Microsoft Employee Offered Incentives for OOXML Support

Microsoft admitted Wednesday that an employee at its Swedish subsidiary offered monetary compensation to partners for voting in favor of the Office Open XML document format's approval as an ISO standard.

Microsoft said the offer, when discovered, was quickly retracted and that its Sweden managers voluntarily notified the SIS, the national standards body.

"We had a situation where an employee sent a communication via e-mail that was inconsistent with our corporate policy," said Tom Robertson, general manager for interoperability and standards at Microsoft. "That communication had no impact on the final vote."

SIS, which represents the country within the Geneva-based ISO standards body, voted on Sunday to support Open XML.

But bloggers claiming to have been present at the SIS meeting wrote (here and here) that more than 20 companies showed up in the waning moments of the meeting with the sole intent of voting in favor of Open XML.

The story was reported on Tuesday by an IDG sister publication, Computer Sweden. Excerpts of the Computer Sweden article in English are available online.

According to one report, SIS only requires companies to pay a membership fee equivalent to about US$2,500 to join. The vast majority of the companies that joined SIS at the last moment to vote in favor of Open XML, according to that report, are Microsoft certified partners.

Computer Sweden reported that the monetary compensation Microsoft was offering would have been in the form of "market subsidies" and other resources to make up for the SIS membership fee.

In a blog post late Wednesday night, Jason Matusow, Microsoft's senior director for intellectual property and interoperability, acknowledged that Microsoft had contacted business partners to support Open XML, though he stopped short of a full apology for that action.

"It is critical to note that the addition of voting members at that time was completely within the rules of the national standards body," he wrote. "While there are many arguments to be had over the relative merits of this is a rule nonetheless."

Matusow claimed "many of the partners had been called by IBM as well, encouraging them to join the process and vote against the proposed standard. Many of these companies are partners for both IBM and Microsoft."

Besides Sweden, there are unconfirmed reports of last-minute appearances by Microsoft allies to vote in favor of Open XML in countries such as Norway, Colombia, Switzerland and Portugal.

Robertson dismissed the criticism. Most standards bodies are filled with "an old guard" membership that needs rejuvenation, he said. He also likened Microsoft's recruitment efforts to a voter registration drive.

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