Standard fare

You might think that as a technologist in the library industry, a certain portion of my day is spent contemplating standards, and compliance therewith. You'd be right.

Standards are not news to anyone in the information technology field – or any other field, for that matter. But the added complexity here comes with our task at the National Library. Acquisition, preservation, and display become a little bit easier when using standards. Same goes for interoperability between systems. Ask me some time about having to connect an e-commerce system to a mainframe order-fulfillment system using an intermediary written in FoxPro (shudder). Better yet, don't.

Our ultimate goal is to ensure access to our resources for everyone, including those who have yet to be born. This makes the need for standardisation and forward-thinking quite clear. This is why I was recently involved in a day-long meeting at Standards New Zealand, where a group of 26 governmental representatives formulated our thoughts on a high-profile standards debate: the OASIS OpenDocument format (ODF) vs. Microsoft's Office Open XML (OOXML). It's not so much a debate as a question of appropriateness: Why have two standards for office documents?

I've read quite a bit on the subject, but this post explains the situation quite well. It is a little biased, but the writer brings up some valid points on why anyone should care about the difference between two office document formats. This debate is currently taking place world-wide. In fact, India last week voted against accepting the Microsoft entry as a standard.

Some very intelligent people attended the meeting at Standards New Zealand. At points the debate was, ahem, spirited, but overall I learned much – including what other governmental bodies were doing or intended to do in the XML and standardisation spaces. These discussions will continue, with the facilitation of Archives New Zealand and the State Services Commission.

The meeting concluded with an informal poll, which put the government sector's opinion against OOXML acceptance. In turn, our views were brought to a larger meeting informing how New Zealand will vote in the standardisation fray. Apparently some heavy hitters attended that one. The final vote is due to occur before the end of the month.

UPDATE: The New Zealand vote on OOXML has been cast.

UPDATE, AGAIN: The ISO vote has closed with OOXML approval failing. The ConsortiumInfo.org Standards Blog describes this with a bit more readability.

Taking part in this process, I'm reminded there's more to worry about than the programming-language-flavour-of-the-month or latest interface frippery. We need to build things for today, tomorrow, and the next day, and the day after that...

By Mike Kmiec

Mike was the lead developer and team lead for the National Digital Library.

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