In Ramblings of an African Geek, Kwasi provides as neat and clear an explanation of the background and the issues of ODF and OOXML for Ghana and other developing countries as I have seen anywhere.
The International Organization for Standardization (ISO) will be voting on this September 2, so it is currently a matter of interest and importance. I’ve included an excerpt, but it is worth reading the whole article, particularly if you may need to explain some of this at some point, or have the opportunity to ask questions.
Background information on ODF, OOXML and why It matters in the developing world
Developing countries are still building the vast majority of their IT infrastructure. This means that they do not have a massive base of old documents in a restricted format. Those documents are on paper. Their offices are still being computerized. Their people are still learning how to use those computers. If you are going to teach someone to use an office suite anyway, what difference does it make if that suite is MS Office, Openoffice.org or Google Writer? What difference does it make if those legacy paper documents go to ODF or OOXML? Either way the work has to be done and the money has to be spent.
The problem is, what happens when you lock yourself into a company’s proprietary format because they are giving you free stuff and claim the format is open, then they start charging you for it and you realize all those alternatives they assured you existed can’t fully open your documents and you are stuck with them and their licence fees?
In an earlier post he tells us more about why open source is important in Ghana as well as the developing world, particularly in Africa. As he says, money is the most often cited reason but it is not necessarily the most important. From a presentation he has posted:
Problem: At this point in time Africa is overwhelmingly a consumer of other people’s ideas and technology.
Why is this a problem?
Well, it isn’t if we have no issues with playing in second place for all time. Assuming we have a problem with that though, we will not achieve parity while we are dependent on outside brain power to solve all our problems while we sideline local talent and ability.
How does the Open Source movement help us to address this?
The free flow of information gives us a huge chance to level the playing field.
Lowers the barriers of information access.
Gives us a look at their tools and their processes.
This we can use to leverage those tools as we use them, and to create our own.
In other words, this is about more than just getting cheaper consumer goods.
Its about contributing back to the global share of information as equals.