Friday, July 03, 2009

Last minute dramas around around Open Standards

Now that India's Draft Policy on Open Standards is close to finalization, the usual last-minute dramas are on. In a new twist, I am told that NASSCOM and MAIT have submitted their recommendations, purportedly on behalf of the industry. If this is indeed the case, my organization, Red Hat was not consulted. I also checked with IBM and they too were not consulted. Since Red Hat and IBM have been key players in this area, this is definitely intriguing. I shot off a letter to both MAIT and NASSCOM and a copy of the letter to NASSCOM is reproduced below. It is self explanatory. The letter to MAIT had minor editorial changes but is essentially the same letter.


Mr. Som Mittal,



International Youth Centre,
Teen Murti Marg,
New Delhi 110 021
Phone: 91-11- 2301 0199

Dear Sir,

We have been informed that NASSCOM has submitted its opinion on the Draft Open Standards Policy for e-governance to the Department of Information Technology, Government of India. We have been informed that NASSCOM's submission supports the inclusion of standards under Reasonable and Non Discriminatory (RAND) terms and also the usage of multiple standards in the same domain.

Red Hat has been actively involved in the standards issue and we would like to place on record that we have not been consulted by NASSCOM before this submission was made. We DO NOT support the above recommendations of NASSCOM for the following reasons.

1) Standards should belong to humanity and not be controlled or owned by anyone. In the physical world, we do not pay for using standards like weights and measures. These are norms of civil society that have evolved over centuries and the digital world should be no exception to these norms.

2) In order to protect India's digital sovereignty, we must ensure that national data is stored in formats that are open and free of all encumbrances like royalties, patent claims etc. The Government is the custodian of data that belongs to the citizens of India. It must therefore ensure that this data is not stored in formats that are owned and controlled by anyone.

3) e-Government data like land records etc remain relevant for hundreds of years. If this data is stored in proprietary formats, it will prove expensive for the country in the long-term. It is also seen that proprietary formats are controlled by monopolistic outfits that (a) drive the adoption of a technology (b) file a thicket of patents around that technology and (c) litigate or threaten litigation if royalties are not paid. India must avoid getting into this trap at all costs.

4) For each application area, there must be only a single standard. The use of multiple standards will lead to tremendous complications in the practice of e-governance. Since data is at the heart of e-governance, the confusion created by using multiple e-government standards in the same domain may bring e-governance to a stand still. For example, if different government departments use different standards for document storage, it could greatly slow down or even thwart the process of exchanging files among government departments.

5) Vendors should collaborate on standards and compete on their implementation. The most popular standards like HTML and Unicode are standards that are supported by a vast number of industry players. Multiple standards in the same domain leads to fragmentation. It also helps vendors who can leverage their marketing muscle to drive users towards their own proprietary standards instead of open standards that are created through collaboration and consensus.

6) The Draft Open Standards Policy for e-governance has been in the works for the last two years and several public consultations have been held on this subject. NASSCOM's presence was not visible at any of these consultations and therefore a comment being made at this late stage, when the policy is close to being finalized is surprising. The two recommendations (RAND terms and multiple standards), if accepted, will lead to nullifying the work of the committee that has toiled for the last two years to create this policy because it will land us back to the current status quo dominated by multiple, proprietary standards.

7) We welcome the acknowledgment of open source in the policy. Both open source and open standards are inclusive movements and are therefore closely related to each other. In India, open source is now an integral part of many mission-mode e-government projects and it mention in this policy recognizes its long-term strategic importance in the e-Government sector.

8) We have reviewed version 1.15 of the Draft Policy and would like to place on record our appreciation of the excellent work done by this committee. The Draft Policy does an great job of protecting India's digital sovereignty and avoiding the clutches of proprietary standards. We therefore request NASSCOM's help and support in ensuring that the policy is approved "as is" without any further dilution.

With warm regards,

Venkatesh Hariharan
Corporate Affairs Director
Red Hat


Prajeev said...

If Open Standards are followed the Pyramid gets inverted and the Power Equation changes in the Society, which the people at the top of the present Pyramid do not want. People should govern their own life and not allowed by any one to govern them. Open standards give direction to that effect, where there would be no monopoly and Information, knowledge and Power is decentralized.

Any big ticket contracts are bound to have kickbacks. Let everything be decentralized and let the end user decide. The real panchyathraj can be realized only by the above.

I will site an example here for clarity: Earlier the Kendriya Vidyalay Sanghatan used to take decision at the central level as to what would be required at the School level, which could be right or wrong rather it could be against the will of the KVs or which suited their needs.
Now every thing has been decentralized and Principal is given the Budget and authority to decide what she or he wants best for the School so that they have better results. Now the responsibility on the Principal has gone up along with Power as she or he can't shift the incidence for any wrong decision and at the same time KV Sangathan is to monitor only the outcome i.e. better results for the children in their respective curriculum.

I have no surprises here for not consulting IBM and Red Hat as they both are the advocates of Open Standards.

How long people can be fooled ?. People are getting more and more connected and communication among people are happening than what the babus can imagine.

The so called time tested and old "Command and control Structures" are going and the real Democracy is evolving for the good of the society.

Hoarding money can't do anything in the days to come, it is knowledge which is vigorously pursued by the people at the lower level than the laggards at the top, so we can see the change happening.

So Venky do not worry, I subscribe to your views and frustrations, again ultimately "TRUTH HAPPENS" and THAT ONLY HAPPENS rest everything is crap.

Venky said...

Thanks Prajeev, for your support.

Anonymous said...

I thought, NASCOMM duty is to cry only $ value is going down. The (foolish) recommendation to policy shows that, they also act a Power Broker or Agent for Monopolies.

Bharathi said...

Are you talking about the section 6.2.(1-3)? Mention the other modified sections also. So we will get a clear picture.

Kapil Hari Paranjape said...

Your letter was an eye-opener and prompted me to read and write about
it. Thanks!

Vivara Vicharam said...

There shall not be any compromise on the question of open standards.

Allowing multiple standards go against the very objectives of the policy initiative and shall not be agreed to.

Thanks, Venky, for having put in your immediate response as also for bringing this issue open for discussion.