Friday, April 21, 2006

Standardisation of the Open Document Format 1.0 in Malaysia

I had a fantastic opportunity to attend the Standardisation process of the Open Document Format 1.0 in SIRIM's Technical Committee on E-Commerce today. This was the first time I was attending this committee, and I was thrilled of the outcome.

Basically it was just a formal process of going through the ODF spec and supporting it by the members of this Committee.

The formal process:
The standardization consortuim OASIS developed a specification, Open Document Format 1.0, and decided the specification's value would be improved if the specification were to become an international standard.

OASIS decided to employ a process in another organization, JTC 1, known as the Publicly Available Specification (PAS) process. OASIS has PAS Submitter status, which enabled them to submit specifications (such as ODF v1.0, and ebXML) to JTC 1 for approval as international standards.

In October 2005, OASIS submitted ODF 1.0. The six-month ballot period began November 1 2005 and ends May 1 2006.

It was explained that Malaysia was a Participative Member and is obliged to vote.

IBM played an important role in this, the rep from IBM, Hasannudin Saidin (Manager, Government Programs) outlined the importance and advantages of this format. The talk was very high level, i.e. the specs were not scrutinized, but the response from the committee members were very encouraging.

Simon Seow from the Malaysian National Computer Confederation (MNCC) supported it, saying that it would encourage local software development based on a common platform. The barriers of entry would be lower as people can now develop apps to generate documents which can be shared and re-used.

En Sidek Jamil from the Arkib Negara Malaysia (Malaysian Archives) was very supportive of this format as he is very interested in adopting a format which was open and would last a long time. I found it uplifting that the custodian of our heritage and 'intellectual property' supports this format too.

There were futher concurrs via email, from Telekom Malaysia, Institute of Engineers, Malaysia (IEM), Universiti Teknologi Malaysia (UTM) and The Association of Computers and Multimedia of Malaysia (PIKOM).

I added as a rep from FMM, that our members would be considered Users, and wholly support this format as it we are all for any reduction in costs, and increase in efficiency to be more competitive. But I also asked,
"With such strong support from our committee members who are represented from the entire IT industry, from Software Developers to Government Departments like the Archives and Customs, to Users like us, will there be a push or initiatives by the Government to educate the masses about the support of this standard so that it is known and recognised as a Malaysian Standard?"

I then cited the example of the Commonwealth of Massachusettes' directive and transition period from 2005 - 2007 before the cut-over to the ODF format.

The Chairman reiterated that this session was not for the rollout for ODF, but it was just a stamp of approval and support for the standard. However he directed the question to the representative from The Malaysian Administration and Modernisation Unit (MAMPU) as they are closest to the Government to drive such an initiative.

She however was very poor in her response. She just mumbled about something like MAMPU supports Open Standards and any standards are good for the government ... etc.

It was very dissapointing that unlike the rest of the committee members who 'get' the idea of how significant the ODF can benefit Malaysia, while she, arguably the most 'important' member, does not. :sigh:

Why do they always send such substandard representatives to important events? How will we ever get Governments' support if its these people we rely on to convince the Government to take up these as standards? I sure hope that there are more competent people in MAMPU driving this through or we mampus.

Also the representative from MDC (now MDeC) did not turn up, so there was no input from them.

Microsoft was also not represented, although there was an email comment from Dr Dzaharudin Mansor, stating:

"Consistent with our stand, Microsoft has no objections to the submission of the ODF standards despite being one that is not widely used and relatively new in the industry today."

Hmm... I wonder how widely used and new is the Microsoft OpenXML format?

More importantly, he adds:

"ISO has recognized the merits of competition and choise and has allowed for competing standards on the same subject ... Hence we would like to request assurance that this effort should not lead to the precluding [of] other competing document standards in the future. This includes the OpenXML standard that is being produced by ECMA and which will subsequently be submitted to ISO for acceptance"

So he wanted us to guarantee that we would also vote for OpenXML if he consented with this one. Unfortunately I dont think he has any leverage here...

So overall there was no objections to the submission of this as a standard, and it was interesting that it could be pushed as a Malaysian Standard (MS). The committee was also interested in joining the rapidly growing Open Document Format Alliance.

The meeting ended early, and the feeling and outcome certainly made my trip all the way to Shah Alam worthwhile.


Thursday, April 20, 2006

Ops Tulen 2006 - Marketing Overdrive

Oh wow.

What a response.

After the post, I received many emails from people who echoed my views (privately of course).
Here is a collection of threats which have since come my way, and I'd expect the volume to pick up as they are seriously going into overdrive now that 30th of April is only 11 days away!

The first is from Microsoft themselves (again)

Here, it says that the Government has added 700 more Enforcement Officers to drive the lynch mob. Thats quite amazing.

Lets say the squaddies get paid 1K per month, and this enforcement period runs 1-3 months: OK: 2 months. Thats an expenditure of at least 1.4m!

Imagine putting all that resources to informative roadshows to push Free Software. How much as a country will we actually save? I sincerely hope that its not my Tax Dollars which is going into this drive.

Next up, I received a promo pack from a very enthusiastic Reseller:

Same old stuff: Deadline by 30th April 2006, for the next year's 'protection'.

But interestingly, they have this new icons: Audit, Legalise and Crackdown. Must be a great marketing genius to come up with this. Like the same guys who live in Utah USA.

btw... how I wish I was just as hensem as the 'Head of IT' for the 'Local Conglomerate'. Any details on him?

Last and definitely the least:

A poorly poorly designed web-mailer from YAR (Yet Another Reseller). Notice how they cant even get those simple 3 icons right: Crackdown is symbolised by an inverted questionmark? Im confused.

Software piracy is not only a crime, but it can destroy computers And data, please protect yourself & your business to avoid penalty

Man there are so many things wrong with this sentence its not funny.

1) How does piracy destroy hardware? I guess when one of the 700 the enforcement agents come in to remove your hardware and manhandle them, its possible that hardware and software will get damaged.
2) "And data, please protect yourself..." You hear that Data? If you want to keep being a sentient LifeForm, you'd betta be careful!
3) You'd better pay up or you or your business or someone you love will die. Sounds as threatening as our friendly neighbourhood taiko. Whats with that explosion at the bottom? Is thats what will become of me?

Anyway, if any of you guys have more of this new form of government sponsored marketing materials, please send them over. Its fascinating.


Tuesday, April 18, 2006

2006 Ops Tulen

I got this threatening email a few days ago. It reports that the Malaysian Government has just Launched the 2006 Ops Tulen Korporat. It then proceeds to headline that SME's are getting Raided and a General Manager was Arrested. However nothing in the email contained more information of the headline. No details of the arrest, which companies are affected nor the nature of Ops Tulen.

Instead the email continues on offers by Microsoft and its resellers on programmes to sell more software by Licensing Education and more workshops. I guess I wouldn't be upset if it was a plain ol' marketing email to me, but whats scary is that they are using the Governments efforts to reduce piracy and subverting it as a marketing programme for a means to blatantly sell more licenses.

Wouldn't it be more effective if Ops Tulen instead of just the strong arm for the BSA, with all these arrests, changed tacked by INFORMING the citizens of Malaysia about readily available quality Free and Open Source software?

I found this posting by Khairil about Ops Tulen 2004-2005, and I think its a Great Idea.

I really need also quotes and examples of FOSS/FLOSS use by Malaysian businesses.


Chris DeMarco from MyDirectory states that, "Like others concerned about recent actions by the BSA and the police, our company has moved most our software to using free and open source software". He further states that almost all their staff are now using Fedora on the desktop and using the OpenOffice productivity suite. "We have not only saved on costs, but are also now able to make better use of more software without licensing restrictions of proprietary software" ...

Of course these quotes need to somehow fall into the ministry's press releases, or quoted by proper journalists.

Here's a 2003 Ops Tulen Circular:

The Ministry of Domestic Trade and Consumer Affairs, in its Ops Tulen enforcement campaign, has noticed a significant percentage of software infringement in the corporate end-user sector occurring as a result of software retail piracy. As such, the Ministry is viewing the issue of software retail piracy very seriously.

In it, it tells us the evils of piracy, and what happens to the pirates. Nowhere does it mention the ability for people to find cost effective alternatives in the means of FOSS, to stay legit. The ministry should point to websites such as Open Source Windows.

That way,
1) Piracy in Malaysia will decrease
2) People are educated in their Copy Rights.
3) Trade deficit in software for Msia is reduced
4) Malaysians can find software affordable and legal
5) Malaysian tax dollars would be better spent on education and self development instead on henchmen for foreign companies.

Overall, Ops Tulen can be a great thing. If only it wasnt driven by wrong intentions ...


Monday, April 10, 2006

UTF8 CSV files.

We're getting lists to be imported into MySQL in Excel (.xls) formats.
When we use MS Office to export it into CSV,
reading the data gives us gibberish, because
the default encoding is plain old ASCII.

There is not obvious setting available to change the ASCII to UTF8
for the csv file in Microsoft Office.

So I tried Open Office to see if it offers anything better.
In Save As, Change the Type to CSV, then the 'Edit Filter Settings'
checkbox will be enabled. Check this, and when you click save,
a dialog will appear requesting which Character Set to use.

And sure enough, it works like a charm.
The CSV loads up and saves into MySQL OK.

Hooray Open Office. Works better for multilingual requirements.

BTW, if anyone has the solution to export as UTF8 CSV from
MSOffice, please post it here.