Saturday, September 15, 2007

Prof. Ashok Jhunjhunwala on OOXML

Yesterday, there was an interview of Prof. Ashok Jhunjhunwala in the Times of India where he supported OOXML. He also repeated Microsoft's statement that users want a choice of multiple formats. Prof. Jhunjhunwala is a very respected academician and prima-facie, the Microsoft line seems to make eminent sense. After all, who can argue about choice? (BTW, since when has Microsoft been about choice?) Let's scratch a little deeper by asking a few questions about choice:

1) When you wake up in the morning and choose which side of the road you drive on? I certainly don't?

2) Did you like the choice of Microsoft's HTML versus Netscape's HTML? Both companies created their own proprietary extensions to HTML that threatened to fragment the Internet. Even today, there are web sites that say "optimized to XYZ browser" and to me that is a sign of bad software design. Ironically, the Bureau of Indian Standards web site says, "Best viewed in MSIE 4.0 and above browsers." If you are developing or redesigning a web site, it would be much better to make your web site compliant to the World Wide Web (W3C) standards (called recommendations in W3C parlance). I am much happier having one single, unified web standard because it makes my life easier.

I therefore urge academics, policy makers and others to push for common, unified document standards, not a multiplicity of standards. The industry and vendors should collaborate on standards and compete on their implementation.

PS: There was one important question that the Times of India journalist missed asking Microsoft. I would have loved to know what the venerable professor thinks of Microsoft's attempts at Ballot Box Engineering on the OOXML issue.

Software Freedom Day

Today is Software Freedom Day. According to Wikipedia:

"Software Freedom Day (SFD) is an annual worldwide celebration of the free/open-source software. SFD is a public education effort, not only to celebrate the virtues of free and open source software, but also to encourage its use, to the benefit of the public."

We don't usually link the two words "Software" and "freedom" together. After all, what does the high tech world of software have to do with freedom? However, freedom is basic to any human activity and software is no exception.

For example, the open standards movement is about your freedom to encode (create) and decode (retrieve) your own data. If you store data in proprietary formats, only the maker of that format knows how to unlock that data and you are now dependent on that vendor. This is like buying house but the keys to the house still remain with the builder. Why take the risk? Actively use open formats like ODF and OGG and avoid using proprietary formats like .doc and .mpeg which are proprietary formats.

The open source and free software movement is about your freedom to modify code and share it with others. It is for this reason that Linux can scale from tiny embedded systems to mighty supercomputers. Wikipedia is about your freedom to share knowledge and information with each other.

Over the next few years this movement will go from strength to strength because the open source and free software communities have shown that we can grow richer by sharing!