ISO approves broken standard amidst massive irregularities

The whole voting process for fast tracking DIS 29500 (i.e. MS-OOXML, Microsoft Corp’s broken new format for office documents) was full of irregularities. Votes that were not counted or counted wrongly, Microsoft Gold partners that were bribed into joining national standards bodies to swing their opinion around in the last minute, meeting rooms for discussing these issues that were deliberately too small for people who could point out the flaws in the formats, but not too small for its supporters.

I read the news reports as all of this was happening and couldn’t help but be reminded of fake elections in a corrupt country. I also had to laugh. I believed that ISO was on top of all this, would not stand for such corruption and would use their own processes to find the people responsible, punish them appropriately and bring the voting process back to a reasonably democratic shape. I was so naive. ISO has failed. Failed in their mission to jointly introduce new standards for and with its members, failed at assessing a technical standard objectively, failed at taking the voices and concerns of their members seriously, failed at being a neutral body without bias.

There are ways within ISO to disapprove a standard, but if they are governed by the same people, I see no hope of getting this severely broken standard to a place where it belongs.

Today is a black day for freedom. And if you like democratic process, it’s a black day for that too.

Update: Mark Shuttleworth (founder of Canonical, maker of Ubuntu) is sad too: “It’s sad that the ISO was not willing to admit that its process was failing horribly.” He offers a few more details. I’m not willing to risk talking about things I am not allowed to talk about, so I’ll leave uncovering the internal failings to the real news sources for now. Shuttleworth provides a good summary.

Update 2: The European Commission is investigating the irregularities encountered during the standards approval process. Maybe there is still hope to get rid of some of the corruption and hopefully get the standard revoked, so that its vendor can apply for standardization again and do it properly this time.

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