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 AtonDatuk 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.

Fact Czeching

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.

Comments (13)
  1. It’s good to see the latest news out of Malaysia , where they have decided to take a step back from the

  2. Marbux says:

    Doug, you apparently missed slide number 6 in the document regarding the Czech Republic. It clearly states that the units of government mentioned in the OpenDocument Fellowship page have adopted

    The Fellowship web site blurb about the linked document says, "Many government units in the Czech Republic have adopted, an application that supports the OpenDocument format. They include the Czech Railway Inspectorate and the municipalities of Decin, Domazlice, Ostrava-South, Blansko, and Caslav."

    The statement is confirmed by the linked document. So what is your quarrel? I’ll happily correct any entries that are in error. But as nearly as I can tell, your criticism is invalid.

  3. Doug Mahugh says:

    I don’t understand.  That document is on a list of documents that you say are "government decisions to adopt OpenDocument format."  How does that document support that statement?

    Yes, a few small areas of the Czech government are using OpenOffice.  Perhaps, like many people, they’re using the binary Office formats and using OpenOffice as a low-cost editor.  Other governments use MS Office, which supports ODF through the translator.  Pointing to these sorts of deployments as "decisions to adopt OpenDocument format" (your words) is misleading.

    To state the obvious, a "decision to adopt a document format" should probably mention a document format somewhere in it.

  4. Frank Daley says:

    Doug, you said "Dr. Ariffin did the right thing". However what you have effectively said is that Malaysia has done the right thing by NOT adopting the one and only International Standard for office documents. The ODF ISO document standard is 100% available and open for anyone to implement, including Microsoft.

    Please explain how that is the right thing for anyone except Microsoft? And of course you have to admit that the file format used by Microsoft Office 2007 is NOT 100% available and open for anyone to implement. Only a sub-set of the file format has been disclosed. Such is standard practice for Microsoft that continues to use the embrace, extend and exterminate philosophy.

  5. Thomas says:

    I have to agree with marbux here; when so many municipalities and branches of the government already use OOo it is certainly not unfair to say that government adapts ODF. Your counter arguments seems to be along the lines of "They may use the product, but who said they are using it to its fullest potential?".  That is just spreading uncertainty without cause.

    Does the slide state the government puts its full backing behind ODF? No, probably not. But change is slow and for a country with some 10 million people with all the major cities having switched to OOo, its fair to state the government is adopting it.

  6. hAl says:

    The artikel is just a list of institutes that use OpenOffice.

    It is even verified for versions of OpenOffice that actually support OpenOffice as I have recently been at one of those institutions and their OOo version isn’t even ODF capable yet and they were indeed using OOo with MS binary formats as the default.

    But since with the ODF plugin MS office 2007 is now an ODF capable application I think that list has the potential to grow exponentially !!

  7. Doug Mahugh says:

    Frank, I don’t agree that people will be well-served by labeling ODF as the one and only international standard for office documents.  For example, numerous organizations have been implementing custom-schema solutions on WordML since 2003, and they’re now moving those solutions to WordprocessingML in Open XML — I don’t agree that those people should have to choose between using an ISO standard and using those types of applications they’ve chose to build.  The right thing for all of those people is to have freedom to choose based on their needs and priorities.

    Thomas, I’ve not said anything about using OpenOffice — I’m just talking about document formats here.  And if it’s fair to state that the Czech government is adopting ODF, I’d like to see them state that; as it stands, they’ve only stated that they’re using OpenOffice.  Can you point me at a Czech government web site that has a higher number of ODF documents that Office documents?  Absent that, I don’t agree that choosing OpenOffice implies anything about a document-format selection.

    One thing we all agree on is that ODF is elegant and easy to implement, and that it has a rightful place as an ISO standard.  I just said so today in an Open XML workshop, in fact, as I often do when discussing how ODF and Open XML compare.  Where we disagree is whether we’re pro- or anti-Open XML.

  8. Marbux says:

    Doug, the flaw in your logic is the fact that OOo is presently incapable of full fidelity in writing and reading the Microsoft binary formats and similarly the various plugins currently available for MS Word to write to ODF are even worse. This should change once the OpenDocument Foundation’s da Vinci plug-in for Word is released.

    But in the meantime, to accept your argument would require believing that governments are willing to accept unpredictable data loss just to integrate OOo with Microsoft-bound business processes. Given the near-universality of government data preservation requirements, I think your theory is a non-starter.  <em>See e.g.,</em> E-SIGN Act, <a href="">15 U.S.C. 7001(d)(1)(B)</a> (electronically preserved records must "accurately reflect[] the information set forth in the contract or other record" and be "in a form that is capable of being accurately reproduced for later reference, whether by transmission, printing, or otherwise"); Sarbanes-Oxley Act, <a href="">15 U.S.C. 7261(b)</a> (financial information must "not contain an untrue statement of a material fact") (applicable to government-owned corporations).

    Your logic would also require that governments are willing to disregard the requirements of international treaties that governments use software supporting open "international" standards, which makes the use of ISO/IETF standards mandatory for governments at all levels.

    <em>See e.g.,</em> Agreement on Technical Barriers to Trade, which <em>inter alia</em> governs the development of international standards. It also requires their use in <a href="">Article 2 section 2.4</a> ("[w]here technical regulations are required and relevant international standards exist or their completion is imminent, Members shall use them, or the relevant parts of them, as a basis for their technical regulations");  Agreement on Government Procurement <a href="">Article VI section 2(b)</a> (requiring that procurement tenders "be based on international standards, where such exist").

    Those duties are taken seriously, particularly in Europe.  <a href=",39026564,39278617,00.htm">As stated</a> by the head of the European Commission’s IDABC, Barbara Held, "[o]nly specifications that are issued by public standardisation bodies are considered standards by the European Commission." OASIS or Ecma adoption of a standard is legally insufficient. ISO/IETF approval is required.

    And of course that’s precisely why Microsoft is pursuing ISO standardization of its own XML file formats instead of supporting the existing standards. But the fact remains that it would be unlawful for governments signatory to the relevant treaties to procure new software that does not support ODF, at least until such time as Microsoft might persuade ISO the world really needs is competing standards, which is directly contrary to the entire reason for the Agreement on Technical Barriers to Trade.

    So I’m not buying your theory. I’ll grant that trying to divine information about government ODF adoption decisions from various news reports in a consistent way is difficult. I do the best I can with the information that is available to me. You are more than welcome to set up your own tracking system that applies different criteria.  I’ll note, however, that such a task is more work than criticizing other people’s work.

    Regarding hAI’s post, he is a reliable and copious source of disinformation regarding office file formats and the most frequent vandalizer of the OpenDocument pages on Wikipedia. My personal policy is to never respond to his posts and see no need for a departure before he produces content that can be confirmed.

  9. Marbux says:

    By the way, Doug, slide 6 of the document linked as a reference for the Czech Republic also mentions that the municipal bodies that have adopted are having "Interoperability problems with central state

    information systems (closed platforms)." (PDF). So it doesn’t sound to me like the municipalities have set Microsoft binary formats as the default file format in OOo as you suggest might be the case.

  10. __hAl__ says:

    [quote]Regarding hAI’s post, he is a reliable and copious source of disinformation regarding office file formats and the most frequent vandalizer of the OpenDocument pages on Wikipedia. My personal policy is to never respond to his posts and see no need for a departure before he produces content that can be confirmed. [/quote]

    Your a digrace for bloggers everywhere. Of course to you everyone supplying information that is not in your mindset is spreading disinformation but I have found you to be one of the worst offenders of bringing such information.

    I regularly commented on your groklaw articles in the past with easy to confirm legal links but groklaw isn’t a good place for people that have different opinions as their comments are removed quickly.

    I have no doubt you tried to edit some of your own disinformation on wikipedia and I removed it and you still dislike that. I remember your very very poor legal analysis on the IP rights of OOXML as a good example. A complete joke in legal terms which showed you did not even know what is the importance of patent claims in US patent law.

    Anf why would I need to confirm information  suggesting people use OOo for something else then it’s odf capability. There is nothing in your article that actually proves that any of those organisations actualy use ODF. It is better to wait untill you try proving that…

  11. W^L+ says:

    Responding to the claims in the original article, the OpenMalaysia bloggers rebutted nearly all of the objections, showing why they were not showstoppers.

    You *cannot* claim that this is an unacceptable way to deal with those that oppose a standardization effort when Microsoft’s ECMA subsidiary just did the exact same thing.

    It must be difficult to argue two opposing points of view nearly simultaneously.

    Perhaps the stress of that is behind the petition in the UK. Nearly made _me_ cry. "Those meanies from IBM and the open source world are beating up on poor defenseless Microsoft, please help us!" Demonstrably false, but a tearjerker nonetheless.

  12. Doug Mahugh says:

    “Instead of either/or, we’re enabling interoperability between various document standards” — Gerd Schürmann,

  13. Doug Mahugh says:

    Man, what does a guy have to do to find a technical debate in Malaysia? I’ve spent 72 hours trying to

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