Friday, February 29, 2008

Microsoft fights to have its programme (Office Document) standardised!


UPDATE 1-Microsoft gets another shot at Open XML standard

Mon Feb 25, 2008 10:02am EST

(Adds details, analyst quotes paragraphs 9-12)

By Laura MacInnis

GENEVA, Feb 25 (Reuters) - Microsoft Corp (MSFT.O: Quote, Profile, Research) ramped up its fight to have its Office Open XML document format made into an international standard on Monday as delegates from 37 countries met to reconsider the proposal.

Their meeting hosted by the International Organisation for Standardisation (ISO) and International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC) in Geneva is meant to help broker consensus after a preliminary vote on the standard failed six months ago.

There will be no ballot during the week-long talks, but the 87 national standards bodies who previously voted will have until March 29 to adjust their positions, giving the world's largest software maker another shot at the two-thirds majority it needs for approval.

"The ISO/IEC members who voted on the draft in September will have 30 days to change their votes if they wish," said Roger Frost, a spokesman for the Geneva-based agency.

Microsoft won only 53 percent support in September.

Standardisation of Open XML, which is the default file-saving format in Microsoft Office 2007, would allow other companies to build products using the file format and simplify file exchange between different software suites.

Opponents of the proposed ISO/IEC standard DIS 29500 argue there is no need for a rival to the widely used Open Document Format (ODF) that is already an international standard.

They say that the Microsoft product's 6,000 pages of code, compared with ODF's 860 pages, make it artificially complicated and untranslatable. The productivity software suite OpenOffice uses ODF, which is supported by International Business Machines Corp (IBM.N: Quote, Profile, Research). (IBM) and Sun Microsystems Inc. (JAVA.O: Quote, Profile, Research).

"Microsoft could easily provide full support for ODF," said Rishab Ghosh, senior researcher at the United Nations University in Maastricht.

Ghosh said Microsoft's drive for a competing standard was part of its broader strategy to encourage consumers to use only Microsoft products, as has been alleged in anti-trust cases in Europe and elsewhere.

"Because their software is used by so many people, you don't switch to anyone else's software because you are worried that your files are going to be lost," he told Reuters by telephone.

"If you can save by default in ODF using a Microsoft product, that means your documents will be easily readable by users of a competing software. And when your documents are easily readable by others, maybe you can consider switching to a different software," he said.

Microsoft says multiple standards are normal in software and other industries, that competition makes for better products, and that its format has higher specifications and is more useful than ODF.

The company has collaborated with Novell (NOVL.O: Quote, Profile, Research) to develop a tool to translate Open XML documents into ODF and vice versa, though critics believe the tool cannot provide a complete translation due to the complexity of the Microsoft product.

XML, short for Extensible Markup Language, is a standard for describing data in a way that allows it to be shared across various systems and applications. Microsoft has handed over control of Open XML to the standards-making body Ecma, which would make it available even in the event of its demise.

Delegates submitted about 4,200 suggested modifications to the Microsoft documents in the lead-up to last year's ballot. Those have been whittled down to 1,100 comments for consideration during this week's meeting, the ISO said. (Editing by Jonathan Lynn and Jason Neely)

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Tuesday, February 26, 2008

I Facebook, Therefore I Am (comments much appreciated!)

I Facebook, Therefore I Am

By E.K.Bensah II


There are many happy people swimming in the information society here in Ghana who are totally oblivious to the phenomenon that is Facebook. There are many satisfied with doing the occasional searches in Google; checking their electronic mail, and surfing the Internet on anything and everything. That you can go to any internet café around town that has a working connection and access such-things might not only underscore the 24/7 access that we so (unwittingly) crave and want, but remind us that the virtual world can serve as a substitute for what many call the "global village."


Whatever you might think about this village, if ever we wanted to de-bunk the platitude of living in one, the mere muttering of "Facebook" would disgrace us.


Facebook is a social networking site that has become a phenomenon almost overnight. I say "almost", because though it was set up in February 2004, it would be 2005, and only in 2007 before many people I know using Facebook would be heightened to the sensitivity of what the service offers, and add me as "a friend" to join the network. That the term "social networking" existed before Facebook suggests that they were not the pioneers of the service.


In fact, it would be MySpace—now owned by media mogul Rupert Murdoch's New Times Corporation -- that would be launched in 1999 to blaze the trail for what we have now come to know as social networking sites. Suffice-to-say, however, Facebook has blazed the trail in terms of user-friendliness and easy registration. Online encyclopaedia Wikipedia reports that there are 64 million active users.


An Unearthly Experience

If we forget about the numbers for a second and think about the experience it offers, it is fair to say that there are no surprises why Facebook is as successful as it is. For a service that was started by Harvard students, and meant to be US-centric, it has risen so exponentially it's no longer funny—to become a keen competitor to MySpace that started it all before Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg came down from Harvard to rain on MySpace's parade.


I first started using it around June 2007, because I was invited by "friends", who turned out to be classmates from secondary school. It has taken a while for those from primary school to begin getting in touch. I can tell you that the speed with which I added "friends"—both classmates and otherwise was truly an unearthly experience, for being able  to read their profile and find out what they were up to did really feel like you were in some "global village".


One cannot under-estimate the voyeuristic power of being privy to the lives of people you went to school with several years ago. That you can follow their marriages and the trials and tribulations of their lives all make for an experience that you can only put down to as being one of the benefits of being connected 24/7. Especially so, when one day, you wake up to see that you can even edit your Facebook profile by way of your mobile phone!



Priviledged glimpses

It meant that you could let those checking your profile (which is difficult, in fact to tell, unless they write on your "wall") know what you were doing hour-by-hour or minute-by-minute if you wanted. For a nano-second, you felt that the world was, as F.Scott Fitzgerald's character Nick Carroway describes the "Great Gatsby" in the eponymous novel, "at a uniform attention forever." Uniform because everyone was speaking Facebook – a language those connected could understand. It didn't require manuals or constant emailing to the manufacturers; everything was self-evident. The fact that any change on your profile meant that Facebook would send you an email was telling, because it meant that you could go about your business and still follow up on who was sending you a message.

These priviledged glimpses into the life of one's friends has elicited short-winded elations only the information society can produce. More seriously, it has given vent to what many feel is a significant loss of time. Small wonder, therefore, that a 23-yr-old Catholic student has given it up for Lent. The Independent Catholic News reports that Ellie Harrison sometimes logs onto the site even before she has breakfast! Determined to go on a "Facebook Fast", the MA Russian studies student has publicly declared what a lot of Facebook users would probably be in denial over—their addiction to the site.


Facebook Groupies

In another kind of digital exuberance, which can only go to underscore the time-loss associated with the site, I started joining all kind of Facebook groups—just because I could. The Facebook neophyte that I was in June 2007 believed that it was important to join and continuously connect with others. Still, I was also a key part of some of the groups: one particular Ghanaian Facebooker created a group to Stop the Sale of the Agricultural Development Bank; I joined, but realised I was unable to participate as much as I had wanted to, resigning myself to merely forwarding useful articles on the proposed sale to the group.


Then one day, it all changed.


Work got seriously intense for a couple of weeks, and by the time I actually logged into my profile, I was more-than-inundated by friends sending me "free drinks"; throwing virtual sheep at me; tickling me artificially; smiling at me virtually and whatnot that I opted for a break. My secret, though, was not to tell anyone. In between the messages and the sheep came a degree of self-regulation. At the time of writing, I have some 50-odd requests to join something or other I have not yet honoured, and a friend has just invited me to an event across the other side of the world I cannot possibly participate!


Facebook Fantasies, Digital Elations

We all are cognisant of the pitfalls inherent in a 24/7 information society, yet because we cannot escape it, we strike a fine balance—for that is as much as you can do. It's when you read about a Facebooker mobilising Colombians to stage a mass demonstration for revolutionary Marxist army forces using Facebook that you begin to wonder about the possibilities these social networking sites truly can offer. Or the fact that pedagogical/academic debates are being started around  the privacy – or lack thereof – of Facebook and its ability to offer comprehensive deleting of data, and what that means for innovation and ideas on the internet that you think that Facebook could be onto something big.


And something big it has been onto for a while. Its dalliance with Microsoft has been no secret. In October 2007, Microsoft invested a vertiginous $240million in Facebook. Microsoft has been instrumental in providing significant revenue for Facebook's advertising, just because it has been selling the Facebook's internet ads. The most important development through this dalliance is that Microsoft has been able to acquire a 1.6 per cent stake of the popular social networking site, now valued at $15bn.


Even though the Microsoft-Yahoo! saga might have bitten the dust after two weeks, possibilities are real for mergers, especially because of keen competition offered by MySpace, which, in my view, is to Facebook what Yahoo! is to Google.


The Future is Facebook

The online terrain is well and truly ripe for adventure – and you can bet your bottom dollar that Facebook is going to be in the thick of it. Last two weeks, it launched a Spanish version of its site, prompting reminisces of Yahoo!'s multilingual platform. The significance ought not be under-estimated, because one can very well imagine that with Facebook in the working six languages of the UN some day, we will not just be speaking its language, we will well and truly be thinking it.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Bank of Ghana, Cedi Re-Denomination Wins UN Award

Bank of Ghana, Cedi Re-Denomination Wins UN Award

Ghanaian Chronicle (Accra)

20 February 2008
Posted to the web 20 February 2008

By Stephen Odoi-Larbi

The Bank of Ghana and the Ghana Cedi Re-denomination websites have jointly won the 2007 World Summit Awards Special Mention from the Continent of Africa for the best in e-content and creativity in the e-Government category. This is the first time that Ghana has participated in the competition since the WSA started in 2003 as an initiative from Austria in the framework of the United Nations' World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS).

Following a selection of winners, an international conference was organized in Venice, Italy during which the winners from all over the world presented their awarded projects and shared their visions on the topic of "ICT & Creativity". At the 2007 conference, Mr. Derrick-Hope Gidzi, Chief Executive Officer and George Kofi Hagan, Chief Technology Officer of Con-Imedia, designers of the Bank of Ghana and Ghana Cedi Re-denomination websites, received the award for WSA Special Mention for the best in e-government in Africa and made a presentation on the Bank of Ghana/Ghana Cedi Re-denomination websites. Dignitaries present were delighted and full of praise for the outstanding technologies implemented, which has helped to empower government, citizens and the financial sector with the tools needed to access and capture information for everyday use.

The World Summit Awards (WSA) is the world's premier contest for excellence in e-content and creativity. They honour producers of interactive multimedia and innovative ICT applications and are the only awards supported by a Public Private Partnership between professional organisations, industry, governments and UN organisations.

The winners were selected following an evaluation by the World Summit Award Grand Jury 2007, which consisted of eminent multimedia and e-Content experts from 32 countries. A total of 24,000 products were presented for consideration. The Jury evaluated 650 entries which were nominated from 160 UN countries to the Global WSA. The Jury selected the five most outstanding products in each of the eight WSA Categories as winners.

The categories for the awards are: e-Culture e-Government e-Health e-Learning e-Business e-Entertainment e-Science e-Inclusion

WSA identifies high-quality e-Content products and promotes the most outstanding achievements worldwide in collaboration with the UN Secretary-General's Global Alliance for ICT and Development, UNESCO and UNIDO. It is a global not-for-profit activity governed by a Board of world-leading multimedia experts and supported by an office at the International Center for New Media in Salzburg, Austria.

"The contest increases the market awareness for excellence in e-Content, ingenious ideas and novel solutions, thus assisting in the market-making of high-quality multimedia products. And for some producers of excellence it is the breakthrough they needed to make it both locally and internationally" says Professor Peter A. Bruck, Chairman of the WSA Board of Directors.

The participation of the Bank of Ghana/Ghana Cedi Re-denomination websites in the competition was initiated by Ms. Dorothy Gordon, the Director-General of the Ghana-India Kofi Annan Centre of Excellence in ICT, who is an Eminent Expert for the WSA for Ghana and the African Spokesperson for the WSA, following a national contest in which the Bank of Ghana/Ghana Cedi Websites was adjudged the national best in e-government and creativity.

It would be recalled that the Bank of Ghana developed a website on the re-denomination exercise which was launched in April 2007. The Cedi Re-denomination website, which had a link from a re-designed Bank of Ghana website, had the various features including currency converters for converting the cedi to the Ghana Cedi and vice versa and also converting the cedi or Ghana Cedi to foreign currencies and vice versa. Another feature that was very widely patronized by the general public was the text messaging system on Areeba (now MTN), One Touch and Tigo which enabled the public to request for conversions.

The Bank of Ghana website was re-designed for better interactivity and accessibility by the general public.