R. Fink | Open Document democracy, Tammany Hall style

The Packet Rat | Commentary: Office Open XML and the gang that couldn't vote straight

Packet Rat

Illustration by Michael J. Bechetti

Every now and then, something happens that renews faith in democracy. Not that it's necessarily a good or bad thing, mind you ' just that sometimes, it manages to avoid things like obvious manipulation, ballot-stuffing, paying for votes and other chicanery.

Of course, in this case, the exercise in democracy was in the technology world, as the International Organization for Standardization (ISO), voted on whether to make Microsoft's Office Open XML format an ISO standard for documents.

After a good deal of speculation that Microsoft had the votes to get its alternative to the OpenDocument Format championed by IBM and Sun Microsystems approved, it appeared as of Sept. 4 that the vote had indeed gone against the Redmondians ' despite reported efforts to stuff the ballot box.

And where did that stuffing happen? Not in Florida or Ohio, but in Sweden. In the land of Ikea, 23 new companies, all of them Microsoft partners, joined the Swedish Standards Institute at its closing meeting on OOXML and were allowed to cast their votes on the issue. A Microsoft employee sent e-mails to two Swedish partners encouraging them to participate in the process, saying they would have to pay for membership in the standards body ' but suggesting that their costs would be recouped through Microsoft marketing money.

But because of a technical problem ' a hanging Extensible Markup Language chad, as it were ' the Swedish pro-Microsoft vote was thrown out by the Swedish Standards Institute because at least one company cast not one but two votes for OOXML. As a result, Sweden's vote was moved from 'yes' to 'abstain,' essentially removing Sweden's electoral votes from contention.

Exit polling, or at least post-voting announcements by standards bodies, shows OOXML winning support only from Germany, Poland, Switzerland and the United States ' 'Or, as they're known in Redmond, the Coalition of the Willing,' the Rat cackled. Australia couldn't reach consensus, and so far seven countries have announced 'no with comments' votes.

A 'no with comment' vote is like, for example, casting a vote for Nader with the option of switching to Kerry if he manages to grow some charisma before the Electoral College convenes. So, in theory, Microsoft, if it answers all of the comments made by voting bodies by Jan. 18 of next year, could still get OOXML approved at an ISO Ballot Resolution Meeting next February. Then there would be a revote on Microsoft's adjusted proposed standard ' though it would still lose if 25 percent of the ballots were cast against it.

'See, we should use a system like this to elect our public officials,' the cyberrodent said with a smirk to his wife. 'Of course, the only president ever elected under those rules would have been George Washington.'

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