « Ainulindalë

  45. Incredible but oh-so typical. Thousands of decisions happen in this way. The problem is that voters do not find out about this stuff and can’t hold officials accountable, or don’t care when the time comes. Very sad.

  46. I think it’s disappointing, but you can hardly blame someone for taking a decision on the basis of no consensus when there is in fact no consensus.

  47. I guess this is where the mechanism of deciding by consensus breaks down: it only works for uncontroversial decisions.

    Rather than lack of consensus leading to reducing the number of people in the meeting, a better approach might be to *increase* the number of people so that there are enough that it seems reasonable to decide by vote. In other words, defer the decision until some kind of large general meeting.

    I think the OOXML mess should be viewed as an opportunity to review the procedural rules of the various standards committees so that they degrade gracefully in difficult conditions, rather than exploding.

  48. OOXML isn’t as much a “standard” is it is a test. If you think OOXML is open and that its XML, you prove that don’t have any understanding of either. This process has established that ISO can be easily hijacked, and its usefulness as a standards body is significantly tarnished in the eyes of the professional community.

    From the ISO website: “When standards are absent, we soon notice.” Not this time, apparently, since a complete fraud was passed as the standard.

  49. Pingback: Smári´s blag :: Norways vote on OOXML

  50. Pingback: About My Days » Blog Archive » links for 2008-04-24

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  53. Here in Portugal they were smarter. The people who would vote ‘No’ were refused entrance in the meeting because (they said) there were not enough chairs!

  54. Pingback: Barnhard Blog » Blog Archive » Getting a wrong standard

  55. This makes me sick to the bone, and very angry. If those people are corrupt, who can we still trust? What good are our governemnts if they don’t fight this kind of manipulation?

    I highly respect you for speaking up. What a farce!

  56. Pingback: OOXML: Norwegischer Vertreter packt über Abstimmung aus - The Inquirer DE

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  58. Pingback: Office Open XML controversy in Norway continues… | codespiracy()

  59. The Norway Vote – What really happened « Topic Maps and All That: “So this one bureaucrat, a man who by his own admission had no understanding of the technical issues, had chosen to ignore the advice of his Chairman, of 80% of his technical experts, and of 100% of the K185 old-timers. For the Chairman, only one course of action was possible

    Comment by Admin February 23, 2010 @ 6:50pm

  60. Pingback: Got to love corporate influenced politics… | Jason (Izzy) Sherry's Blog

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