Writings on technology and society from Wellington, New Zealand

Thursday, January 31, 2008

Free software or Open source

Today on Radio New Zealand National I talked about Free Software and how this is a different concept from Open Source.

Yes, there are important distinctions between these two. Free Software is sometimes taken to mean software which is free of charge under some circumstances, but the phrase really refers to software that carries certain freedoms with it – “free” as in unencumbered.

Read on for my speaking notes.

posted by colin at 11:50 am  

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Something light-hearted for a Summer weekend

The late, great Billy T James shows us how to buy a used car…

posted by colin at 12:05 pm  

Friday, January 25, 2008

Going to Geneva

I have been asked to be one of a three person team representing New Zealand’s view on the draft international standard commonly called OOXML, at a meeting of the international standards body ISO at the end of February. OOXML is essentially the format used by Microsoft latest version of its Office suite, although not by earlier versions of Office.

Standardising the file formats used by office programs may sound a little arcane, but it’s actually rather important because a properly implemented standard would allow competition in the office software field, since people would be able to buy or download any standards-compliant program they wished and still keep access to all their documents.

There is already an international standard for office document formats. It’s the one used by a host of mostly free programs including Open Office. This standard, called ODF, was passed unanimously by ISO a couple of years ago. Now ISO is being asked to consider blessing another standard. There was a vote on this back in September, to which New Zealand voted No, as did the rest of the world by a narrow margin. I’ve blogged about this before.

The Geneva meeting is to work through the OOXML draft standard and see how it could be improved technically. After the meeting countries will have a chance to change their votes.

The New Zealand delegation will consist of three people: a StandardsNZ staffer, a Microsoft employee, and me. I’m honoured to be able to contribute to New Zealand’s efforts on this – it’s important for New Zealand and for the world.

posted by colin at 8:28 pm  

Thursday, January 24, 2008


Today on Radio New Zealand National I talked about the links between technology and culture.

Many people see technology as some kind of boring but necessary thing that someone else looks after, and if the truth be told rather look down on those who look after it. As I argue here that view is just plain wrong…

posted by colin at 11:51 am  

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

10 Amazing New Zealand things I did over Summer

Having just returned from Summer break with my family, I thought I’d list the top ten wonderful New Zealand experiences we’d had. But I couldn’t whittle it down to ten so there are a few more in the list. What a fantastic country we live in!

posted by colin at 8:01 pm  

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

A transatlantic tunnel, hurrah!

…is the title of an old book by Harry Harrison which I haven’t read, but I’ve always loved the title. The title captures some of the enthusiasm around connecting our world. And today, we connect our world with undersea fibre cables, as I have written about before.

In New Zealand, our international fibre – our lifeline to the world – is all provided by a single company, the Southern Cross cable company. This company, or rather its backers Telecom and Optus, had the vision and the guts ten years ago to make the large investment necessary to run fibre right across the Pacific Ocean, by two different routes. A ring of fibre provides great service and makes it unlikely that the connection can fail even if a strand of cable is cut. Imagine trying to sell that to investors in the mid 90s!

But here we are a decade down the track and no-one doubts that the Internet is key to our society and our economy, to our place in the world. Undersea cables are a fact of life – they alway have been for New Zealand, of course, but the kind of capacity and robustness provided by Southern Cross is now a necessity in a wired age. Put bluntly, no-one will want to come here or remain here if we can’t be part of the Internet revolution that is happening in developed countries around the world.


posted by colin at 7:49 am  

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