Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Microsoft files complaint on OOXML vote to apex office and Ministry of Consumer Affairs

I love Microsoft for their sheer willingness to piss off every human being on this planet in their quest for approval of OOXML. At the meeting held on 20th March 2008, we were informed that Microsoft has complained to the Ministry of Consumer Affairs and to the apex office of the country about the constitution of the committee and also cast aspersions on the impartiality of the chairperson of LITD15, Mrs. Neeta Verma. The chairperson was furious and offered to step down from her post. She pointed out that the committee has met numerous times and Microsoft never brought this issue up in front of the committee nor did they check the facts with her or her organization before complaining to the apex office. I do not have a copy of their complaint but am assuming that their complaint is that the committee is packed with supporters of ODF.

Mrs. Verma was persuaded to stay back only after all the other members requested her to stay. After that, Dr. Arora of CSI displayed great statesmanship by asking the Microsoft representative if Microsoft would like to withdraw its complaint. Sadly, the Microsoft representative said that it cannot be withdrawn because it was sent by his senior or some similar reason. The Wipro representative then chimed in and tried to stall the vote by saying that he did not believe that the committee has not been able to apply its mind to the subject and should therefore abstain from voting on this issue! For those of us who have been engaged in this issue from the very beginning (as compared to the software exporters who put in cameo, guest appearances and contributed very little to discussing technical issues) this was obviously not acceptable.

I am just amazed and shocked by the depths to which Microsoft is willing to descend. I have had the privilege of representing Red Hat and the Indian open source community on the LITD 15 committee and have attended almost all the meetings convened on OOXML over the last one year. I would therefore like to place on record my appreciation for the Bureau of Indian Standards and Mrs. Neeta Verma for the transparency and openness with which they conducted an exceptionally difficult task. The manner in which they conducted the proceedings has done India proud and is in stark contrast to the controversies surrounding committees reviewing OOXML in other countries.

Some of the most respected academic institutions (IIT Bombay, IIT Delhi, IISc, ISI Kolkatta and IIM Ahmedabad) besides several government organizations were part of this committee and I have no doubt that they will wholeheartedly agree with my opinion. I would also like to point out that the academia and government bodies have comprehensively voted against OOXML after spending more than a year reviewing it. Doubters who are still not satisfied can verify the transparency of these meetings by requesting recordings of the meetings from the Bureau of Indian Standards and anyone under the Right to Information Act.

To cite just one example, a four-member committee at IIT Bombay spent countless hours reviewing OOXML before voting against the proposal due to its technical flaws. The only group to vote in favor of OOXML was the software exports group and that too on the basis of “support for multiple standards,” an argument which had no relevance because the committee was asked to review OOXML on technical merits and national interest.

Considering the fact that some of the finest technical minds in the country have spent more than a year reviewing OOXML before India finally voted No, I feel that Microsoft's complaint is a great disservice to the committee, its chairperson and the Bureau of Indian Standards. For those who are interested, this is how the committee voted on the question, "Should India change its NO vote on OOXML?"

1. National Informatics Center - NO
2. Center for Development of Advanced Computing - NO
3. Computer Society of India - NO
4. Department of IT - NO
5. IBM - NO
6. Institute for Electronic Governance - Absent
7. Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad - NO
8. Indian Institute of Science - NO
9. Indian Institute of Technology, Delhi - NO
10. Indian Institute of Technology, Bombay - NO
11. Infosys - YES
12. Indian Statistical Institute, Kolkatta - NO
13. Manufacturers Association of IT - Abstain
14. Microsoft - YES
15. National Association of Software and Services Companies - YES
16. National Institute of Smart Governance - Absent
17. Reserve Bank of India - Absent
18. Red Hat - No
19. Standardization Testing and Quality Certification Directorate - NO
20. Sun - NO
21. Tata Computer Services - YES
22. Wipro - YES (for changing India's vote from NO to Abstain)