BE THE CHANGE – YOU WANT TO SEE IN THE WORLD
(Summary: This paper not only provides legal implications of open format but also
explains its advantages, problems and how to make them more popular.)
Last year, in the first ODF user Conference at Berlin, I started with his quote,
'Means are more important than the end: it is only with the right means that
the desired end will follow.'
This was to provide philosophical footing to use open formats. His philosophy is
deep rooted in law too. Lord Denning, one of the greatest judge of 20th century, in
R Vs IRC Exparte Rossminster Ltd 1979 (3) All ELR 385 held,
‘But it is fundamental in our law that the means that are adopted ... should
be lawful means. A good end does not justify bad means.'
In the field of Information and Communication Technology (ICT) the end is -
dissemination and communication of information and the means are
● How to achieve, implement it?
● What kind of software to use?
● What kind of standards to employ?
● What kind of formats to adopt?
Open source and open formats are right means and are the key to the future. They
will lead us to the desired end.
This year, I will rather start with another of his quotes,
'You must be the change that you want to see in the world.'
Lead by example: show the world how changes can be effected. This is, what we
have done at the Allahabad High Court: we are using open format. The documents
are being exchanged and uploaded in many formats but the first one, the original
one, is open format.
OPEN STANDARDS – GOOD MEANS
In the field of technology, standards broadly means specifications. In the digital
world, they relate to the format.
Format is a particular way of encoding information or a method of storing
information so that a computer programme or a device may
● Understand it:
● Reproduce it; and
● Allow modifications, if the need be.
Different kind of information is stored in the digital world in various formats. And
even the same kind of information may be saved in different formats. They may be
proprietary: they could be secret and protected as a trade secret or could be
published and yet protected as a patent (as was the gif format for images). This is
not true for open formats. They are,
(i) Documented and published - sufficient to implement them in any
computer programme or device.
(ii) Made available irrevocably to everyone without any royalty or fee.
(iii) Maintained by a neutral body, where decision are taken with
consensus or majority thus catering to the needs of all.
ADVANTAGES OF OPEN FORMAT
Open formats not only avoid monopoly but encourage healthy competition.
Information technology has best flourished in the open standards: the Internet, the
web, the protocol transfer are all based on open standards. It has numerous
(i) There is no fear of patents or licensing;
(ii) Open source software supporting ODF exists for every operating system;
they work across the operating systems.
(iii) The files can never be lost as they will always be accessible.
(iv) They can be implemented in any software making the users true
owners of their files.
GUIDELINES FOR IMPLEMENTING OPEN FORMAT
We have encountered some problems in implementing open formats. Here is the
insight that we have gained in the process:
(i) Realisation - open format is better: It is necessary that it should be
realised that open format is better than any proprietary format: unless this is
understood, no success can be achieved. People are loathe to change the
format that they are already using.
(ii) Switch over to the office suite that supports open format: We have
shifted over to OpenOffice.org suite as it supports ODF. The E-committee is
providing desktop in every court in India. Some of these desktops are on
Windows, some are based on Linux but all of them have OpenOffice.org
Suite. The E-committee has provided Linux based laptops to all judicial
officers of subordinate judiciary in India. In all of them, the office suite is of
OpenOffice.org; it has become de-facto office suite for Indian judiciary (for
details see the article A NEW CHAPTER IN JUDICIARY AND
INFORMATION TECHNOLOGY at http://kvtrust.blogspot.com/2007/07/new-
chapter-in-judiciary-and.html). This makes the ODF an automatic choice.
(iii) Provide training: Most of the computers in the Indian courts had MS Office
suite: persons were accustomed to it. OpenOffice.org suite is similar to MS
office suite yet there are some differences: there was reluctance in changing
over. To overcome this, extensive training was given. It should always be
(iv) Communications may be in open document format: All communications
may be carried out in ODF. In case information in any other format is
required then it may be provided but ODF should be treated as original.
(v) Make ODF as the default saving option: The courts where MS word is still
being used and there is insistence on using the MS word, plug-in for ODF
format from Sun Microsystems was downloaded and installed. Nevertheless
the persons working on the same, are required ODF as the default saving
ODF – PROBLEMS AND SOLUTIONS
ODF has some glitches. Here are some suggestions to make it more popular:
(i) People/ Government/ Policy makers are neither aware nor understand
its importance: More regional conferences may be held to make them
aware. In India, e-governance conference is held every year. It is organised
by government of India. The discussion on open formats may be included in
(ii) There should be better support of the regional languages in the
programmes implementing ODF: Take the case of Hindi Keyboard. Hindi
is written in Devnagri script. It is being standardised in Unicode. SCIM,
provides the Hindi keyboard in Linux. The most popular keyboard in Hindi is
Remington Keyboard. Yet, this Keyboard was not available until last year in
SCIM. Now it has become available but it does not have all characters.
(iii) Urge governments to enforce IPR;
(iv) Catch them young: Programmes implementing ODF may be included at
the school level. Children adopt to new software easily.
(v) Increase awareness regarding open source applications among the
vendors and people: I had delivered a talk on Software Freedom Day at
the University of Allahabad on 20.09.2008 (see WHERE CAN PENGUINS
FLY at http://kvtrust.blogspot.com/2008/09/popular-open-source-
programmes-on.html). I was informed that in the computers of some of the
Departments of the Allahabad University, OpenOffice.org suite was not
provided for the reason that the vendors informed them that this programme
is difficult to use.
(vi) Use, promote, and popularise open source programmes. All of them have
ODF as default option.
(vii) Promote use of Linux or any other open source operating system. They
include open source programmes implementing ODF.
THE TORTOISE AND THE HARE
In the first ODF user workshop at Berlin, I had talked about the Aesop's fable -
'The Tortoise and the Hare'. In the story the tortoise and the hare run a race. The
hare took the lead, thought that he can always win, decided to rest, and went off to
sleep. He lost the race. The moral of the story is,
'Slow but steady wins the race'.
However, in recent times, the story has changed and so has the moral.
The hare and tortoise have run three more races and the moral has been changing
'It is better to be fast and reliable'; and then to
'Everyone has weak and strong points - play on your strong points'.
But the fourth and the last race, was run differently; it was partly on land and partly
on river. On the ground, the hare carried the tortoise on his back and on the river,
the tortoise carried the hare on his back. The result was that both of them reached
the destination quickly, saved time, and enjoyed the race too. The moral is,
'It is best to consolidate strong points'.
This is, what the open standards, open formats, and open source do . They,
(i) Consolidate strong points;
(ii) Use the IPR to prevent the hoarding of technology;
(iii) Invite others to participate in its development.
They are the keys; this is the road - to the future however, this year, I am going to
talk about a different story.
THE RETURN OF VAMAN
Jayant V. Narlikar is a leading Astrophysicist in the word. He has worked with Fred
Hoyle and like him also writes science fiction. He has written a novel by the name
of 'The Return of Vaman'.
The novel revolves around three characters: an archeologist, a physicist, and a
computer scientist. The physicist wanted to experiment with gravity and a deep
hole was being dug. In the process, the team first came across a plaque and then
a cube. They could neither understand the script written on the plaque nor the
figures on the cube. It was a perfect cube of unknown substance. They knew that it
was from some advanced civilisation. They decided to open the cube but could not
make head or tail out of it.
There was a figure on the cube showing two elephants pulling the cube in the
opposite direction without any success. They were reminded of an experiment in
the seventeenth century by the German scientist Otto Von Guericke. He had
joined the two copper hemispheres of 51 cm diameter and pumped the air outside.
Thereafter 8 horses on each side could not pull them apart. The team realised that
the air from the cube has been removed. A thin hole was drilled, the air entered
inside, and the cube opened instantly.
It was a time capsule, informing about the advance civilisation that existed twenty
thousand years ago. There was no indication as to how it came to an end or what
happened to it. The time capsule also informed them how to make an advanced
computer. They make it and name it 'Guru'.
'Guru' tells them how to make a meter high advanced Robot. This robot is like the
robot 'Andrew' (starring Robin Williams) in the science fiction film 'Bicentennial
Man' (based on the story 'The Bicentennial Man' and the novel 'The Positronic
Man' written by Isaac Asimov). It is named 'Vaman' after Hindu mythological story.
Vaman, (like Andrew), is extremely advanced; learnt quickly and is able to take
independent decisons. But his intentions are different, 'Vaman' keeps on
requesting his creators to teach him how to replicate itself so that humanity may be
served better. This was refused; some caution is being observed.
'Vaman' is interested in learning how to replicate itself. A conspiracy is hatched:
Vaman gets itself stolen by others on the promise that it will be taught replication.
The answer to the mystery as to how that advanced civilisation perished was
mentioned in the plaque that was also found. But no one could understand the
script. It was only when the script was deciphered that the reason could be known
and it became imperative to destroy Vaman.
This is the broad plot of the novel but the relevant point of the story is,
In the physical world, the information lies in the script. Loose the
ability to read the script: you loose the information. In the digital world
the information lies in the format. If the format is closed then the
information may be lost foreever.
It is better to store information in open format; it is only then we can be sure of
owning information. In keeping our office documents in open format, we have taken
the right step and I have no doubt that a bright future awaits us.