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Techies protest proprietary standards; seek policy

Deepa Kurup

ISO adopts Microsoft’s Office Open XML as a document standard


13 of 19 members of BIS voted against Microsoft’s OOXML

More than technical flaws identified in OOXML’s document


BANGALORE: Ever since the International Standardisation Organisation (ISO) vote on April 2 adopted Microsoft’s Office Open XML (OOXML) as a document standard, techie blogs and websites have been inundated with posts and articles voicing their opposition to proprietary software and technical issues with the new standard.

Organisations and online communities — such as the Free Software User Group and the Free and Open Source Software — are looking to raise the issue more aggressively in the public domain. “We call the OOXML format a “banana standard.” Besides raising awareness, we want the Government to formulate a policy supporting Open Software and also appeal the ISO mandate,” said Anivar Aravind, a software consultant who will participate in a rally in front of the Town Hall on Tuesday to raise awareness about Open Document formats and demand a national policy on standardisation and use of Open Software.

In simple words, the problem is one of compatibility, an important issue in this digital world. For example, take the much hyped e-governance. If the Government maintains its land records in a certain digital format, and the documentation uses a proprietary format, then a user will have to keep upgrading his operating system to access the record. Proponents of Free Software argue that even with Microsoft’s old document format (.doc), a file created seven to eight years ago may not be recognised by a modern operating systems such as XP. “This is like being sold a house without being given the key to it. We need public support to take it to the policy level,” says Venkatesh Hariharan, who was part of a Bureau of Indian Standards (BIS) committee.

The BIS, which represents India at ISO, had 19 members of which 13 voted against Microsoft’s OOXML. Many academics and colleges (NIT-Calicut among others) have written open letters to TCS, Infosys, NASSCOM, Wipro (that voted to abstain) and Microsoft (voted in favour of OOXML). There is a rising fear among academics and advocates of free software standards that BIS will come under pressure in the absence of any national policy. Tamil Nadu and Kerala are the only two States who have a policy in place.

“Very big voices like NASSCOM and Infosys that have not participated in even one meeting have voted irresponsibly. We fear that if such lobbying continues, academics and individuals like us will be put on the defensive, unless there is a policy in place,” said Nagarjuna G., professor at the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research, who was part of the technical committee of BIS. This committee alone identified 200-odd technical flaws in OOXML’s 7,000 page document — the Open Document Format is 600 pages — and more than 1,000 others were identified internationally.

The National Knowledge Commission Report 2006 and the Eleventh Five Year plan for Information Technology recommend Free Software.

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