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.
There 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…”