28 May 2008

Finally, My open letter on OOXML happenings in India

Summary of the Open letter for executive perusal
[Written to members of the LITD 15 committee of BIS, India]
Prof Deepak B Phatak, IIT Bombay, India

1. OOXML is a document format developed by Microsoft and submitted to 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. LITD 15 committee of the BIS is responsible for examining this standard and for deciding India’s position at 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 ISO in August 2007. A Ballot Resolution Meeting (BRM) was held by 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 20th 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 organizations 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 20th March 2008 had clearly and unambiguously finalized the Indian position of retaining the earlier disapproval vote. In spite of this, Microsoft continued to make representations to top Indian leadership, pressurizing them to change the Indian vote. This act, in my opinion, goes well beyond the behavioral 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 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 apologized 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 apologize 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 5 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 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 Shri 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 pressurize 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 organizations, or to any other reader, I deeply and sincerely apologize.

(Dr Deepak B Phatak) Monday, 26 May 2008

Subrao Nilekani Chair Professor
Kanwal Rekhi Building
Department of Computer Science and Engineering
IIT Bombay, India


From: Dr. Deepak B Phatak
Subrao Nilekani Chair Professor
Kanwal Rekhi Building,
Dept of Computer Sc & Engg, IIT Bombay
26 May 2008

An Open letter to members of the committee LITD 15 of BIS

Dear colleague members,

Sub: The OOXML standardization imbroglio

With reference to the recent happenings in connection with the ISO standardization process of OOXML, actions by or on behalf of Microsoft have caused me deep pain and hurt. Apart from the personal anguish, these actions have tarnished the name of my Institute along with that of several other organizations represented on our committee. In my opinion, these actions go well beyond the behavioral boundaries for a commercial entity. some of these amount to interference with the governance process of a sovereign country. Luckily, wiser and experienced people are in-charge of governance of the nation. However, as a humble teacher and a proud Indian, I wish to register a strong and visible protest.

I have waited for almost two months for my anger to subside, so that what I write is not written out of spite, and is not written to malign anyone including Microsoft. As a member of the committee, I believe that I have a right to be heard by colleagues. I am aware that this right does not include the right to be taken seriously. I leave that to the better judgment of colleague members. Please forgive me this indulgence.

Since this is a rather long letter, I have added the preceding ‘summary for executive perusal’. The letter has 5 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. I have written this to suggest that everyone should exhibit proper conduct amidst whatever arguments one has. If anyone indulges in slander using false charges, it could draw a strong reaction in equally bad terms, and 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. Section 5 is the concluding section.

1. Preamble.

This section outlines the general background to the issues I raise.

1.1 OOXML was submitted to ISO 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. In order to decide and submit Indian position on OOXML, BIS entrusted this task to the Data Management Systems sectional committee, LITD 15. The committee deliberated over a prolonged period in 2007 and in early 2008, and participated in the defined ISO processes for the fast track consideration of OOXML standard. As of date, the following organizations are on the committee:

1. National Informatics Centre, New Delhi (NIC)
2. Centre for Development of Advanced Computing, Mumbai (CDAC)
3. Computer Society of India, New Delhi (CSI)
4. E Governance division of DIT, New Delhi (DIT)
5. IBM India Pvt Ltd., New Delhi (IBM)
6. Institute of Electronic Governance, Hyderabad (IEG)
7. Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad (IIMA)
8. Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore (IISC)
9. Indian Institute of Technology, New Delhi (IIT Delhi)
10. Indian Institute of Technology, Mumbai (IIT Bombay)
11. Infosys Technologies Ltd., Bangalore (INFOSYS)
12. Indian Statistical Institute, Kolkata (ISI)
13. Manufacturers Association for Information Technology, Delhi (MAIT)
14. Microsoft Corporation (India) Pvt. Ltd., Gurgaon (MICROSOFT)
15. National Association of Software & Service Co., New Delhi (NASSCOM)
16. National Institute of Smart Governance, Hyderabad (NISG)
17. Reserve Bank of India, Mumbai (RBI)
18. Redhat India Pvt Ltd., New Delhi (REDHAT)
19. Standardization Testing and Quality Certification, New Delhi (STQC)
20. Sun Microsystems India pvt ltd, New Delhi (SUN)
21. Tata Consultancy Services, Gurgaon (TCS)
22. WIPRO Infotech, Bangalore (WIPRO)

1.2 The committee deliberations up to August 2007 resulted in the Indian position of 'disapproval with comments' of the proposed standard, listing some 82 comments which were unresolved. The committee also concluded that if all the Indian comments are resolved, India would approve the standard after obtaining concurrence of the National body.

This decision of the committee to disapprove OOXML, reached during the meeting held in New Delhi on 28 August 2007 was unanimous. All 22 members were present during that meeting.

1.3 OOXML failed to obtain the supporting votes, as stipulated by ISO, in the ballot held in 2007. As is provided for in the ISO fast track process, a Ballot Resolution Meeting (BRM) was scheduled in Geneva, for which an Indian delegation was nominated by BIS comprising the following four members:

1. Shri Rakesh Verma, BIS, leader of the delegation
2. Ms Reena Garg, BIS (member secretary of LITD 15 committee), member
3. Dr Balasubramanian, NIC, member
4. Dr Sharat Chandran, IIT Bombay, member

Additionally, two members, one each from Microsoft and IBM were nominated to assist the delegation.

The delegation went to Geneva believing that each of the outstanding issues which concerned India, and also issues which concerned other nations, would be discussed threadbare in the BRM. It was discovered during BRM that there were more than 1000 objections. A few issues were discussed and resolved, in some cases changing the original dispositions made. However, since a very large number were still pending, it was decided by the BRM to resolve all of these by a vote rather than by technical discussion, presumably because lack of time available. Indian delegation did not consider this to be a satisfactory resolution of all Indian concerns, and registered a NO vote at BRM. To the best of my knowledge, the vote at BRM was 6 nations voted Yes, 4 voted NO, as many as 18 abstained, and 4 did not record any position.

1.4 After coming back from Geneva, the delegation briefed the committee on the happenings of the BRM. In its meeting on 20th March, the committee voted on the resolution whether India should change its earlier disapproval vote. A total of 19 members were present. 13 members voted NO, only 5 voted YES, 1 member abstained. The resolution did not carry the required support, and the Indian position to be conveyed to ISO was recorded as that of NOT changing our earlier disapproval vote.

1.5 During the month of March 2008, Microsoft made a representation to the ministry of Indian Government under which the BIS functions. Name of an entity called ‘ODF alliance India’ was mentioned by Microsoft in this complaint (for the first time in the entire year long episode). It was claimed to be an organization promoting ODF standard. (which is a correct fact). It was further claimed this alliance was opposed to OOXML (this is fiction, attempted to be substantiated by some media reports as ‘proof’!). Worse, it was claimed that several members of the Indian committee, being members of ODF India alliance, are biased against OOXML! I found out later that several representations have been made by Microsoft to various Government departments. These included representations to senior political leaders of other ministries as well. In some representations, the Indian delegation to BRM was also painted in similar derogatory terms.

The common members so claimed by Microsoft to be members of this alliance and who are also members of the LITD 15 committee were:

1 IIT Delhi
2 IIT Bombay
7 Red Hat

None of the members (certainly not IIT Bombay) was ever informed by Microsoft, at any time, of the concern that Microsoft had about the perceived bias, nor was the issue of bias ever raised in any meeting of the committee.

1.6 During the meeting of 20th March 2008, the committee chairperson, Dr Neeta Verma, who belongs to NIC, expressed her anguish at the complaint lodged to her ministry about her organization being a member of this ODF India alliance and therefore her being biased against OOXML (This was actually the first time I, or for that matter most committee members heard of such a complaint. She pointed out that any issue of bias on her part was never ever raised in any meeting by anyone, least of all by Microsoft. She further pointed out that, she had conducted all the committee meetings in the most fair and transparent manner. She mentioned that, in any case, NIC is not a member of ODF India alliance. All the members, including Microsoft, expressed their full faith in the chairperson, and the meeting continued with her in chair.

1.7 There is one more small fact which I must state here, as it has a bearing on what I have to say later. In that meeting on 20th March 2008, one of the members (I believe, it was the representative of CSI) explicitly asked whether Microsoft will now withdraw their complaint. The Microsoft representative reportedly said that the complaint was made by higher ups, and that he had no authority to withdraw the complaint! This was in spite of the fact that he had just officially expressed faith in the impartiality of the chairperson and had commended her conduct of all meetings as fair and transparent.

1.8 Microsoft continued its efforts of pressurizing the Indian leadership to change the Indian vote, even after the committee decision for BIS and for the nation was finalized on 20th March 2008. I was personally contacted around 27th March. The inquiry was polite but clear to the effect whether our membership of the ODF India Alliance would have caused us to have a bias against OOXML, and whether, therefore, our participation in the Indian committee could affect national interests . This was a major shock to me. I, of course, explained that such was certainly not the case. I clarified that when we sit on any national committees, it is our competence and experience alone that we bring to the table. I mentioned the work that our team had done for the committee and our attempts to sort out technical issues raised on the proposed standard. I emphasized that it was completely unthinkable that any IIT Bombay representative, or for that matter, any other member of such committees will ever act against Indian national interests. I mentioned that I found such a charge very derogatory and insulting.

2. The Role played by IIT Bombay in the OOXML deliberations

This section of the letter describes the process which we followed at IIT Bombay. The purpose is to clarify once and for all, the role that we played in the OOXML standardization process and the rationale behind that role.

When IIT Bombay was requested to participate in LITD 15, Dr. Sharat Chandran had early interactions as IIT Bombay nominee, mostly through emails. After a few meetings, he found out that there were a lot of technical issues which needed to be studied and resolved. A group was then formed within IIT Bombay, comprising 4 professors of our department of CSE:

i) Prof. Krithi Ramamritham
ii) Prof G.Sivakumar
iii) Prof. Sharat Chandran
iv) Prof. Deepak B Phatak

Since then, every opinion/vote given at the committee meeting has been arrived at through a debate, sometimes lengthy, but always resulting in a consensus. It is important to remember that, like all academicians, each one of us has very strong individual opinions, and these are rarely in complete alignment. But no matter what was the opinion of any individual, once we reached a consensus, it was that stand, and that stand alone, which was presented at every meeting of the committee by whosoever attended.
In this particular case of OOXML, the view which emerged very early was that there is nothing wrong with multiple standards but any standard must satisfy two basic requirements. These are:
a) Openness, which means that standard can be implemented by independent multiple vendors without recourse to any proprietary information. In particular, there ought not to be any access or patent restriction. This is one way of encouraging competing products to be built. In any case, India does not recognize software patents.
b) Interoperability, which means a product conforming to this standard, must inter-operate with a product conforming to any existing standard (in this case ODF).

Our observations and subsequent actions were as follows:

i) It was noticed that OOXML has two objectives. One is to get in its fold all the legacy documents presently in Microsoft office proprietary format. Second is to ensure that the standard is forward looking and is able to enhance in coming years.
ii) It was felt that these two objectives, viz., backward compatibility and future extensibility are often at loggerheads. Thus utmost attention needs to be paid to each and every technical issue and its resolution.
iii) The list of technical objections raised was studied. A few meetings were held with Microsoft experts to understand their dispositions. We came to a conclusion that, from the original set of 200+ technical issues, some 80+ were still not addressed by the disposition. The consensus that emerged was that the standard could not be accepted as is, unless these are resolved satisfactorily. In the latter case, OOXML can be approved.
iv) This is the stand which was conveyed to committee in August 2007. IIT Bombay was indeed happy to note that this view was largely accepted. It was a moment of great satisfaction to us that Indian vote was arrived at unanimously, in contrast to that of most other countries of the world.
v) ISO reported in September 2007, that the OOXML standard has not succeeded in getting sufficient support as per ISO rules. ISO announced a Ballot Resolution Meeting in Geneva to be held in February.
vi) Our thinking was that many of the pending Indian concerns revolved primarily around free access to the proprietary binary formats, and around the worry on Microsoft patents for these. We communicated these aspects to Microsoft both independently, as also in the committee meetings.
vii) We have been very worried about the interoperability with ODF and the extensibility of the proposed standard. We were also concerned about the provision of a large number of deprecated features in OOXML proposal. Our view was that the backward compatibility is only useful to ensure that a legacy document with deprecated features can be read by a conforming implementation and can then be correctly migrated to the new standard, or to ODF through interoperability. While a number of other countries have a very large number of documents presently in Microsoft proprietary format, Indian situation is not comparable since most of the Indian documents are still in the paper form and would get digitized over the coming decade. We believed that going forward, India would benefit by having only the new features of OOXML in our documents, if one chooses to use products conforming to this standard eventually after it gets adopted by India. This requirement was expressed by us, along with others, as an important concern at the LITD 15 meeting held just before the BRM. Microsoft agreed to change its disposition to state that such deprecated features will NOT be present in documents, which are freshly created, including those, which are migrated.
viii) Dr. Sharat Chandran was nominated as a member of the Indian delegation by BIS for the BRM at Geneva. A special subgroup was constituted in India to try and resolve more of the remaining Indian comments. Since none of us from IIT could attend the meetings of the specially constituted subgroup held in Delhi, we suggested that Dr. Sharat Chandran will understand from Dr. Balasubramanian (who was also a member of the subgroup), the nature of issues still pending. We also suggested that Dr. Sharat Chandran should carefully note all points raised by other countries, and advice the delegation if any of those could additionally pose a concern from Indian point of view.
ix) The delegation reported the sad happening at BRM. Dr. Sharat Chandran’s feedback to us was that those few technical issues, which were discussed in the first two days, indeed were resolved to make the standard better, and the corresponding original dispositions were appropriately modified in several cases. He felt that if similar discussion was held for all the remaining points, the draft would have become much better through many more changes in the dispositions, and thus would have become technically acceptable. However, the decision to ‘resolve’ an unprecedented number of pending technical issues by a single vote without any technical discussion precluded any such possibility. This appeared to him to be completely out of tune with the basic BRM objective of ‘resolution through technical discussion’ and also against the principle of creating the largest consensus on technical issues. In particular, he observed that there was no chance for the remaining Indian concerns to be technically resolved, nor a chance for the Indian delegation to learn about other issues which could be relevant to India.
x) He agreed (and later all of us here concurred with him) on the principled stand taken by the Indian delegation to ‘disapprove’ the acceptance of these dispositions in the vote.
xi) In the meeting held on 13th March 2008, the delegation debriefed the committee on the BRM proceedings. In our final discussion at IIT Bombay, we concluded that:

a) BRM has failed in its basic objectives of resolution through technical discussion. Even in the vote, we noted that 4 P members had voted Yes, 2 O members also voted yes, 4 P members had voted No. We thus noticed that the majority to the resolution was provided by the 2 Yes votes registered by countries with O status. It was also noticed that that as many as 18 countries registered an ‘abstain’ vote, and 4 more countries refused to register any position. In our opinion, the ISO spirit of arriving at the 'largest possible agreement' was clearly violated. When as many as 22 countries participating in the BRM did not say both yes or no, and only 10 registered affirmative or negative positions, we could not conclude otherwise.
b) The entire standard is now restructured into multiple parts. New conformance criteria have been introduced for strict and transitional compliance. Even the scope is now changed.
c) There is no single document describing the standard that can be studied by anyone to arrive at proper understanding of the entire standard. In particular, from the information which is decipherable, it is evident that the Indian concerns are not taken care of.
d) The standard, as it is now, is thus not mature enough for acceptance as an ISO standard as of date. This was the opinion Dr. Sharat Chandran conveyed to the committee during the meeting held on 20th March 2008.

(xiii) IIT Bombay accordingly registered a “NO’ vote to the proposal of changing the earlier Indian Vote of disapproval.

As I have mentioned earlier, at no stage of the proceedings till March 2008, the word ODF alliance ever entered our discussion. I was personally not even aware of ‘ODF alliance India’, till the term was thrown at me later. When I inquired around, this entity was explained to me and I was told that its objective was to promote ODF. I was also informed that Prof Sivakumar of IIT Bombay was associated with the activities around ODF. Initially I was mildly amused that something completely irrelevant was being brought into the debate. It is to be noted that, while all four of us at IIT Bombay are involved in some activity or the other in the Open Source, neither that nor this particular association with ODF ever came in the way of our active participation in resolving the technical objections against OOXML. Even Microsoft has acknowledged this fact.

I write this elaborately to make an important point that, membership of ODF or any such alliance has absolutely no bearing on the actions of people when they sit on important national committees. If any individual has a bias, the reasons would clearly lie elsewhere. The positions of companies with commercial interests in competing products pertaining to the domain of this standard, for whom certain preferences were perhaps natural, were well known. In this particular case, I would think that these companies are Microsoft, IBM and SUN. These account for just 3 members out of a total of 22 members constituting this committee. We never noticed any bias from any member otherwise.

We were therefore very surprised and later deeply shocked when we learned that various complaints and representations have been made by Microsoft, going all the way up to the political leaders of the nation. A few things have affected me most. One is that certain organizations have been falsely painted as biased organizations in these complaints. The second, and far more derogatory, is that people and organizations are claimed to have acted against Indian national interests. Worse, even as I write this letter, these ridiculous claims have not yet been withdrawn by Microsoft.

3. My personal anguish.

My first anguish is the way the name of my colleagues and my Institution, along with names of several others on the committee LITD 15, have been maligned and tarnished by Microsoft. My second anguish is that Microsoft persisted in its attempt to pressurize Indian leadership to change the Indian stand, in spite of the fact that a due process established by the Government had completed its job, recommending no change in the Indian vote. These two things, amongst others, have caused me to lose my peace of mind and my sleep over last two months. I share my thoughts (which sometimes have been rather wild), and my anguish in this section.

3.1 My colleagues, my Institute, and some other maligned organizations

I have detailed in the previous section, our approach and work that our team did at IIT Bombay. One of the complaints raised by Microsoft was about the Indian delegation itself. The delegation included Dr Sharat Chandran from my Institute as a member.

Microsoft's complaint about the delegation again invokes the bogey of ODF India Alliance. In its listing of the composition of the Indian delegation it states that the delegation comprised of 2 members of the bureau and 2 others were representatives of the ODF India alliance! The complaint, of course states, that the alliance is opposed to OOXML. It further states that the delegation was not acting in the spirit of promoting India’s best interests, It states that in an attempt to thwart the development of a competing standard, the delegation has now made several challenges to the ISO procedure, and so on. On the last issue, it is my understanding that it is not the delegation but the committee which has forwarded some critical observations to ISO. But let me draw your attention to the work of 2 technical members of the committee claimed by Microsoft to have been biased against OOXML, and working against Indian National interests!

It is noteworthy that these two members of the delegation, stated to be members of ODF alliance are:

1. Dr Balasubramanian, who spent a lot of time with Microsoft representative, as a member of the special subgroup constituted just before the BRM, and actually helped resolve 35 dispositions before the BRM. Further, he belongs to NIC. Dr Neeta Verma, the committee chairperson, has since clarified that NIC is NOT a member of ODF India alliance.

2. Dr Sharat Chandran of IIT Bobmay, who, amongst all my colleagues at IIT, has spent maximum time pondering over the OOXML document, and had worked with Microsoft to resolve many of the 200 issues, helping to reduce these to 82 before the meeting held in August 2007.

With the clarification of NIC, the Microsoft representation against the delegation effectively reduces to singling out ONLY IIT Bombay as THE member of the ODF alliance in the delegation. Therefore, by implication, IIT Bombay is opposed to OOXML, has acted against the national interest, has attempted to thwart the development of a competing standard, etc.

This leaves me truly speechless and dumbfounded. I would like to believe that IIT Bombay has perhaps, rather quietly, done amongst the maximum technical work towards resolution of technical issues, other than NIC and, of course, Microsoft. The work of IIT Bombay has been acknowledged time and again by Microsoft itself. Yet, Microsoft has no hesitation in making absurd allegations like these. For Microsoft, Dr Sharat Chandran is a ‘good man’ when he spends precious time, along with colleagues of IIT Bombay team, to ponder over technical issues raised on OOXML. He is thinking ‘positively’ when he is trying to see if the dispositions by Microsoft address the technical concerns or not. IIT Bombay is acting in the interest of consumers and in the interests of nation, when it opines that multiple standards are all right. In the final meeting of the committee before the Indian vote to ISO in August 2007, when Dr Phatak requests the committee members to take a unified stand on the Indian position and to indicate our willingness to support the OOXML standard if all our concerns are addressed, Dr Phatak has done a good job and has acted in 'national interest'.

But when Dr Sharat Chandran does not think that the process of voting adopted at BRM is right, and that not only Indian concerns but even all other concerns raised by various NBs have not been resolved through technical debate at all, he is suddenly ‘not behaving correctly’. When he agrees with the decision of the Indian delegation to register a vote of disapproval at BRM, he and his other technical colleague in the delegation are suddenly portrayed as representatives of the evil ODF India alliance. When he conveys the opinion of IIT Bombay to the committee, that since several problems in OOXML have not yet been technically resolved and OOXML is not yet ready and mature to become an international standard as of now, he is portrayed to be acting solely to oppose OOXML. When IIT Bombay registers a ‘NO change’ vote at the final meeting of LITD 15 on 20th March 2008, we are portrayed by Microsoft as acting against Indian National interests!

This is the way Microsoft has treated people and organizations. Friends, good men, positive thinkers, excellent organizations, acting in the national interests, etc., one day. Enemies, members of evil alliance, acting against national interests, the day they dare to register their technical opinion which is not in consonance with what Microsoft expects! Forgive me for saying this, but ‘Backstabbing a friend’, is the most polite phrase that comes to my mind.

Words from the famous star-wars movie episodes perhaps most aptly describe the Microsoft behaviour. I believe these were “Either you are with me, or you are my enemy”. Perhaps in the context of Microsoft, these should be rephrased as “Either you are with me in exactly the way I want you to be with me, or you are my enemy”.

Forget individuals for a moment. What about fine name of my Institution which has been portrayed as an evil organization acting against OOXML because of its bias, and therefore acting against national interests! Microsoft has thus attempted to destroy the fine reputation of my Institution. Luckily, IIT Bombay does not need certificates from Microsoft on its conduct. But I just cannot digest the insult. I had bad dreams for several nights, imagining things. I thought of a scenario where the dead reputation of my Institute is being buried by a large crowd. Readers will recall the funeral oration of Mark Antony over the dead body of Julius Caesar. This is well known, at least as Shakespeare’s imaginative creation for his play, if not the historical writings of Dion Cassius and Plutrach. I imagined that some friend of my Institute, who saw some good in IIT Bombay’s ambition to do the right things the right way, and who would have been perturbed by the dead body of the reputation of the Institute, may perhaps say, describing the action of Microsoft and its friends as:

I come to bury the reputation of an Institute, not to praise it.
The evil that men do lives after them;
The good is oft interred with their bones;
So let it be with IIT Bombay.
The noble Microsoft has told you IIT was ambitious;
If it were so, it was a grievous fault,
And grievously hath IIT answer’d it.
Here under leave of Microsoft and the rest,
For Microsoft is an honourable organization;
So are they all, all honourable men;

If out of anger and hurt, such wild thoughts come to my mind, the reason is simply that my faith in the goodness of my Institute, and my bondage with it has been the main passion in my career. Simply put, I shall not tolerate such trumped up charges to hurt the reputation of my beloved IIT Bombay. I believe that no representative of any organization on the committee can tolerate such crude and false accusations.

I would like to point out that IIT Bombay is not just a well known Indian academic Institution of higher learning . It is a component of the ‘IIT System’ of my country. A system created directly through special acts by the parliament of my sovereign nation. A system that has been carefully supported and tenderly nurtured by the government of my sovereign nation. This system is meant to provide opportunities for the talented Indians to learn the cutting edge knowledge in the best possible way to build their successful careers, and to build their nation, This is a system which guarantees to every young boy and girl of the nation that, no matter what language you speak, no matter what religion you practice, no matter whether you come from the poorest of the poor or from the richest of the rich; if you can demonstrate your merit, you shall be admitted to the system to build a fine career.

Microsoft may please note that the IIT system today is a symbol of aspirations for the Indian talent. Any attempt to lower the stature of the system, particularly an attempt based on falsehood and misplaced allegations, may not be taken kindly by my nation. Claiming that IIT Bombay acted against national interest will not be believed even for a moment. such claim would be met with due disdain it deserves. But the fact that such a deliberate attempt was made, makes one feel very sad and publicly humiliated. The hurt is irrevocable.

And what about the National Informatic Centre (NIC)? Independent of the fact that NIC has clarified that it is NOT a member of the ODF India alliance, I am equally pained at this baseless allegation painting NIC as an organization which is biased, which is opposed to OOXML, and which acts against national interests.

My anguish runs specially deeper for this last dirty allegation against NIC, of ‘not working in the interest of India’. I have had the privilege of working closely with NIC. I have personally known the heads of NIC from Dr. Seshagiri to Dr. Gairola. I assure you that these people have done nothing else in all their professional lives, except serving the interests of the nation. Thousands of NICs' technical officers have been working in far flung talukas (sub-districts) and districts, building applications for district administration, for state and central Government ministries and departments. They do not work on dollar equivalent salaries as many of their counterparts in the industry do, but in my opinion, they are the unsung heroes of the Indian e-governance story. I am not trying to belittle the great and complex projects done by commercial companies in this area, but to imply that anybody in NIC could act against national interest, is truly a sickening allegation.

Since IIT Bombay and NIC had representatives on the BRM delegation, these explicit allegations are more elaborate in the complaints. However, all other members listed earlier as being claimed by Microsoft to be ODF India alliance members suffer the same accusation by direct implication. They do not deserve such nonsense either.

Did Microsoft anticipate that the representatives of these organizations may vote against OOXML? Was Microsoft trying to send a message that these organizations should rethink their position and vote 'properly'. Well, none seem to have taken notice except for one. What about TCS? Since TCS is also a member of ODF India alliance, did it also act against national interests in August 2007 vote of the committee? What if someone develops a grudge against TCS by reading the Microsoft complaints? Does the TCS representative on the committee even know about this allegation? If he does, people may wish to know whether this was the reason why he finally voted YES to change India’s disapproval at ISO. Since TCS has supported OOXML, by Microsoft induction, TCS has now redeemed itself and has finally acted in national interest! But would all the senior people, who read the Microsoft representations and complaints, remember to make such a fine distinction?

What a wonderful way of maligning friends and foes alike!

Microsoft has committed a gross libel against these Institutions, which have been serving the nation with distinction. Microsoft leadership has since met us and apologized for the mistake, appreciating the contributions made by IIT Bombay. Individually I have accepted the apology. But as an Institution, this is completely inadequate. The names of IIT Bombay, of NIC, and of several other organizations have been wrongly, falsely, and deliberately tarnished in the eyes of top bureaucratic and political leaders of various ministries of the nation. At the minimum, Microsoft must formally write to all those whom they have sent their complaints, withdrawing these immediately. Further, they must clearly, formally and unambiguously apologize to these organizations. If even this is not done immediately, I am not sure what the reaction would be.

To illustrate how someone could react to this mudslinging by Microsoft, I have written a hypothetical complaint titled ‘Microsoft is looting the nation in alliance with Indian IT giants'. While constructing this hypothetical complaint, I have used what I call the ‘Microsoft patented mud-slinging algorithm’. I have included it as a stand alone appendix (Annexure A) to this letter. The purpose is to demonstrate that such complaints and counter complaints would lead all of us to disaster. This hypothetical counter complaint shows Microsoft as working at national and International forums to maintain and enhance its monopoly in global markets, and as attempting to ensure its monopoly strangle-hold on Indian desktop Market. It also paints INFOSYS, TCS, WIPRO and NASSCOM as willfully helping Microsoft in this evil design, and thus acting grossly against Indian National interests. The last one has hit me very hard emotionally, even though the construction was done by myself and it is purely hypothetical. The significant contributions made by these organizations to the Indian IT story are well known. The past and present leaders of these organizations are icons of modern India. I have the privilege of knowing them closely and being counted amongst their friends. I am sure that a large number of my countrymen will react very strongly if anyone was to really engage in such slander against them. I will be one personally eager to counter any such foolish attempts to malign these great names. These people and their Institutions are and must be treated with genuine respect.

But then, should lesser mortals and smaller organizations deserve any less? Several of us working on the committee may be relatively smaller in stature. Organizations we work for may be relatively less known, less rich, and less powerful. But does any one have any right to trample on our self-esteem? Does any one have a right to malign any committee members or their organizations, specially using wrong presumptions, lies, and blasphemous allegations of acting against their nation's interests? I believe that such attempts must be treated with same contempt and must be repelled with exactly the same vigour.

There is one particular allegation in my hypothetical construction which I must mention in passing because this issue is real and may get raised if matters get out of hand. One allegation in this hypothetical counter complaint relates to these 4 organizations acting against Indian interests by asking for Indian vote to be changed, in spite of the fact that Indian technical concerns were not resolved. Technical concerns which they themselves had agreed must be resolved satisfactorily before we rethink Indian position of disapproval. In order to explain this point, I need to back-track a little.

Recall that the Indian position of disapproval with comments, finalized by the committee in August 2007, was UNANIMOUS. After months of hard work the committee had unanimously concluded that several Indian concerns were not yet addressed by the dispositions. We also specifically agreed that if all the technical issues are resolved to India's satisfaction, then India will change its vote to ‘Yes’.

This convergence of opinion displayed two very important points. Firstly it showed very clearly and unambiguously that absolutely no member of the committee took a stand against either multiple standards, or against OOXML, as has been alleged by Microsoft. It is to be particularly noted that every member of the now famous ‘ODF India Alliance’, without any exception whatsoever, agreed to support OOXML as an ISO standard, provided all the technical concerns posed by India are resolved.
Secondly, it showed that the Indian technical objections were indeed important to all of us and that these were required to be properly resolved. The unanimous vote included every one of these 4 members as also Microsoft itself. Each of these 5 members thus actually opposed the ISO adoption of OOXML on specific technical grounds by agreeing to the unanimous Indian vote.

I have already explained my understanding that the BRM process had singularly failed to technically discuss and resolve all the Indian technical objections. This was clearly explained in the debriefing by the Indian delegation to the members of the committee. This is also obvious even through a cursory reading of the available ISO documentation about BRM, whatever little that may be. Since the important criteria put forth unanimously by India earlier, was NOT satisfied by ISO through the BRM, the only logical position for India to take was NOT to change its earlier vote.

This is the position 13 members of the committee took on 20th March. Exactly five members of the committee took the position that Indian must change its vote. If we remove Microsoft as a naturally interested party for the change of position, it leaves us with INFOSYS, TCS, WIPRO and NASSCOM. The ‘nay’ Sayers have been consistently maligned as saying ‘No’ after being 'influenced' by some imagined strategy of the members of so called ‘ODF India alliance', even when each such member had legitimate reason to say ‘no’ based on what had happened at the BRM as explained by the delegation. The allegation in my hypothetical counter complaint implicitly asks these 4 respected members, who insisted that India must change her vote, as to how exactly they came to the conclusion that all the technical concerns raised by India have now been technically discussed and resolved to India’s satisfaction.

Please do remember that each one of these 4 was a part of the unanimous Indian vote on these concerns. As representatives of the Indian IT industry giants and as the leading Industry association, may I politely inquire as to whether a detailed technical analysis of each of the pending issue and its disposition by BRM after technical deliberations, was carried out by each colleague member representing these 4 organizations. Can they point out the exact clauses or paragraphs in the final OOXML document which precisely resolve Indian concerns? I will specifically ask them just one of our concerns as an example. This was mentioned earlier in section 2. In a meeting just before the delegation left for the BRM, Microsoft had agreed for an important Indian requirement related to deprecated features. The agreement was for Microsoft to change its related disposition to say that the deprecated features will NOT be present in documents which are freshly created, including those which are migrated (I believe it was part of the Indian comment IN0030. This required that no migrated document can have any of the deprecated features.

The debriefing by the delegation has clearly indicated that neither this, nor many other Indian concerns were technically resolved at the BRM. Surely these 4 members would have done the exercise of cross checking the final documents. They must have determined that the debriefing was incorrect and indeed all the Indian concerns have been resolved. Could they please enlighten me on their detailed analysis done before casting their vote on 20th March. As a teacher, may I pose them the quiz: please indicate the page numbers, paragraph numbers, line numbers, etc., where the OOXML standard post BRM precisely and satisfactorily addresses all of India’s technical concerns. As an example, please tell me the wording in the OOXML documentation where this specific issue is sorted out as had been insisted upon by all of us unanimously.

The sad fact now is that neither this, nor resolution to other Indian concerns can be found precisely in the form in which it was required. This is because the entire standard document has been restructured. I believe the word deprecated now appears as transitional and references to such features are spread over several parts. Even the scope has been changed. It is not even ready in its final form, this exercise itself being now part of the maintenance process of the standard!

Should the committee now conclude that, knowing fully well that serious Indian technical concerns have not been addressed, these 4 members still voted for changing the Indian position of disapproval of OOXML? If no citation from the new standard (as on 20th March 2008) is available from these members, should the nation now conclude that these 4 organizations deliberately acted against Indian national interests? If there is any evidence of support now found to have been given by any one of these 4 organizations to the efforts of Microsoft to pressurize the Indian Government to change our vote, should the nation now conclude that there indeed is a ‘secret alliance with Microsoft to loot the country’?

Hard questions friends, with no easy answers.

In conclusion, I will reiterate that my anguish, caused by Microsoft by slandering Individuals and organizations represented on committee LITD 15 of BIS, runs very very deep. I have requested Microsoft to immediately withdraw all such frivolous complaints and representations maligning colleagues on the committee. I have also requested Microsoft to formally apologize to my Institute for causing damage to its reputation. I await action from them in this regard. I am absolutely unable to tolerate the mudslinging on IIT Bombay. I believe the same holds for other colleagues.

3.2 My sovereign nation, and attempts to interfere in her Governance process

This is a far greater anguish I have been suffering from for all these days since March. In its attempt to get Indian ‘disapproval’ vote retracted and changed, Microsoft first tried to convince the committee. When it appeared that the committee may not agree for such a change, Microsoft made complaints to the governing ministries of some of the organizations as explained earlier, stating that people from their departments were not acting in national interest. When the bureaucratic leadership refused to make any alterations in the process of the duly constituted committee, they went to the political leadership. If this was limited to a request for change in the committee constitution, it can at least be understood, howsoever distasteful the method of allegations adopted by them may have been. But their objective was to get the Indian vote changed. Even after the committee deliberation on 20th March, they still persisted with their pressures at the highest levels of Indian leadership, this time very clearly articulating the main demand, that the Government should change the Indian disapproval vote, and persisting with the same representations which stated that people were not acting in national interests.

In doing this, Microsoft has clearly transgressed the behavioural boundaries for any foreign commercial entity. They were asking the Government of India to forget the well defined process, and override the decision so arrived at. Of course, the Government is sovereign, and it has the authority and responsibility to take decisions in the best interests of the nation. And, of course, the Indian leadership refused to intervene; perhaps finding no substance in the representation after it looked at all the details. Apparently, from the Microsoft’s perspective, even the Indian leadership has acted against Indian national interest! What next?

My greatest angst against Microsoft is in their arrogance in telling Indian government about Indian ‘national interest’, particularly at the highest levels of the leadership. One really wonders whether they even properly understand what a nation is.

To appreciate why I feel so strongly on this issue of interference in the governance process; I take you through a part of the more recent history of (just last 200 years of) my country.

In the 19th century a company called East India Company maintained its own army to enforce its desires. Sometime in 1824, the company determined that it was not in the 'best interests' of a small princely state called Kittur to be governed by the adopted son of the dead king, I believe a person called Lord Amherst was heading the operations of the relevant segment of the company then (Prof Krithi Ramamritham may wonder at the interesting coincidence of this name being familiar as the name of the place of a great university today in US where he worked with distinction). When the queen of the state refused to accept this ridiculous verdict of a company, and rose in arms, she was simply crushed in battle. Another paid employee of the same company, some decades later in 1848, did the same thing with other Indian states. This gentleman, called Lord Dalhousie, actually had the temerity to formalize this principle as a 'doctrine of lapse', which arrogantly declared that such states will be 'annexed' to the company and will be directly ruled by the company itself. The company managed to annex several states this way. But in 1856, when another small state called Jhansi objected, the company crushed the army led by the queen of that state as well, killing the queen in the process. In 1857, the Aakrosh (strongest sentiment of resisting any unjust behaviour) against the company was far widespread. There was a general rebellion, under the banner of the last Mughal Emperor of India, Bahadur Shah Zafar. That rebellion was again mercilessly crushed. Many male members of the emperor were killed by the British, and he himself was exiled after a show-trial. The nation saw thousands of mutineers hanged by trees because they dared dream of being masters of their own fate. Incidentally, this so-called victory of the Company resulted in such great unrest, that it was immediately followed by the more unfortunate direct intervention by the British Crown. Curiously, the first thing that the crown did in 1858, this time through a representative called the Viceroy, was to immediately cancel this funny 'doctrine of lapse', guarantying now that there shall be no interference in the matters of Indian princely states!

My nation will neither easily forget the martyrdom of Kitturu Rani Chennama or of Jhansi ki Rani Laxmibai in the fight for their right to determine their own interests and manage their own affairs; nor will it easily forget the dead bodies of thousands of Indian mutineers hanging by the trees. The Indian struggle to permit herself the right to determine what is in their own national interest, had to continue for another 90 years. My Nation witnessed many remarkable struggles by her people. A reputed leader in the political struggle called Lala Lajpat Rai was beaten to death in a British Jail, Those who dared to protest more vociferously and violently were promptly hanged. We cannot forget the martyrdom of Sardar Bhagat Singh, or Sukhdev, or Rajguru. My nation gratefully remembers the heroic act of Subhash Chandra Bose, who built the 'Azad Hind Army' to fight the foreign rule. We cannot at all forget the sacrifices of those millions who followed the great Mahatma, joining his non-violent clarion cry of 'quit India'. We ultimately achieved independence in 1947, and became a sovereign republic in 1950 when we adopted our constitution. Till date, we are governed by ourselves under this constitution. We immensely respect and cherish our freedom, like people of all other nations respect theirs.

One may wonder why this teacher is reciting past history in a letter being written in 21st century. It is because I see painful glimpses of dead bodies of people, hanged because they dared to proclaim that they shall be masters of their own fate and of their nation. A company today does not, thankfully, maintain standing armies, and cannot award kingdoms to Mir Jafers for their support, nor can it punish opponents like Tipu Sultan, or Veer Pndya Katta Boman, or Rani Laxmibai by killing them in battles. But promising to reward those who support you; attempting to punish those who oppose you by tarnishing their image and maligning them; trying to pressurize people and Institutions of a sovereign nation at all levels to ensure your own petty gains; trying to pressurize sovereign governments to disregard their own lawful processes and to endorse what you want; any of these may be seen by many in this country to be, in principle, a very similar attempt. Teachers are usually expected to be amongst the first ‘antennas’ to detect such happenings in any society. They have the responsibility to warn their fellow countrymen.

What Microsoft has done in India to get a favourable vote for OOXML at ISO, earlier by trying to discredit several members of the committee in the eyes of the government, and later by continuing to pressurize her government after a decision was reached by BIS in LITD15, was a blatant interference. As I understand it in plain English, this is an attempt by an external entity to interfere in the governance of a sovereign country. I do not know how such attempts are perceived and tackled in other counties, but India is rather sensitive to such perceived threats. Personally, I am particularly extra-sensitive.

I am aware that I am only a humble teacher. I am aware that Microsoft is a mighty, rich, and powerful company. But if I perceive a threat to my national sovereignty and to her honour, this old teacher will simply pack his pen, and pick up a sword for a mortal combat. I believe many more of my fellow Indians may think of doing likewise. Please be informed that If I am forced to join such a battle, then I will never come back defeated. I may come back only dead. That, Mr Microsoft, is my privilege, and that indeed is my honour.

In this 21st century, India is a unified nation of more than one billion people. My countrymen seek to live happily in a just and civil society full of prosperity, love, and harmony. They seek to share knowledge and technology from all other people of the world. They do want to listen to useful advice from every quarter. Come and discuss business and let us negotiate a win-win deal. Do discuss technology and knowledge, and we will be eager to have mutually beneficial relationships. Do discuss economic policies, and we will be equal partners in the humanity's march to prosperity.

But please, please do not try to tell us what our national interests are. More particularly, please do not take upon you, the task of announcing how or who in our country is fulfilling these or is acting against these. Indians are determined to be masters of their own fate. They decide what is in their best national interest and only they decide if someone is acting against national interests. They will never ever abrogate this precious right to any outsider. And if they feel that this right is being encroached upon, they will rise one and all against such threat.

If any company now tries to behave like a 'West India Company' (this phrase is from the writings of a friend Dr Dharmesh Bhandari), or if any nation appears to ape the actions of a 'crown', then please beware. My nation will rebuff such attempts, just as my Government has demonstrated to Microsoft very clearly in this small matter of OOXML. If such a demonstration is inadequate, and if someone is seen to pursue similar tactics in future, then be prepared to face the wrath of this sovereign nation of One Billion people.
My anguish over the sad activities of Microsoft may not be shared by the next generation of the educated youth. This generation does not necessarily possess such emotionally strong bondage with the notion of nation state. Armed with modern education, they hop across continents, wherever their talent and hard work finds recognition and rewards. For many of them, the concept of nationality is naturally notional. They genuinely see the entire globe as a single continuum of humanity. Even I cherish the dream that some day, people from all over the world would unite to form a single political and economic entity. They will live happily as a part of a just society, where economic, ethnic, cultural, religious, or linguistic diversity does not stand in the way of aspiration of and opportunities for any individual or group, and where any unjust activity is properly dealt with, irrespective of how mighty or powerful is the force behind such an attempt. Perhaps my grandchildren will grow to see that day. As of now, all we have is the set of various nation states. The activities of people within a nation are governed by her own laws, and interaction between people or groups of different nations are governed by international conventions, treaties and such like. The latter arrangements attempt to create a fair and level playing field for people of different nations in their global activities.

Internationally accepted standards for products and technologies are such instruments in the domain of knowledge based commercial activities. It is vital for nations to understand the short and long term implications of these standards. That is the reason why bodies such as ISO provide for extensive discussion and provide for the largest consensus to be developed for any standard. Sadly, this principle has got brutally mauled in the OOXML happenings. I am not trying to blame any person or agency, but I believe that ISO should have a caveat of extending the duration of discussions, may be multiple and longer duration BRMs, for any fast track process. At least when a very large number of technical issues remain unresolved, there should be a provision to revert to the normal process. I do not see, as to how otherwise ISO can restore the shaken faith of the global technical community, and even that of participating nations.

Since in the meanwhile, we all have to live by the standardization activities within national and international arena as per the available processes; I now proceed to the next section to make specific requests to the committee for some urgent action.

4. The way forward.

I have shared my anguish in this letter so far. But I also have to discharge my duty as a member of the committee. In the light of all that has transpired, I would like to submit the following for consideration of BIS for further decisions at the national level with regard to OOXML standard.

1) The normal ISO process is defined for achieving largest possible consensus on standards through very wide and thorough discussion. In my opinion, this spirit has been severely compromised in this fast track process for OOXML. The resulting standard has no clarity even on what it is, as there is no single document available describing the standard. Ordinarily, it does not matter if the final document release takes some time, since all the major issues are taken care of during very wide consultations, and issues which remain are rather mundane. In this case, a very large number of already known serious technical concerns posed by many NBs across the world have been pushed into the so called maintenance phase even before the standard is borne. The BRM vote itself, with as many as 22 out of a total of 32 NBs in attendance, neither saying 'Yes' nor saying 'No', reveals that there was no consensus at all. I believe that this is unprecedented. Stating this as objectionable, India should move the ISO for cancellation of the acceptance of OOXML as it stands now, asking that the standard should be put through the normal process rather than on fast track. I think the world body and all NBs can easily see that it was essentially lack of time which was responsible for so many concerns not being addressed. We must, of course, continue to critically examine the OOXML document as it emerges, to ensure that the technical issues are resolved.
2) In case, this appeal is not maintained by ISO, we have no choice but to 'fast track' our own examination. In such a situation, this examination will be far more challenging. We not only have to address all our concerns, but also critically examine how the concerns raised by others are being resolved. This is because we can no more depend on other NBs necessarily continuing to do such critical examination of the concerns raised by them in any great hurry. After all, many have already changed their earlier vote at ISO, perhaps based simply on the BRM result. The others may have reconciled to the idea that the 'maintenance phase' may take care of these serious problems in future.

3) We must pay special attention to the issues of interoperability between ODF and OOXML. Thus we will have to vigorously participate in the activities of the other relevant subgroup of SC-34 as well.

4) Ordinarily, national technical standards are evolved in response to local needs. If there exist international standards, these are examined for their suitability and if found useful, are adopted by a nation almost on an 'as is' basis. This process simply cannot be applied for OOXML. We must wait till all our concerns are sorted out, which may take several months. For example, there is no statement on transitional features being definitely out for all migrated documents as required by us. If one goes by the vague statement on transitional features, that these will disappear from the standard 'sometime' in future, we may even have to wait for years before we can even touch the new standard in India.

5) India should therefore carefully watch how all of these are being handled by the SC-34 committee. India should consider nominating a team of experts to assist our representatives on the working groups in order to actively engage with this process. The team should study each and every one of all the objections, and their disposition by ECMA as submitted and recorded at the BRM. For each such disposition, we should examine if the final document is changed or not. If it is changed, India should examine whether the modified version actually addresses the original issue raised or not. We may even consider referring such points to the respective national bodies which raised the issue in the first place. If we come to a conclusion that the changes do not satisfactorily resolve the original technical objection, we again make a request to SC-34 to reconsider the issue. If we do not see such reconsideration happening, we then make a final list of all such points which remain unsolved. BIS should then ask the committee to take a considered view whether, in spite these deficiencies remaining in the standard, should we still adopt OOXML for use in India.

6) The work was hard enough as it was. It has unfortunately been made harder because of the mess which has got created. But I do not see any easy way out. Since we are committed to make OOXML better and acceptable to us in India, we either get our request to ISO for putting this standard back on to normal process, or we need to do this harder work. Doing anything else, in my opinion, will be wrong. Adopting a half baked standard, which is likely to continue to rapidly keep changing over a fairly long period will mean the following:

(i) Multiple implementations is an important desirable feature of any standard. This is what actually permits competition and helps reduce the cost to the end consumer. This is not very unlikely to happen as no vendor (other than Microsoft, of course) is likely to invest money, efforts, and time to play in a game where the goal-post is continuously and unpredictably shifting.

(ii) During this entire period of maturity and availability of multiple implementations, the Indian consumers adopting to use this standard will necessarily depend on only one vendor (Microsoft).

(iii) Additionally in order to produce documents which remain compliant with OOXML standard, the Indian consumers will have to keep migrating their documents produced just a few months or year earlier, to confirm to the 'final' standard which eventually evolves.

5 Concluding remarks.

In this section, I offer a few more final comments, and acknowledge various people who have played a role in the OOXML events up to now in India.

5.1 Final comments.

When I first understood the impact of the actions by Microsoft, I almost went mad. My first impulse was to go berserk, call a press conference, and openly refute every lie and half truth. But a teacher is not permitted to act out of anger, so I counted up to 10, and started thinking of taking some alternative action. I thought of doing a 'Satyagraha', a model set for us by the great Mahatma, where you demonstrate your protest through non-violent means. Typically, these are either going on a hunger strike publicly, or renouncing something which symbolizes the cause for anguish. I had thought of renouncing the use of Microsoft technologies and products for my personal use, and just telling this to that part of the larger world which I interact with. But even a 'Satyagraha' has the possibility of many more joining such renouncing, and the purpose of an action by a teacher must be to point out the issues, and not to cause harm to anyone.

I must confesst that I did face a dilemma. I had to get my message across and seek correction from those who did wrong. But I am also a teacher, and not just a teacher by profession, but by 'dharma'. This word is not easy to translate. It is often used in its limited popular interpretation as religion, which is incorrect. 'Dharma' means 'the way of life', implying, of course, the right way of life. For every one, at every stage, dharma defines the right conduct, the right thoughts, the right interaction with others, right everything! Dharma is an embodiment of all the right values that one must try to imbibe while living in this world and fulfilling one's own destiny, whether as a student, as a teacher, as a trader, as a king, as a worker, as a boy or girl, as a family man, whatever. It is indeed extremely difficult to practice one's dharma due to known human emotional weaknesses. These are typically anger, envy, temptation, greed, etc. One needs to develop emotional strengths such as compassion, commitment, determination, justness, etc.

For me, the dilemma has been that, on one hand I must point out the abysmal wrong that has been committed, and must vigorously pursue to get it corrected. On the other hand, as a teacher, I must not act out of spite, and must not act to harm. So how do I seek redress without seeking revenge?

I continued to be very disturbed and looked at segments of ancient human wisdom to guide me. I read books from Gita to Upanishads, and from Kuran to Bible. I found many beautiful thoughts which did help me to overcome by anger. Of these, I am tempted to quote one which appears to me to be most appropriate. This is from the ancient Tamil classic Thirukkural authored by the great saint Thiruvalluvar in second century B.C.

Senra idaththil chelavida thidori
Nanrinpal uyppa darivu.

[It is wisdom that restrains the wandering mind,
and diverts it from evil to good]

It is thus that I decided to write an open letter, clearly explaining my anguish and my views. I seek redress, but I mean no harm to either Microsoft or to anyone else. I hope those who read it will understand me. This is that letter.

I am sending this letter to all the colleague members of the committee. I shall also be putting it up on a blog site. Since I have never written a blog in my life so far, I had to start by creating a blogspace. I have done so now (the URL is http://deepakphatak.blogspot.com).

The letter will soon be posted on this URL. I say soon, because I still need some assistance yet! This letter is released under the latest version of Creative Commons India 'by attribution' license. ('Attribution 2.5 India, http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.5/in/). Friends from Open source community may like to note that this license is not like GPL license which is more popular, but is rather like the BSD license. In my personal opinion, this license is less restrictive of actions that others can take on the contents. My only request to readers is that if someone finds something worthwhile to quote from this letter, please try not to quote portions or segments out of context. But this is only a request and the freedom given by the license stands as is.

A whole lot of facts stated in this letter have got mingled with my own comments, observations, beliefs, and hypotheses. If there are any facts which have not been correctly stated, I will be obliged if corrections are suggested by colleagues and others who know these more accurately. I will immediately put up the correction on my blog.

I would be particularly happy and grateful if someone wishes to add either to the information, or to the way forward.

5.2 Acknowledgements.

I begin by thanking all my colleagues on the committee. 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 Shri Rakesh Verma provided to the Indian delegation at 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 unduly pressurize our process.

The few meetings of the committee which I have attended have been exemplary in the comradeship exhibited by all colleagues. We have had heated discussions and debates. But whenever we broke for tea or lunch, all acrimony was gone, and we freely mixed with each other as good human friends. I would like to thank all the colleague members for permitting Dr Sharat and me, these simple but important pleasurable moments in life.

I have a special word of thanks to the officials of Microsoft, some of whom have been personal friends for years. Their representatives on the committee spent large chunks of time with us. They had to often fly down to Mumbai for very short meetings, sometimes having to wait almost eternally till one of us became free to interact with them. Not once did they lose their cool or courtesy. Even when we had a long and rather acrimonious debate in a meeting in April, when we discussed the matter of their complaints and our anguish, and they shared their concerns, the end of that debate still left us as friends. I particularly admire their act of providing us with copies of some of their complaints. Very sad these have been, but the hurt would have been infinitely greater, if I was to get these independently through the normal route of RTI which I was contemplating. The act of the leadership of Microsoft India in personally owning up the responsibility, and offering genuine apologies to us individually, demonstrates their courage and character. I admire it immensely and thank them for the same.

I, of course, still await the action from Microsoft which I have requested, viz., formal withdrawal of all complaints, and a formal apology to my Institute.

Prof Krithi Ramamritham, Prof Sivakumar, and Prof Sharat Chandran, were three of my colleagues who worked with me very closely and as a team through out the episode. Prof Sharat Chandran, in particular, has spend maximum time amongst all of us in this activity. These people have been more of close personal family members, and It is not an Indian custom to thank family for support. But I will be failing in my duty if I do not gratefully acknowledge the immense contributions they have made.

With best regards,


(Deepak B Phatak)
IIT Bombay, 26 May 2008



A hypothetical sample counter-complaint
‘Microsoft is looting the nation in alliance with Indian IT giants,’
Dr. M. U. D'Slinger

[The author is a teacher who is currently engaged in research on theory and practice of baseless blaming. Acronym chosen is suitable for the occasion]

A1. Preamble:

Microsoft recently made several representations and complaints to various Indian Government departments and to her top leadership. The objective was to get India to agree to support their proposed document format OOXML in the ISO deliberations. Unfortunately, these complaints have painted several participants in the Indian committee as villains acting against Indian national interests. A lot of dirty mud was flung on to many individuals and organizations, tarnishing their names and reputation. The objective of this paper is merely to demonstrate that such distasteful activities may invoke a strong reaction. The same process can be effectively used by others as well to sling mud at you in turn. The author believes that the resulting mud-slinging battle may achieve nothing positive, except that all participants including by-standers will get their cloth littered in dirty mud!

This hypothetical counter-complaint has been constructed using a formal but hypothetical ‘mudslinging algorithm’ originally (again hypothetically) developed by Microsoft. The algorithm is unpublished and is probably patented. The author has used sample complaint documents created using this algorithm, which he has access to, and which were submitted in the recent past by Microsoft to various authorities in India. These sample documents are likely to be available in public domain. Prospective authors desirous of developing such effective complaints may access these through the Indian 'Right To Information' (RTI) act, for which at least one co-author or supporter must be an Indian citizen.

Names of real organizations and people have been used for effectiveness of the sample. However, the scenarios painted in the sample are purely imaginary. Any resemblance to the actual activities by individuals or organizations is purely coincidental.

Significant additions and extensions to the given sample are possible, for which an in-depth understanding of the original Microsoft algorithm will be necessary. This mud-slinging algorithm is an old algorithm evolved and perfected by Microsoft continuously over the years, always maintaining backward compatibility. You will thus have to work really hard to decipher the correct interpretation and implementation of their legacy complex interfaces, for dovetailing the algorithm with your own ideas. Since Microsoft has a new interoperability initiative, help may be sought through that route.

Microsoft is understood to have put all the complex interfaces for this mudslinging algorithm for international examination, so as to make this algorithm an international standard. However, Microsoft insisted that such standardization must be done in a very short time span in a fast track process. Delegates of various nations did assemble for a detailed technical discussion, eagerly waiting for clarifications on thousands of queries. To the surprise of these experts, through a process adopted in that meeting, Microsoft managed to effectively hide as many as 98.44% of these serious queries (some say 98.7%) from an open and public technical debate at the highest level of participation of various national bodies. A working group has now been appointed to quietly dispose all the concerns.

In the absence of proper clarity and resolution of these pending issues, the 'quality' of the mud produced may not reach the desired dirty level.

A2. Basic Principles

The basic principles of this elegant Microsoft mud slinging algorithm are rather few and simple:

i. Be clear of your final objective. Achieving that end is the only important thing in life. Remember that you are fighting a war. Your main job is to get as many people as possible to support you. There may be some people and organizations which may not be convinced by your arguments. Such entities must be converted to your side by any means. You must forget the philosophy ‘end does not justify the means’. Instead, you must adopt the more suitable philosophy which states that ‘everything is fair in love and war’.
ii. Those who persist with their opposition need to be denigrated in no uncertain terms as being 'bad people'. Since such opposition may be otherwise respectable in the eyes of some, you must sling mud at them so that they look bad and dirty.
Iii. The mud is to be composed of a few truths, a lot of half-truths, and some cleverly disguised lies.
iv. To be more effective, use phrases which paint the 'bad' opposition as 'evil'. Blasphemous terms, such as 'acting against the national interest', will cause every reader to take urgent notice.
v. When you generally throw mud on a relatively large group, some onlookers and even some friends may be tarnished. Tender sensitivities of several people will be badly hurt. Clear yourself of any conscience. Remember that a large number of soldiers on either side ordinarily die in a war. It is not uncommon for a few civilians, who have nothing to do with the war, also to suffer. Monuments and tombs are usually built for all of them. A few relatives come to cry over those tombs every year. But your job is to win without worrying about such casualties. In modern commercial wars, some friends and others standing around may have to be sacrificed for the greater cause, viz., your victory. Their suffering is merely a collateral damage in the war.

The principles stated above are merely generic guidelines. The true skill lies in their application in formulating an effective mudslinging attack. This is illustrated by the sample 'counter complaint' letter given in the next section. [Footnotes] are cited at the end of the composition to illustrate some finer points. It is recommended that prospective authors should do a lot of practice by composing several bits and pieces of such mudslinging before preparing the final document and submitting it to multiple authorities including the highest authority of the concerned nation.

A3. Sample Hypothetical Counter Complaint letter

From: Concerned citizens of India
Date: Whichever relevent
The Honorable Prime Minister of India,
(with copies to all the Honorable Ministers of the Government of India, and to the Secretaries of various Ministries of the Government of India)

Sub: Microsoft looting the nation in alliance with Indian IT giants

Honourable Sir Prime Minister,

We have come to learn from reliable sources that a foreign multinational company Microsoft is planning to ransack the nation through their monopoly products. They are being aided in this effort by some giants of the Indian Industry. The following facts are submitted to your kind self for your serious and immediate consideration.

i. It is well known that Microsoft has been building its monopoly stranglehold [1] over global desktop software market through a large number of propriety binary formats and protecting these with patents ensuring that no competition emerges.

ii. When International Standards Organization (ISO), after years of patient and detailed technical work, was about to accept a competing document format standard called ODF as an international technical standard, Microsoft felt threatened and tried to push its own OXML standard through ISO. Microsoft was in a hurry to quash this upstart competing standard threatening its monopoly, so it chose a process called fast-track process at the ISO deliberations.

iii. When several countries around the world, including India, raised serious technical issues, instead of satisfactorily resolving all of these, Microsoft adopted influencing and pressurizing tactics [2] to get favourable vote from such nations participating in the ISO process.

iv. It is a well known fact that Microsoft office suite, like their browser 'Internet Explorer' is available ONLY on the Microsoft Windows Operating System. By refusing to open up the interfaces for all such tools to permit these to function on other competing operating environments, Microsoft continues its stranglehold on the entire global desktop market by ensuring their monopoly and prohibiting competition. It is well known that the European Union has imposed a fine of Billions of dollars [3] for such monopolistic practices. Microsoft continues to pay the fine but has not yet changed its monopolistic ways.

v. Microsoft operations in India have always tried to establish and sustain their monopolistic practices to control 100% market share on the Indian desktop market. The operational practice used by Microsoft has been very clever. They first let people just copy their software freely. It is even alleged that they surreptitiously use hardware vendors to offer such copies when PCs are purchased [4]. They then deliberately ignore use of such pirated software, and once people and corporate bodies get addicted to their software, they suddenly threaten to sue if the legal licenses are not bought by the users at Microsoft defined high prices for each PC. There are many examples of such threatening letters [5].

vi. The ODF standard already accepted by ISO, has multiple implementations available from different vendors on multiple platforms including Windows, Linux, etc. These permit users to buy licenses at competitive prices. One of the implementations, called Open Office, is actually in open source and can be downloaded totally free of cost from Internet. The Microsoft products, being proprietary on the other hand, are extremely costly. As an example of how the Microsoft monopoly will cause exorbitant cost to poor Indian users, consider as an example, just 10 users in an SME company using the Microsoft environment. The company will have to shell out more than Rs. 100,000 as license fees just for the office products, in addition to about Rs. 30,000 for windows operating system. Even if just 1 million Indian SME companies were to adopt this solution over the next three years, the nation will have to dole out a phenomenal cost of Rs. 1,30,000 Crores in foreign exchange to Microsoft just on this count [6]. Many SMEs, which are desperately trying to enhance their global competitiveness to build national wealth [7], may face serious problems and may have to close shop because of the burden of such high license costs [8].

vii. INFOSYS, TCS, and WIPRO are leading IT companies of the country which offer their services globally. NASSCOM is an association of which they are all founding members. These companies have substantial business interests in Microsoft and in Microsoft technologies, and have significant relationship with Microsoft in terms of specific business units, labs, and practices, specially put in place to interact exclusively with Microsoft [9].

viii. These companies and their mouthpiece association NASSCOM have teamed up with Microsoft, specifically to protect Microsoft’s monopoly over desktop market in India. There are many [10] instances where these companies have caused humongous loss to Indian consumers while safeguarding Microsoft monopoly.

ix. As an example, we bring to your notice, the implementation of MCA-21 project by TCS which, for the end user, can work ONLY on Microsoft’s Internet explorer, in spite of their commitment to Government that the solution will work on all browsers on different operating platforms. Since all the registered companies in India have to compulsorily file their information on-line, they are all being forced to submit to Microsoft’s monopoly prices and terms with this active help from TCS.

x. We also quote the example of the famous banking solution ‘Finacle’ by INFOSYS, whose front-end is certified only to function on Internet Explorer of Microsoft. This solution is used by many large public sector banks of the country. All employees of these important PSUs are forced to use Microsoft Monopoly products, thus causing great loss to Indian exchequer and thereby to Indian tax payer.

xi. We wish to add the TCS offering of FNS has exactly the same explicit support for Microsoft. There was a rumor in Australian circles that the original owner company of this FNS software was planning to make this solution work on multiple platforms [11]. Perhaps sensing a threat to the monopoly of Microsoft [12], TCS has bought over that company with full ownership rights of that software [13]. TCS thus merrily continues to serve the monopoly interests of Microsoft in India [14].

xii. Another instance of this alliance is the e-learning software for village schools developed and deployed by Azim Premji Foundation [15]. This software has been developed to work exclusively on Microsoft environment. The poor village schools, which are keen on training rural children in IT, are made to pay through their nose for the Microsoft environment.

xii. The most concrete proof of the working of this alliance is clearly seen in the actions of these companies in the recent meetings of an important committee LITD 15, constituted by the Bureau of Indian Standards to examine the proposed OOXML standard and to determine Indian position on the same, where these companies voted asking India to change her earlier disapproval vote for the proposal. It is to be remembered that the same organizations had been part of the earlier unanimous opinion of the committee which had listed many specific and serious concerns that needed to be resolved. Many of these concerns related to Microsoft’s proprietary and patented features being present in the standard [16].

xiii. The Indian delegation to the Geneva meeting had clearly informed the committee that there was no technical discussion on these critical concerns and that all of these are not yet resolved to our satisfaction. It is worth noting that in the committee comprising 22 members, only these 4 commercial organizations along with Microsoft voted for change in the Indian position. All of them are clearly working in alliance with Microsoft and are deliberately acting against Indian national interests [17].

xv. There is a large number of NGOs who have been vociferous in the past against such monopolistic practices of Microsoft. Representations from a few well known NGOs are enclosed with this appeal [18]. All of these request the Government to take an urgent action in the interests of the Indian consumers, and in the wider interests of the nation [19].

xvi. We earnestly appeal to you to immediately ban Microsoft operations in India, to save the country from their monopolistic practices, and to protect the national interests [20]. The Government may also consider suitably warning the Indian organizations to behave differently and correctly while conducting their business.

Yours truly,

(A group of dedicated Indians)


[1] Terms such as 'well known' need not be substantiated! Even if untrue, the reader will assume that the statement is true, if only to guard against being dubbed ignorant! In any case, every commercial entity in a free market economy would like to benefit through whatever monopoly it can establish and sustain. It is the task of other agencies established by the society to ensure that competition thrives, so that such attempts are thwarted and the consumers benefit.

[2] There is enough venom against Microsoft in print and on web. Relatively juicier components, specially written by 'well known' experts should be annexed as proof. Fortunately, there are truly well known and respected technical experts on both sides of the divide. But even otherwise, use of the phrase 'well known' absolves you of giving any proof. Specially choose opinions of those who earlier held that OOXML is inadequate and immature; but later felt that, if Microsoft is truly opening up and is willing to ensure openness of the standard and its interoperability with ODF, then this effort ought to be supported. Of course, you quote only the earlier opinions. In fact you may want to suggest that these experts were influenced by Microsoft to change their opinion. 'Coerced', or 'bought over' may be even more appropriate terms. You must very carefully avoid any mention of Microsoft making their binary formats public. If someone else points that out later, you can genuinely counter it by quoting ‘deliberate delays’, ‘initial attempts to control the public availability only through Microsoft’, 'information not being integral part of the proposed standard', etc.

[3] The actual figure and the exact cause of dispute need not be mentioned. The phrase 'well known' again comes to your help. Also, 'Billions of dollars' will effortlessly go through, as most readers will vaguely remember newspaper headlines stating the fact that a fine was indeed imposed.

[4] A slur of 'mild' mud at friends from the Manufacturers' Association (MAIT)

[5] Since anything more than 1 is technically ‘many’, just two such letters will suffice. Author of this sample can dig out copies of more than two!

[6] Examples using simple arithmetic and some assumed statistical values go a long way to prove a point. The math can be wrong, e.g., Rs 130,000 Croses instead of Rs 13000 Crores. Nobody checks! You must omit to mention that at least several companies may find the Microsoft suite to be more convenient to use, and the company may determine that the price is worth paying. If this is later shown to be the case, claim that such 'convenience' comes out of the familiarity which Microsoft deliberately bred in the minds of Indian consumers by permitting piracy!

[7] That a company is primarily trying to generate wealth for itself is not relevant here.

[8] There could be many reasons for a SME company to close down. Very likely, market conditions such as slack demand, inefficient operations, poor quality of work, bad marketing, etc., may be the real reasons. But since this counter complaint is against Microsoft, ignore all these points as being inapplicable.

[9] Even a small annual business interest of US$ 100M translates to over Rs. 400 Crores of revenue, which is ‘substantial’ in the eyes of any Indian readers. Of course, you must omit to mention that the individual overall annual business of these companies is orders of magnitude more. Similarly you must not mention that they also have such labs and relationships for practically every major technology/vendor of the world, including Open Source technologies.

[10] Again ‘many’ is just more than 1, so 2 examples will do. Since you have clubbed 3 companies together, one example for each will add to a total of 3 instances, which is certainly ‘many’.

[11] You can significantly 'improve' the dirty quality and quantity of the mud by claiming ‘rumours’, which do not have to be substantiated at all!

[12] Pure fiction

[13] Pure fact

[14] More mud!

[15] Finally, for good measure, you also add something to implicate WIPRO. No matter if the instance you are quoting has nothing to do with WIPRO directly, since the foundation is an entirely independent entity. But every Indian citizen will mentally read WIPRO when Azim Premji’s name is mentioned, thus serving your purpose. You must not, naturally, even remotely indicate the great impact the foundation’s work has made on the education in village schools of Karnataka.

[16] Again, No mention must be made that Microsoft has now made these binary formats available publicly.

[17] The Blasphemy! No Indian in the right mind will believe that these organizations will ever act against national interests. Your job, however, is to create serious doubts in the minds of readers. This is justified because your job is to ensure achieving your ultimate objective. These organizations merely serve as sacrificial lambs in your war.

[18] There exists a very large number of NGOs doing grass root level activities, some of whom would be willing to write such strong letters of appeal. It is preferable to get at least one letter signed by the IT chief of that NGO. Also, do not worry much if not many in the country have heard much about these NGOs. They are ‘well known’ because you say so!

[19] Keep reinforcing the blasphemy. The phrase ‘national interests’ is actually very powerful, although you may not believe in it at all.

[20] The master stroke. The main objective of throwing out Microsoft from India is mentioned only once at the end. Rest of the complaint is merely to prepare the necessary background and a suitable mindset which may encourage the Government to take you seriously.

A4. Concluding remarks

The following portion of an old song, recently recited by my friend George Mathew (who is MD of LIC) in a dinner get together, perhaps sums up the moral of this hypothetical exercise. This used to be my favorite in 1970s, as a very sobering reminder for good conduct.

Bhala kije bhala hoga,
Boora kije boora hoga;

Sajan re jhuth mat bolo,
Khuda ke pas jana hai;
Na hathi hai na ghoda hai,
wahan paidal hi jana hai;

[If you do good to others, good will happen to you.
If you do bad, then bad will happen to you.
Friend, please do not lie or use falsehood.
Remember that all of us have to depart one day on our journey to God.
Neither your elephant nor your horse will be available for that journey,
Each of us has to walk that distance]

For me, this is a reminder that wealth should be generated legally and ethically. Any falsehood used in the process would make it ‘bad’ wealth, all of which one has to leave behind anyway.

(Dr Deepak B Phatak)
26 May 2008