[Fsf-friends] The Hindu: Techies protest proprietary standards; seek policy

Praveen A pravi.a at gmail.com
Tue Apr 15 08:59:54 IST 2008

Today's Hindu has a report on Candle Light Vigil and Campaign for
Document Freedom.

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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