CyberTech Rambler

December 23, 2005

British Library and Office XML

Filed under: Uncategorized — ctrambler @ 1:03 pm

British Library is a leading UK public body. In the UK, public body are very sensitive about the appearance of impartiality. Therefore, it is, for me, very strange that Adam Farquhar, head of e-Architecture, allow himself to be used to indicate British Library is strongly supporting Micirosoft Office XML standardization effort in ECMA, as photographed in the article and on its initial press release announcing the effort.

Now, the most important thing first. Mr Farquhar is engaging in anything wrong at all. In fact, ECMA is “supposed” to be a neutral body. Second, he is the Vice Chair of the ECMA committee in charge with the standardization effort, hence he should be in any picture that is about the committee’s work. Moreover, his involvement in the committee can bring the British Library’s expertise in managing large collections of books to the committee. Nor is it a slur on British Library, which, following the tradition of British Institutions, encourage its staffs to be involve in outside organziations to promote public good, provided their involvement is not seen to be endorsing anything even slightly controversial or biased.

It is just that, why is he involving himself with a committee that a lot of people says is there to rubberstamp Microsoft Office XML? My view is even dimmer, it is a committee to write the documentation of Office XML for Microsoft!

His statement on the subject. quote, “Some people think we are adopting Microsoft formats as our standard for digital preservation. This is not right; we are striving to make sure that content we receive in MS formats will be preserved”, unquote, in my view, makes his involvement in the committee even more difficult to understand. If digital preservation of documents in different formats is the aim, surely the British Library must involve themselves in other standardization as well. While they can claim they underestimated OpenDocumentFormat potential, they cannot claim the same for PDF standardization effort. Why didn’t I see them mentioned in PDF standardization then? The British Library is a big catch for any organization.

Well, he claims that it is not directly linked to Microsoft’s sponsored project to digitize rare and out-of-print books from British Library Collection. The cynic in me beg to differ. I will say it is a strong factor influencing the decision, unless, of course, that MS format is simply unuseable for archiving and he is there to correct this defect. This is unlikely, the committee looks to be a rubberstamp committee.

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