1. OOXML is a document format developed by Microsoft and submitted to the ISO by ECMA for a fast track approval as an international standard. Bureau of Indian Standards (BIS) is the Indian National Body (NB) representing India as a participating member of ISO.
The LITD 15 committee of the BIS is responsible for examining this standard and for deciding India’s position at the ISO. The committee has 22 members. It deliberated over a prolonged period and participated in the defined ISO processes for the fast track consideration of OOXML standard. Based on the committee decisions, India registered a disapproval vote with comments at the ISO in August 2007.
A Ballot Resolution Meeting (BRM) was held by the ISO at Geneva in February 2008. Indian delegation believed that our technical concerns have not been addressed and registered a negative vote at the BRM. The LITD 15 committee was briefed by the delegation about the BRM proceedings. The final Indian position at ISO was decided by the committee on 20 March 2008, which retained Indian ‘disapproval’ vote.
2. Microsoft started filing complaints to various Indian authorities in early March 2008, claiming bias on part of several members of the committee because of their presumed membership of a group called ‘ODF Alliance India’. My Institution and its representatives are part of the group which has been falsely implicated in these complaints. Worse, the complaints have painted these organisations and their representatives, including the Indian delegation which attended the BRM, as acting against the Indian national interests. This is the most derogatory accusation to any Indian, amounting, personally for me at least, to intolerable blasphemy.
3. The meeting of the committee on 20 March 2008 had clearly and unambiguously finalised the Indian position of retaining the earlier disapproval vote. In spite of this, Microsoft continued to make representations to top Indian leadership, pressurising them to change the Indian vote. This act, in my opinion, goes well beyond the behavioural boundaries for a non-Indian commercial entity, amounting to interfering with the governance process of a sovereign country.
4. I have lost my sleep and peace of mind for the last two months over these distasteful activities by Microsoft. Their leaders in India sought a meeting with me and my colleagues to explain their point of view. We in turn reminded them of the positive approach taken by us and the work done by us to resolve technical issues. They appreciated the stand of IIT Bombay and have apologised to us for the distress caused. We accepted their apologies as individuals, but have reminded them that the name of our Institution still stands maligned. I had suggested that they should immediately withdraw these complaints and apologise to the Institute for their wrongdoing. There has so far been no action from Microsoft in this regard.
5. This is a rather long letter. But I assure the readers that the length of this letter is minuscule when compared with the depth of my hurt. The letter has five main parts. Section 1 is the preamble, describing the background. Section 2 gives the details of the role which IIT Bombay has played in the OOXML deliberations. Section 3 contains details of my personal anguish and my thoughts in the last two months. As a part of this section, I have constructed a hypothetical counter-complaint, including it as a stand-alone annexure to this letter, primarily to indicate that if we do not conduct ourselves properly amidst whatever arguments we have, we may all lose out in the end. Section 4 contains suggestions for the BIS on the way forward and requests for certain urgent actions. I would request the LITD 15 committee to formally consider these requests in the subsequent deliberations. Section 5 is the concluding section.
6. I thank all the colleagues on the LITD 15 committee who worked diligently throughout the long and arduous process. I am grateful for the open and transparent manner in which the committee has conducted its proceedings under the chairmanship of Dr (Mrs) Neeta Verma and look forward to more fruitful interactions in future. I wish to put on record a special word of thanks for the superb leadership which Rakesh Verma provided to the Indian delegation at the Geneva BRM and for the entire delegation for having taken a principled and correct stand on Indian position. Needless to add, my respect and pride for our senior bureaucratic and political leadership has been upheld by their professional, correct and statesmanlike handling of the attempts to pressurise our process.
7. This letter is written to colleague members on the committee to express my deep anguish at the events. Some details of the role which IIT Bombay has played in the committee and which may not be well known to people outside the committee, also needs to be recorded and made known to all concerned. I have no way of even knowing who all have read the Microsoft complaints. Therefore the only possible way for me is to make this letter an open letter and post it on the web. Accordingly, this letter will be posted on my blog-site (http://deepakphatak.blogspot.com/).
8. A whole lot of facts stated in this letter have got mingled with my own comments, observations and hypotheses. If there are any facts which have not been correctly stated, I will be obliged if corrections are suggested by colleagues or other readers who know these more accurately. I will immediately put up the correction on my blog.
9. I would like to assure all colleagues and other readers that my intentions are purely to respond to the grave provocation caused by the actions of Microsoft. If my letter in turn causes any unintentional hurt to other colleagues or to their organisations or to any other reader, I deeply and sincerely apologise.
-- Prof. Deepak B Phatak, IIT Bombay, India.