Continuing saga of ODF and IDA's shortsightedness
This is in today's dead tree version:
Format impractical? Largest ministry uses it
I REFER to the reply by Ms Jennifer Toh of the Infocomm Development
Authority ('Suggested document format not practical'; ST, April 19).
I applaud the move by IDA to encourage all government agencies to use
PDF files in communications with the public. This will allow us to
make use of free reader software to access important government
However, I do not see the impracticality of using OpenDocument format
within the Government. Since the policy is to use PDF to communicate
with the public, it is logical to assume that Microsoft Office formats
are used primarily in intra-government communications. Hence, the
popularity of Microsoft Office formats outside the Government is not
an important factor. Within the Government, IDA has the authority to
mandate a change to OpenDocument formats.
In addition, to generate PDF from Microsoft Office, one needs
additional third-party products such as Adobe Distiller.
All these add to the overall cost of the office productivity package.
For the record, OpenOffice can generate PDF files - for free.
In fact, the largest ministry, the Ministry of Defence (Mindef), has
shown the wisdom of adopting OpenDocument formats as the de facto
document format. Since 2004, Mindef has adopted OpenOffice and the
OpenDocument format. It plans to deploy OpenOffice to 20,000 desktops
by the first half of this year.
Mindef gave the following reasons for its decision to select OpenOffice:
# It avoided paying more than $10 million by not upgrading more than
20,000 desktops to Office 2003. When the next release of Office is
launched, it has the option of staying on OpenOffice or adopting this
new release. In other words, in two to three years' time, it can again
avoid paying tens of millions of dollars by not migrating to the
latest version of Microsoft Office. This decision cycle will be
repeated every three to four years.
# It retains the choice of using proprietary software or OSS as
OpenOffice can coexist with existing, older versions of Microsoft
# It will not be forced to upgrade by vendor-introduced obsolescence
when a proprietary software vendor introduces a new version of its
# It has the flexibility to read and modify codes, which is not
possible with proprietary software.
With proprietary software, even if you are a big customer and the
changes you want are reasonable, and reflect the needs of most users,
the most the vendor can promise is that the feature will be available
with the next release.
With the money saved by not buying new Microsoft Office licences,
Mindef can channel valuable resources to its core competency areas.
I believe the reasons given by Mindef apply to other government agencies.
Is the Government 'locked in' by vendors? Based on the arguments by Ms
Toh against the adoption of OpenDocument formats, IDA should not even
consider replacing existing enterprise applications with alternatives.
Wong Onn Chee
Singapore Marketing Contact
In the online letters section, there are two more letters:
May 1, 2006
OpenDocument format is practical and economical
I refer to the reply from the Infocomm Development Authority of
Singapore (IDA) on the use of the OpenDocument Format (ODF) for all
government documents (Suggested document format not practical; ST,
April 19), comments by the president of the Linux Users' Group
(Singapore), Mr Harish Pillay (Why is OpenDocument Format 'not
practical?'; ST, April 22) and comments by Alan Yap Chee Wee (Open
Source software not all it's made out to be'; ST, April 28).
Mr Yap is correct that total cost of ownership (TCO) involves not only
the initial cost but also continued support and maintenance.
However, he fails to mention that studies have shown the TCO of using
OpenDocument format (OASIS ODF) is still significantly lower than
using Microsoft's proprietary software even when excluding the
consideration of vendor lock-in.
Mr Harish should be able to tell us that Linux became widely accepted
not because it is cheap or free but because on functionality and
features, it is simply too expensive to continue using proprietary
Mr Yap also fails to highlight the fact that not only has the European
IDA standardised on ODF as the de facto document format for exchange
(europa.eu.int), several US government and educational institutions,
as well as our Ministry of Defence (MINDEF), had also done so after
realising the significant economic benefits.
Unless Singapore plans to be isolated, shouldn't the adoption of a
world standard be more practical? I fail to see how IDA alone finds it
In 2004, the state of Minnesota sued Microsoft for overcharging its
residents Microsoft's productivity software using monopoly and illegal
business tactics. (news.minnesota.publicradio.org)
Microsoft subsequently settled with the state for US$175 million in
compensation. This is just one of the many class action lawsuits
Finally, there are two office productivity software programs that
support OpenDocument (OASIS) format today; OpenSource OpenOffice and
its commercial twin, StarOffice. Both offer a lower TCO than Microsoft
Perhaps the IDA can shed some light on the TCO study it has conducted
(if any) to convince the citizen that our money is well spent.
Daniel Lee Wee Chong
May 1, 2006
Open Formats versus Open Sources software: Is the comparison valid?
I refer to the letter 'Open-source software not all it's made out to
be' by Mr Alan Yap Chen Wee (ST, April 28).
Mr Yap seems to have mistaken the issue of Open Formats with Open
Source Software. I'm not sure if comparing them is valid as the two
are quite different in essence. Very superficially, formats could be
likened to the alphabet. A person could write a document using the
But imagine if the English alphabet got obliterated. That same
document which has important information may not be readable anymore.
In essence, this can be used as an analogy to describe formats.
Software, whether proprietary or Open Source, are just computing
tools. In the case of programs like word processors or spreadsheets,
the file types which they can open depend on which type of formats
have been incorporated into the program. Thus, a software can
incorporate proprietary or Open Formats.
Comparing file formats to software may not have been entirely appropriate.
With regard to the issue of implementing Open Source Software at the
enterprise level, the points put forth are, I believe, highly
I would comment on the point made about the popularity of the Firefox
browser. Security is not the only reason for the popularity of the
browser. There are other features such as skins and extensions.
It is indeed true that some regard Firefox as a more secure solution.
This was probably a valid statement given the known vulnerabilities at
that time. During this period, malicious individuals were more likely
to target popular web browsers.
However, no software is invulnerable. The security of a piece of
software would very much depend on the way the program code is written
and the time taken to patch vulnerabilities.
Some Open Source developers are indeed very efficient in writing
software patches. As Firefox becomes more popular, it will become
increasingly targetted by malicious individuals. During this period I
think end-users will get a better idea if Open Source web browsers are
indeed more secure solutions.
Goh Lu Feng
Slugnet mailing list