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Open Standards

There’s a lot of hoohaa around at the moment that’s revolving around the standards to be used for future documents. For years the .doc proprietary format for Word files has ruled the roost, courtesy of the Windows monopoly and the fact that MS Office is a pretty capable program that would probably be able to stand on its own two feet and compete in the marketplace even without the Windows crutch.

It got to a point though where governments around the world, from the US to Europe and many others too, realised just how much of a problem this was, so they demanded a new standard be set up, open for all to use, so as to give all application developers a fair crack of the whip.

The Open Source community created one Open Standard they hoped would be accepted, but Microsoft created a Proprietary Open Standard instead, and this is the one being rushed through the ISO standards setting institution at the moment, as a fait accompli. Acceptance of the Open Source community’s standard is out of sight.

I’m not technical enough to understand the differences between these two standards, but I do know that if a standard owned by a single company is made into a world standard, that is a “bad thing”. It gives Institutional support, and Government support by proxy, to a thus strengthened corporate monopoly. When that monopoly has the morals and track record of a Microsoft, that has to be worrying.

I’m not the only one worried though. The European Commission has funded a report investigating the economic impact of open source in the business community in Europe (pdf download). The report found that in “almost all” cases long-term costs could be reduced by switching from proprietary software produced by firms such as Microsoft.

No wonder Microsoft has been frog-marching the standards regulators into a quick decision – they want their solution in place before anyone can spot its implications. Oh, and they’ve helpfully included the specification of their “standard” too – all 6,000 pages of it! And that’s not counting the supporting material. It all has to be read and reported on by interested parties by 5th February if they want to make a complaint. Nice.

What’s that saying? Ah yes, act in haste, repent at leisure. There’s going to be a rush on worry beads soon…

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