Microsoft Pressed Swedish Partners to Vote for Open XML

Microsoft Sweden offered extra "marketing contributions" to its business partners to encourage them to vote for the adoption of Microsoft Corp.'s Office Open XML format as a standard at a meeting of Sweden's national standards body this week, according to e-mails made available to Computer Sweden.

A Microsoft manager later said the mail "should never have been sent."

The Office Open XML (OOXML) format is Microsoft's rival to the Open Document Format (ODF), which is used by applications including OpenOffice.org and Star Office. ODF has already been adopted by the International Standards Organization (ISO) as an international standard, but Microsoft is pushing ISO to adopt OOXML too. National standards bodies around the world have until Sept. 2 to give ISO their views on Microsoft's proposal.

The Swedish Standards Institute (SIS) adopted Microsoft's OOXML as a standard this week, after a large number of companies turned the tables in Microsoft's favor by deciding at the last minute to take part in the voting.

Microsoft Sweden had heavy-handedly suggested that its partners vote yes, as evidenced by communications between Microsoft Sweden and its partners that has been made available to Computer Sweden.

In an information e-mail that, according to Microsoft, was sent to "a few" partner companies, the software giant stated that its partners were expected to register to vote with SIS and "take part in the meeting on Aug. 27 to vote yes for Office Open XML."

Microsoft's partners were also requested to attend more meetings after the vote in order to prove "their sincere participation".

For the benefit of those partners that feel that they didn't know enough, Microsoft also provided ready-made reasons why OOXML should be accepted by SIS.

"[Partner companies] do not need to discuss the technical contents of the specification, but should be prepared to state some reasons for voting yes -- these will be provided by Microsoft," stated the e-mail.

There was a registration fee, 15,000 Swedish kronor (about US$2,000), which Microsoft expected its partners to pay. However, to make up for the outlay, Microsoft offered "marketing contributions" and "extra support in the form of Microsoft resources" to any company that registered and took part in the vote

Klas Hammar, business area manager at Microsoft Sweden with responsibility for Microsoft Office, said he regretted the "inept" phrasing in the e-mail. He says that Microsoft has been in touch with those partners that received the message and retracted it.

"It was ineptly phrased and shouldn't have been sent. We do not buy yes votes. It would be absurd to believe that we could," said Hammar.

But he did not deny that Microsoft encouraged its partners to take part in the vote.

"We obviously do talk to our partners in these matters. It's regrettable that it should have turned out this way. But there is no denying that we did something that our customers asked us to do," he said.

Opponents of OOXML also worked hard for their cause, only to lose at the end. Several major companies with an interest in having Microsoft's document format voted down are heavily involved with the Foundation for a Free Information Structure, FFII, which runs the major No campaign against Microsoft's proposed format.

The site NoOOXML.org, published by FFII, urges companies and organizations to contact local standards institutes in order to stop Office Open XML from being voted a standard. FFII has deep ties with Sun, IBM and Red Hat, which are all opposed to Microsoft's document format and support ODF.

Jonas Bosson, chairman of FFII Sweden, confirmed that his organization collaborated with Sun in lobbying in the European Union, and that it has accepted support from IBM in arranging conferences and public relations work.

Red Hat is one of FFII's main economic supporters internationally.

"But the Swedish section has no budget whatsoever. I'm involved in a private capacity and everything we do is financed by private individuals," Bosson said.

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