Subhashish Gangopadhyay, IDF, Sep 08, 2007 2224 hrs IST
The only thing still lacking is the use of IT within India. While we have some of the best global suppliers of the product, our own demand for it is still very low.
Computer users are often foxed by references to the on-going ODF (open document format) Vs OOXML (open office XML) debate in the country.
Not surprising that such a debate rages in India...
Indian- software companies have shown remarkable efficiency in the world market, and software engineers have demonstrated high degree of innovation. The only thing still lacking is the use of IT within India. While we have some of the best global suppliers of the product, our own demand for it is still very low. Which essentially means that there is a large market in India waiting be tapped, and given our young population, new companies, and the government's new found interest (appears to be) in good governance, one would expect IT products/services to explode in India.
So what's with the debate? It's pretty simple actually... If A creates a document and wants B to read it, and B is willing, then B should be able to read it. The ability of B to read A's document, when permitted to do so, should be independent of how A created the document. The only requirement is that they both know the language of the document -- thus if A writes the document in English, B has to know English. Everything else is unnecessary.
To understand it better; suppose A sends a letter to B via the postal service. B should be able to read the letter independent of what A used to write it (ball-point, fountain pen, whatever). One proviso though: the address on the letter should be legible to the postman. The postal system would not have happened if addresses were written in ink that was visible only with infra-red glasses. While any pen would do is the open part of writing the letter, legible ink becomes the acceptable standard part of postal communication.
Let's continue with this scenario to get into the gut of this debate... Remember the postcard you sent to your mom to let her know that you reached your destination safely? The postcard, throughout the world, is standardized. That is great if you feel you should let your mom know your whereabouts and that you are all right. However, if you want to write a letter to your lover, pouring out your love, you may not want to use a postcard. Because the postcard is readable by more than just your mom -- for instance, the postman. You do not want your love-letter to be read by every Tom, Dick, and Harry, and so -- you want to put it in a sealed envelope. Luckily for you and me, the postal system delivers both kinds (of letters). Just look at the possibilities -- long distance romances would not have happened if one could send only postcards.
And it's not just the romantic letter. You may want to send a 4-page letter, in small print. The postcard simply cannot handle this. What one needs is the possibility of posting various sorts of letters. A standard that optimizes all that people need to communicate, making room for multiple choices -- becomes an absolute must...
While standardization may help in generating value in network activities (letters and IT), buying into one standard (in this example postcards only) does not generate the full market value of that activity.
The ODF Vs OOXML debate is something like this. The debate is not simply a technical issue; it is an issue for markets to decide. While postcards may be of standard size, it should not be the only type of letter delivered through the postal system. ODF has already been accepted as an ISO standard; that does not preclude the adoption of OOXML as a standard too. If one is better than the other, the market will decide for itself, and stop using the other. This is important because the sector is still evolving, and it is difficult to foretell today how the market will pan out tomorrow.
Trying to restrict a budding market to one set of standards severely affects its development. Observe that this argument is independent of which is the better standard, for, unless we allow both, we will never know!