May cooler heads prevail
I've blogged a bit recently about the ugly tone of some of the tactics that have been used in the document-formats debate. Now today comes welcome news of a more reasonable and level-headed approach.
Datuk Dr. Mohamad Ariffin Aton, the chief executive of Sirim Bhd, which assists Malaysia's Department of Standards in standards development processes, has decided to suspend the evaluation process for a proposal to mandate ODF as the one and only Malaysian document format standard. He said that some members of the technical committee "had become proxies of international bodies with a business interest in promoting ODF," adding that ODF supporters had chosen to ignore the dissenting voices in committee as well as objections raised in the public responses, and "there has been unprofessional conduct and a lack of ethical standards among some members of the technical committee."
"No time frame has been set to resume the process," according to Ariffin. "I am waiting for everyone to calm down before we do so."
As the Tech Central story today reports:
Ariffin said there is no chance of ODF or OpenXML being made a mandatory standard in Malaysia, for two reasons.
First, a standard can only be mandatory when public health or safety is at stake, which is clearly not the case here, he said.
Second, a mandatory standard would constitute an illicit non-tariff barrier against software products using other document formats, according to him. He said this would violate Malaysia's commitments to free trade under the World Trade Organisation.
The Malaysian document standard would only constitute an advisory endorsement of the document format's suitability for use, said Ariffin.
"Ultimately, it is up to the general public and users in both the public and private sectors to decide which format they want to use," he said.
Freedom of choice, in other words. A simple concept, and one that often gets lost in the circular debates about all the technical details.
The Malaysian development is great news, and it will be nice if more countries decide to take charge of these processes and give their citizens freedom of choice. But it can be hard to see past all the noise sometimes. I saw a great example of this last week when I was in Prague for a workshop.
While I was there, I heard that the OpenDocument Fellowship had published a list of "government decisions to adopt OpenDocument format (ODF)." I happened to be in the Czech Republic, so I checked out the link on that list for the Czech Republic. I expected to find a document endorsing ODF and ODF alone, of course.
But when I searched that document for OpenDocument, I found no hits. So I tried searching for ODF -- no hits on that, either. Hmm -- how can that document contain news of a decision to adopt ODF without actually mentioning ODF? So I stepped through every slide in that presentation, reading every word, and found the one and only reference to document formats in the entire document. It's at the bottom of slide 7, and here's what it says:
Does that sound like a "decision to adopt OpenDocument format"?
Looking through the rest of that document, I also came across these sorts of statements:
- Under "OSS Experience" -- "Interoperability problems with central state information systems (closed platforms)"
- Under "OSS vs. MICR (the future" -- "validity of OSS licenses is questionable regarding the Czech copyright, civic code and contractual laws"
- On the final slide, the final conclusion reads "While there is a demand for open source repositories, there is also need for information on proprietary products that can be operated on OSS products."
Which makes me wonder: how many others on that list are like the example above? I'm sure somebody will take a look and publish that list soon, which should make for interesting reading.
Meanwhile, with these types of misrepresentations being spread around, Dr. Ariffin did the right thing.