Background: OpenDocument format was approved as an ISO standard in May 2006. This was important for the free software community because there are free software applications for reading and writing OpenDocument files.
It was also good news because we could now ask governments to use this standard instead of existing proprietary formats. Most governments currently use Microsoft's Word format, and while we have software to read and write that format, our software isn't perfect, and it will never be perfect because we can't see the specification of that format. As a counter-move, Microsoft then applied to have its format also approved as an ISO standard.
Recent events: Microsoft requested that their format approved by a "fast-track" procedure. The fast-track procedure is appropriate for applications which don't contradict existing ISO standards. The Grokdoc website did a great job of examining Microsoft's format and building a list of where it contradicts existing ISO standards. There were then efforts in many countries to inform national standards agencies of these contradictions so that they could raise these when responding in ISO's discussion of the fast-track request.
This request was discussed by ISO and its national mirror committees on February 6th, and the request was rejected. So Microsoft's application will follow the usual, more detailed process.
For more information:
For supporters of OpenDocument, we also have to learn from this process. We repeated some of the same mistakes made in the anti software patents campaign, and those were that we overloaded some people in the national standards bodies, and sometimes we were not well informed of what we were talking about. Here's more information.
There's no way to say what the right balance between making ourselves heard and holding back until we understand the issue is, but the general lesson to take from this is that we have to remember that the people we're sending letters to are humans, and humans like short, on-topic communications.