Monday, May 15, 2006

Innovation and Open Collaboration In ICT - The Way Forward for Malaysia

On the 11th of May, I attended a presentation organised by the Malaysian Ministry of Science, Technology and Innovation (MOSTI) and IBM, entitled "Innovation and Open Collaboration In ICT - The Way Forward For Malaysia"

The talk was given by a Ms Roslyn Docktor, with a long designation of 'Worldwide Governmental Programs Executive for Open Standards' for IBM. It was held in Cyberview Lodge, which meant me driving a long long way down.

It started late, and when it did, the preamble was given by a MOSTI rep, En. Alihan. From the website he is the Deputy Secretary General for Policies. He spoke about MOSTI's role in "entrusted to lead in natioanl innovation", and he touched on current events like the Austin Texas 'coup' of having a security centre here in Malaysia. Unfortunately for us, his speech was weak and basically did not contain any information of any use. For example, regarding the Texas deal:
.... to form 'smart partnerships' in the basis of win-win principle (sic) ....

He did not garner any confidence from the audience.

Roslyn spoke well, very casual, very informative, obviously she has done this many times to newbie government bodies. Throughout the talk she highlighted (mid 1990s) IBM's realisation of Openness as the way future, where innovation is the challenging of the status quo and the use of the Open Source Community to spawn invention quickly, efficiently and effectively.

Her views on Open Standards were more profound than others; to encourage collaboration and innovation, and in times of emergencies (Avian flu, HIV/AIDS, natural disasters) it ensures that documents and data can be used immediately, with no agreements required (EULAs and $$$), no conversions, and no worries of problems in sending data to someone you never sent data to before.

Open Standards also allows markets to focus on Value Added Differentiation. Meaning that from now on, we dont have to re-invent the wheel whenever we need to create a application to export text or data. The focus is on the innovations and to add value instead of recreating the framework to base the work on.

OStds also allow Global Governence in Choice and Control. Not just saving money, but it also means that their citizens can access information via web, calls, emails, handphones without having to buy computers nor unnecessary licenses for software. Because information is now easily shareable without licensing issues, OStds eventually breaks down silos of information and this is critical in issues like tax and healthcare.

She then talked about how to measure Open vs Closed standards. You have on one end of the spectrum where no one company has veto rights over standards, and all features are based on merits, and specs fully documented for anyone to implement without royalties. The other end is closed where only 1 body controls it and the information is proprietary. Of course its not black and white, there are many in-betweens, like 'Reasonable and Non Discrimatory' (RAND) licenses which allows use for a small fee.

She then goes and talks about the Open Document Format (ODF) which is an option for governments to take up. It satisfies the Openness. It is based on other ISO standards which are just as free.

Unicode (The Characters)
XML (The Syntax)
ODF (The Document)

She highlighted many real world examples which will be beneficial to goverments. Citizens are not forced to purchase licenses, nor a particular type of PC. Historical documents are guaranteed to be readable centuries from today, in times of emergencies, people can share information... etc.

The standardisation of ODF was a first for ISO, in that all 23 nations which voted (including Malaysia) voted for it, which was very encouraging. She talked about the ODFAlliance, and how in just a few months the number of members have increased to 136 or so. She also said that these members are not necessary using ODF today, but they are looking into it and working it into their policies and eventually, given time they will be adopting ODF as a standard.

With that she ended her little talk. I found it very refreshing to hear this information from IBM, and was quite encouraged with their support. She also mentioned about IBMs decision to open up 500 of their patents to the OSS commons. The reason IBM did so was because they realised that they didnt want to extract profit from areas like Government, Education and Healthcare and their interoperabilities. Thus their altruistic motives.

Next up was Q&A, and the first one up was none other than Dzaharudin Mansor who introduced himself as representing PIKOM and Microsoft. He was obviously prepared for this talk: he had 6 questions for the speaker. Which actually just sounded like 6 points he wanted to make: (I paraphrase)

1) "Collaboration is Good. However it is hard to collaborate without a good Framework. ODF does not provide a framework to interoperate..."

I think this is the same meme as the one picked by up by Andrew Updegrove here: On the Art (?) of Disinformation: telling the Big Lie. In this article Andrew finds it strange that a lie (ODF does not interoperate but OpenXML does) is propagated by the big names. We see its repeated here in Asia too!

2) "Standards is good to be defined. 'Reasonable charges' should be allowed too. We need to give back something to IP owners. Standard bodies (like ISO) should be free to adopt competing standards. Business should define the standards" He goes on to higlight the 802.11 (117 patents), PDF, Java ,etc...

This was an amazing comment by him. Here Roslyn proposes a FREE (in all sense of the word) standard, which does not have any charges. And now he suggests to prefer a standard which MAY cost money, or be restrictive to certain licenses? Why should we need to give back to IP owners if the IP owners themselve doesnt want anything?

3) "There are lock-ins even with Open Standards. Proprietary solutions on open standards e.g. in Telecommunications, GSM Base Station: GSM is Open, but the controller is proprietary and to make full use of it, customers prefer the proprietary solutions."

Here he tries to say that Open Standards are no big deal, people will get trapped and locked in anyway for convenience. The examples he talked about re-inforces how bad proprietary-ness can be for customers. The difference between a GSM solution and a ODF one is that the ODF document creating applications (OOo, Abiword, or IBM Workplace) already exist which rival any other proprietary applications. i.e. The customer can now chose Open solutions to read/write the Open standard documents.

4) "Open Standards breeds innovation? The Standard for Smart Cards x years ago was primitive, did not contain info like biometrics and bank details. To propose modifications and specifications to the standards would cost a development company money and time, also the opportunity costs will not make sense, therefore they would roll out the solution as a closed/proprietary card"

This again was very difficult to understand. But he is arguing a case where a small developer would not have the resources to push for a standard. This is where the difference is. It is not up to the developer to define the standards. The CUSTOMER defines it. So if a goverment had a need for a Smart Card solution, they would define the standard for the solution provider to implement. In the case of the ODF, the standard is already defined, we as customers can benefit from the hard work of Sun and the ODF guys. So the argument basically falls apart when you look at it from the customers' angle.

5) "We should NOT have a Preference for Open Standards. Danger to Manipulation! We should be given a CHOICE. We need to be pragmatic as we live in the REAL WORLD. We roll out products which has market ADVANTAGE"

Here again is the same arguments we heard when MAMPU suggested for the preference for OSS solutions in government procurements. The given the Choice suggestion is the most ironic. A standard is a method of making sure that people speak the same language. If everyone was given a choice to choose whatever language they wanted, won't that make it that much harder to communicate? The pragmatism argument is what I like to call the 'lazy way out': don't do nothing, status quo, lets just dig in deeper: changing now doesnt make business sense in the short term!

6) "There is Good News!" (He really said that!) "OpenXML will be standardised soon and it offers all features as a Open Standard, no royalties! It is also compatible with the billions of documents in the world!"

Im not sure how OpenXML can be compatible with other docs, because the application (MSOffice) is the app which should be compatible. Not the New file format. So its just a clever spin to the tale. Ah yes, 'SOON' in Microsoft terms means 'sometime next year... maybe.' Good News indeed!

After the preaching from the MS rep, En. Alihan tried to answer some questions, but all that came out was some mumbo jumbo which I could not understand. Ms Roslyn didnt know where to start, because it is hard to politely respond to these ludricous statements ...

Then En Zamani Zakariah from the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission (MCMC) stood up to speak. He asked Of the countries who have not joined the ODF Alliance, what were their concerns, and what are the checklist for a good standard?
He also added that after his 30+ years in the industry, there will never be ONE standard, and correctly so as others should not be stifled, however there should always be a MINIMUM of standards.

Ms Roslyn answered this one well, she said that the countries who haven't adopted ODF were waiting for the process of standardisation to complete, and now that it has, she expects many of them to follow suite. For example France (Tax), Singapore (Defence), USA (Mass.) etc... The checklist was to have a good supplier of applications, i.e. so that the departments can procure the products. People can start testing them by downloading OOo and start using them. She doesnt expect roll-outs immediately but a gradual process.

En. Mansor from Sun Microsystems added that Java is not 100% closed, and its up to JSchwartz to open it up. It took them 2 years to get Solaris open up. He believes that Computing is a utility model, etc... At least with ODF, it has forced Microsoft to open up their schema, and thats a pretty good advancement for us.

En. Alihan then closed the Q&A and added that Goverment procurement is under the Ministry of Finance. So it is up to MOSTI to communicate awareness programmes in the "ecosystem for knowledge based economy" WHATEVER THAT MEANS?!!?

So that was the meeting.

The reaction from the audience was not very encouraging: Very quiet. It was a pity that most of the people who asked questions kept harping on "Pragmatism" and "Dont adopt 1 Standard". It would have been fantastic if the same level of enthusiasm was demonstrated at the SIRIM meeting, but I guess us Malaysians are too shy...


6 lewsers:

Anonymous said...

Seriously, some of these "Malaysians" working for Microsoft should have their pictures beside the definition of "Sellout" in the dictionary.

They make me sick.

Yoon Kit said...

> They make me sick.

Well, he was just doing his job. After all, his boss was there in the room too (Mr WC Butt).

At least he is consistent. I believe he is the same one who asked if he could be a prostitute when he mentioned his version of the 4 freedoms to Richard Stallman when he was here 2 years ago. Im not sure, because I didnt get his name that time.

So Im sure he's quite used to the abuse.


Anonymous said...

These actions are those of a coercive monopoly that uses methods other than innovation and efficiency to prevent competition.

Just doing your job does not morally justify doing anything you want. Some of us choose to be free and not to be slaves, and these scum are slave masters trying to keep us Malaysians in line.

Hasan said...

YK, hi! We first met at the SIRIM meeting.

Glad you like Roslyn's presentation. If you want her slides, please email me.

We ought to meet again.


Yoon Kit said...

> Just doing your job does
> not morally justify doing
> anything you want.

Thats true. Its the same as companies striving for profits at all 'costs'. I guess its hard to define the boundaries in a company who has repeatedly defied the boundaries...


Yoon Kit said...

hasan:> We ought to meet again.

Im sure we will yet another time.

In your line of work, you should meet up with more grassroots people to see how they can help you. Visit Planet MyOSS and maybe sponsor a few events to encourage the community to grow.

There are quite a few dedicated people there who would love to help you.

Glad you found my blog entry. I hope the facts as reported were accurate.