Many lights make hard work - or, why we don't need two office formats

Many lights make hard work - or, why we don't need two office formats


This week, I have been forced, through threat of domestic misery, to sacrifice a section of one my shelves on what I like to call my “Computer Rack”. No longer can that area be used to house a masterpiece of IT equipment that has been assembled from various cast-offs, loaded with interesting software to run exciting server programs. Instead, that section is used to perform the mundane task of storing light bulbs. Let me explain the reason why...

We like the house in which we live. The area is fantastic and the neighbors are great—I cannot complain. However, my wife, like many wives I know, insisted that we replace the perfectly adequate old moldy carpet, paint over the characteristically worn old walls and perform other expensive superfluous cosmetic surgery on the house. This is now, more or less, complete and I have to admit that it is, in fact, a great improvement on what we bought six years ago. I do have a small but infuriating problem though, and it is to do with one of my favorite soap-box topics—standards...

During the course of the decorations various lights were installed. The result of which is that I now have a “GU10” fitting in the kitchen, “R50” spots in the living room and standard UK bayonet caps in the hallway. Due to this variation, I have found that buying spare bulbs is now quite an exercise. So much so that the space in the cupboard I allocated for bulbs is now insufficient. That is the reason why they now need to be stored on my computer rack in the office. To make matters worse I have some screw-in bulbs for a lamp I had that my wife did not like and gave away. Those bulbs are simply sitting there getting dusty.

I understand that there are some legitimate reasons why light fittings are different. And, in the above list I have not included my low-voltage lights or fluorescent strips as that would be unfair. I am puzzled, however, why I needed to purchase four different types of “standard” bulbs when I believe one is sufficient, or, at a push, two at maximum. I do not entertain the notion that they are for different light technologies. In my hallway and lavatory I have the same bayonet fitting but different types of lights—an energy saving one and a legacy traditional one. The type of light bulb and technology it uses has little to do with the fitting.

Multiple standards are a pain and create expense. Avoiding unnecessary diversification of a single standard is plain common sense.

A more ridiculous clashing of standards than that of the light fitting industry is about to emerge from the IT industry. I am, of course, referring to the ODF (OpenDocument Format) and Microsoft’s OOXML (Office Open XML) standards, as I have mentioned before here and here.

To begin with, here is a brief description of the scenario.

ODF is an editable office document format that has achieved ISO standard (ISO 26300). This is an extensible format and is being adopted by many office suites. Microsoft, however, is not so keen to embrace this standard. My belief is that they are not willing to do so because they feel the loss of control of their most used office formats could weaken their grip on that market, which they currently enjoy.

A vendor neutral standard like ODF would be really nice in the office productivity suite arena. It would open that market up to many vendors, increase competition and value, enable interoperability and make life better for all.

It is not surprising that Microsoft have chosen to go their own route. They have created a far inferior office format, OOXML. However, Microsoft found they were in danger of losing government and corporation implementations due to the fact it was not originally a universally adoptable format but had restrictions on it, especially in the realm of free software. They quickly changed that and are in the processing of escorting the format through the ISO standardization process.

To continue, there are some difficulties that could be arising.

One of Microsoft’s justifications of creating a rival format is that there should be two standards so that people could choose which one to use. This is ridiculous. If the current standard does the job then it should be used. That is the point of a standard. After examining the formats it is difficult for me to see why ODF cannot do the job, or, if it currently cannot, minimal changes would be required for it to do so.

A worrying aspect of this is the cost of having multiple “standard” office formats to deal with in future is far higher than the cost of a section of my computer racking and having to buy different types of light bulbs.

Another of Microsoft’s justifications is that they need their own format to handle the way legacy MS-Word (and MS-Excel, MS-Powerpoint etc) renders the documents. This is also ridiculous on two counts. The first being that different versions of MS-Office programs can render the same document differently, as can the same version on two different machines depending on what fonts are installed and the like. The second is that the format does not render the document, the application does. The only program that can ever render documents created by MS-Word the same way MS-Word did is MS-Word, regardless of any underlying format. It is no reason not to adopt ODF.

The evidence shouts to me that the reason why Microsoft wants to push OOXML is to maintain control of the format and hinder interoperability, rather than promote it.

During the ISO standardization process, at the Joint Technical Committee stage (the process is complex and beyond the scope of this entry) an unprecedented fourteen countries noticed these and other contradictions and submitted comments and objections to OOXML and its standardization process. To most people’s surprise the ISO JTC1 secretariat have decided to ignore these comments and objections and proceed with the process anyway. I do not know whether to think they have been bought by Microsoft or if they are totally oblivious to the issues involved.

Whatever the reason, the ISO JTC1 secretariat did not give a reason for ignoring these countries’ objections to OOXML. I guess they want to keep us in the dark regardless of how many different types of light bulbs we use.

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Biography

Edward Macnaghten has been a professional programmer, analyst and consultant for in excess of 20 years. His experiences include manufacturing commercially based software for a number of industries in a variety of different technical environments in Europe, Asia and the USA. He is currently running an IT consultancy specialising in free software solutions based in Cambridge UK. He also maintains his own web site.