No more dongles
By syw on Jun 23, 2007
Here in southern China gathered leaders of world's open-source community. GuangZhou city (广州: great foods, hospitable people, and warm climate) hosted this year's China OSS summit. A couple China Academy of Science Fellows graced this conference and heightened its prestige level (government and press attention). In the wake of China's standardization of UOF and ISO ODF, Microsoft's submission of yet another one became the lightening rod in a fierce storm.
I am one of those sad global business travelers. We eat airline foods, sleep in unfamiliar beds, participate family events via international phone calls, get confused on time-zones, go to an exotic city to see only the hotel room and its gym. (Simon does not even get to see the gym.)
We are trained to travel light: only the necessities of toiletry, change of clothes, and medicines for emergencies. We carry a bag of cables, chargers, and the all-important universal plug adapter. Countries around the world have different electricity and shapes of the electric plug. Without this dongle, your plug cannot mate the socket on the wall. It feels like dying from thirst in front of a vending machine that does not take your money.
Every time I use this dongle, I sigh silently. What a mess!
There is no international standard for the shape of electric plugs. Some countries, later in development cycle, adopt more than one shapes (even for normal appliances). The result is a tremendous waste of money. A converter industry spawned! Some houses (I am living in one) installed multiple kinds just in case. This is an annoyance we are forced to accept. Really. What a mess.
Once a society adopts a standard, people innovate above or below. If a country chooses a shape for electric plugs. Companies can still innovate on electricity generation; they can also create new electrical gadgets. The standard guarantees inter-operatibility, which increases the market size and leads to more innovations. The world needs choices of solutions that are exchangeable, not choices of standards.
On May 2nd, ODF became an international (ISO) standard of office file format. Few weeks later, UOF became a China office file format standard. Quickly, China and OpenOffice.org, started to work to unify them. Today, I invited Microsoft to join this effort. China government knows more than one such standards is not a good thing. Let's hope the world feels the same.