Hungary abstains from OOXML vote

The country has declined to vote on Microsoft's controversial format after IBM warned of 'irregularities' in the process; meanwhile France has said no
Written by Tom Espiner, Contributor

Hungary has abstained from voting on the use of Microsoft's controversial Office Open XML format, following alleged irregularities in the country's voting process.

Office Open XML (OOXML) is currently being fast-tracked through many countries' standards bodies with the aim of gaining certification from international standards body, the International Organisation for Standardisation. Acceptance by the ISO could pave the way for governments to use the Microsoft format.

But Open XML has not been universally popular, and it has attracted considerable criticism, largely from supporters of open-source software. Such critics argue that the specification contains proprietary components that would lock governments into a perpetual commercial relationship with Microsoft.

The Hungarian standards body, MSZT, decided to abstain after intervention in the process by the Hungarian Ministry of Economy and Transport, the GKM. According to Tomka Gergely, an IBM employee and member of the MSZT, the GKM intervened after a letter was sent to it by IBM regarding "irregularities" in the voting process, including last-minute changes of procedure and meeting timings.

The Hungarian minister for economy and transport, Janos Koka, sent a letter to the MSZT that said: "I find it disturbing that before the meeting the secretary of the committee announced that instead of the normal two-thirds majority, a 50 percent majority of votes would be sufficient to reach consensus [and return a 'yes' vote], even though he had no authorisation to do so." The letter was published on legal blog Groklaw.

The MSZT decided to abstain after a meeting was called on 31 August that ended inconclusively. IBM, which supports the alternative Open Document Format (ODF)— which is already an ISO standard — had taken sides against Microsoft, which was backing OOXML. "The meeting was without target, purpose and dignity, so the chairman ended it," said Gergely. "Hungary will not send a vote to the JTC [ISO Joint Technical Committee]. It will abstain."

Meanwhile the French standards organisation, AFNOR, has decided to return a vote of "No, with comments". AFNOR said in a statement that technical reasons had led it "to vote negatively on the project such as it is presented". However, AFNOR added three comments: it said it had "not closed the door on OOXML"; it said the standard should be restructured in two parts; and it said that ODF and OOXML should converge. The statement said: "AFNOR proposes a step making it possible to guarantee, thanks to ISO processes, medium-term convergence between ODF and OOXML, and to stabilise OOXML in the short term."

Last week Sweden said it would abstain from the voting process due to irregularities in the way votes were cast.

Editorial standards