Tuesday Jan 30, 2007

Adobe Adds Non-Assert

I just got home from a great day at JFokus in Sweden, so this is my first chance to pass longer comment on Adobe's excellent move to turn PDF into a ratified international standard like ODF. I first saw the news in Duane's blog and saw from there that they are sensibly using AIIM as the steward. This approach - waiting for the spec to stabilise before standardisation - is exactly the right thing to do and I understand the balance one needs to make between concern for the existing user base and desire to formalise the established standard. Stephen has one his Q & As on the news which is worth reading, especially for the implication of importance to the ongoing tussle between Microsoft and the rest of humanity over document formats.

When I saw the news, the first thing I went looking for was the details of how Adobe will handle all the patents associated with PDF, since it undoubtedly has a substantial portfolio. On Monday there was nothing at all about that in the announcement or the FAQ, so I asked on Duane's blog. Interestingly Stephen doesn't cover this important topic.

I just got a note from Duane with the very welcome news that Adobe has in fact decided to issue a Covenant not to sue surrounding its patent portfolio for PDF. They've added this fact to the end of the FAQ.This is excellent news since it frees the forthcoming ISO standard for implementation by Free and open source communities. Kudos to Adobe for taking this increasingly normal step with their standard, and to Duane for acting so fast to get it sorted.

Wednesday Sep 13, 2006

Security Blankets

Turning Crow

I see David Berlind has been asking for my opinion on Microsoft's new non-assert covenant. Keeping in mind that (a) Kim didn't send me an e-mail to tell me about it, let alone an advance review copy like Andy Updegrove, and (b) I have been in a meeting all day where my boss kept shutting the lid of my laptop each time I tried to go online, here are a few off-the-cuff comments.

To be clear (and to encourage Kim to send me a review copy next time!), I think this is a welcome step from Microsoft that I've been calling on them to take for quite some time. Eve Maler has a good analysis, and this seems to be a generally OK covenant document in the same spirit as the covenants Sun has issued around ODF, SAML and Web SSO. Kim Cameron is to be congratulated both for this specific outcome and for the (undoubtedly difficult) process of pushing Microsoft to this point.

However, it does contain three issues that I'd like to see addressed:

  1. First is the phrase "necessary claims". Whenever I see this phrase my lawyer alarm goes off as it immediately involves a judgement call which is the subjective right of the patent holder. It comes accompanied by the question "was our patent really necessary for this implementation? Surely you could have done it this other way and thus not needed it. It's actually not necessary so here's the invoice." I'd like to see that phrase replaced with language to indicate that no patent claims will be made against source code implementing the standard, with no necessity test involved.
  2. Second, the phrase "to the extent it conforms" is worrisome. Just as with the earlier language around Office 12 XML, it leaves open the question of who is the arbiter of conformance. It also means that open source is placed under a FUD cloud; development is carried out in public so partial and non-conforming implementations are sure to exist. I'd like to see this replaced with language to indicate that the good-faith intent to implement the standard is sufficient to gain coverage.
  3. Third (and most complex to explain) is the asymmetry of the patent peace. The patent grant is limited to necessary claims as I mentioned in 1 above, yet the cancellation of that grant is triggered:
    If you file, maintain or voluntarily participate in a patent infringement lawsuit against a Microsoft implementation of such Covered Specification, then this personal promise does not apply with respect to any Covered Implementation of the same Covered Specification made or used by you.
    That means that while Microsoft only grants me "necessary claims" I have to effectively grant them cover on all claims, necessary or not. That asymmetry has to be corrected.

I assume Microsoft will look into all of those, and it's on that basis I'm sending Kim a virtual handshake of congratulations. Let's hope they go back and apply them in the other areas where we are all in doubt, like CallerID and Office 12 XML.

One more thing to note is a rare error by Andy Updegrove. He says IBM was first with a patent non-assert covenant, but I don't agree. IBM made a public grant of 500 specific patents. While that's a fine gesture, it does not give software developers much in the way of a freedom from FUD as they have to analyse and then implement the patented ideas in order to gain protection (and the grant was only to open source developers as I recall). Software patents contain little that's useful to a programmer, so a list of patents is pretty much useless.

Sun's ODF covenant pioneered the idea of a blanket covenant, where the patents are not enumerated. This is absolutely key for open source developers. A list of standards where there's a guarantee that there will be no litigation is very useful. It means a developer can implement secure in the knowledge that those most likely to hold patents - the companies who co-developed the standard - covenant never to attack implementations of the standard.

Microsoft is now following suit. This is what open source needs - freedom from fear of attack, not the donation of unintelligible patents. It's time that became a requirement software standards bodies placed on their participants. To set that direction, we now need IBM to endorse and issue blanket covenants too - how about it, Bob?

Monday Aug 28, 2006

Loosely Coupled

Escape from Alcatraz

As I have been preparing for speaking events recently, I have started to realise that there's a common thread joining all the projects I have been involved in over the last decade. In 1995, I was one of the five instigators of the use of the Java platform at IBM; in 1997 I was IBM's spokesman for the newly emerging XML standard; in 2001 I was involved at Sun in what would become known as Service Oriented Architectures (SOA); today, I have a deep interest in OpenDocument format (ODF).

It may seem surprising that all these are connected, but they are. As I have been explaining now for a decade, the source of many costs in IT infrastructures result from different organisational units with no (or distant) shared management being forced to create technical interdependencies in order to co-operate. The less technology we are forced to share in order to co-operate, the less we will have to pay to get started and the less we will need to pay in the future to maintain - or remove - the ability. We need to stay loosely-coupled - connected by the least possible thread of technology.

What forces us to share technology in order to collaborate? Closedness. When solutions are single-vendor, when they use formats and APIs that aren't open (either by being non-standard or predicating use of a closed technology), using them for co-operative activities couples us to each other at a technology level. The opposite of this, promoting free choice and loose technology coupling, is open standards implemented as open source in open communities.

When we are loosely-coupled in this way, we can make our own decisions about what technologies to use within our own span of control, and you can make your own decisions on all these things, yet we are still able to co-operate over the things that matter to us. So each of the things I listed above express this principle. Java technology decouples applications from platforms; XML decouples data from applications; SOA decouple processing end-points; ODF decouples desktop data from the tool that maintains it. Each of these things potentially enables the freedom to leave.

Monday Jul 10, 2006

Loosely-Coupled Workflows

I've had a back-to-the-future moment, reviewing what I was saying back in 1997 and realising it's all coming true. The same logic that made the XML and the Java platform smart for developers makes OpenDocument smart for document users. Loosely-coupled workflows are still the answer, it seems. [Read More]

Monday Jun 26, 2006

Freedom To Leave

Secret Squirrel

A journalist asked me an interesting question last Friday, and it's led to this huge essay summarising what I'd like to say at OSBC in London today (I'll never fit it all in though, here are my slides). "Why is it," he asked, "that we are seeing so many new desktop tools like word-processors and calendars at the moment?" He's right, of course. There's loads of energy around, with projects like Google Calendar, KOffice, OpenOffice.org, Chandler and plenty more, plus new innovations like Backpack, Writely, BlogBridge and others. I've tried many of these and some of them have stuck. What's the connection between them?

The New Lock-Out

The thing is, all of these tools have worked out that lock-in is the new lock-out. The fastest way to send early adopters packing is to make your cool new toy a roach motel. To start with, early adopters like me are not willing to put live data into applications that don't offer import and export. My calendar is in RFC2445 iCalendar format, so if you want me to try your new calendar thing you'd better accept that as the import format. If I can't add iCalendar and vCalendar appointments I'll not be using it for long, and there had better be an iCalendar sharing facility for scheduling.

What's more, I have to have iCalendar export so I can migrate away from your new toy to things like Apple iCal, Sun Java System Calendar Server or any of the umpteen programs that support those standards. The same goes for everything else - I just moved my blog subscriptions from Bloglines to BlogBridge to give it a try (it's a pretty cool Java Webstart application) using the OPML export in Bloglines, and I work with a group of people routinely exchanging documents between a selection of applications that support ODF.

Confidence To Stay

The availability of open, freely-usable standards creates a bigger market and promotes innovation because we are all free to give things a try, as was clear at BloggerCon. If "interoperability" meant "import only", I'd never feel safe trying new things so market growth and innovation would be inhibited. People who implement open standards like this are smart, because although they allow customers to leave for greener pastures they also allow them to return - I am still using Bloglines despite the appeal of BlogBridge - and the confidence I feel over "owning" my data makes me a much more interesting customer.

That feeling is caused by more than interoperability - it takes full substitutability for me to have the confidence to stay as well as the freedom to leave. That's why Stewart is spot-on with Flickr's policy and paradoxically will keep my business by allowing me to leave at any time.

Innovation Enabled

More than that, though, full support for truly open standards means that new ways to use the data can occur. For example, the feeds in Bloglines mean I can use BlogBridge to read the for:webmink tag feed using BlogBridge and have Cote send me interesting links to read without the overhead of e-mail. That's part innovation-by-design and part innivation-enabled, leaving the customer to work out new ways to mash-up the data and create innovative uses for their own data. When using the data demands only a particular vendor's software, or a licenisng relationship, or some other boundary traversal, the innovation finds it harder to escape.

So what does it take to have a standard that leads to substitutability and the freedom to leave? At a minimum, it takes the following to innovation-enable a standard.

  • First of all, it takes confidence over intellectual property rights. I dream of a world where "standard" implies that all parties to the creation of the specification have been compelled to issue non-assert covenants so every developer can be sure there's no strings attached.
  • Second, it takes multiple implementations, proving the format is actually usable in multiple places. This was the genius of IETF and it's one of the lessons of CORBA.
  • Third, the approach must not favour any particular implementation or platform. That's the problem Microsoft's Office 12 XML format (or whatever it's called today) turns out to have, and no amount of rubber-stamping by the vendor-only Ecma International will fix it.
  • Fourth, and in the coming world of development the most important, is that there's an open source reference implementation, so that the standard can be incorporated into as many systems as possible. This, by the way, is why I am such a fan of open source for the Java platform.

The Richness of the Plains

This is about far more than interoperability. Interoperablity was a fine goal in the 90s, but in today's world it takes much more than just the minimum level of allowing others to use your secret sauce. Pragmatic interoperability is better than nothing and sure beats the cold-war mindset of the 80s and 90s where incompatibility and isolationism were the rule. But I want more than import-only. I want more than lowest-common-denominator exchange, where I have to rework my data to make it survive the teleport. Those are the hallmarks of the monopolist's definition of interoperability - letting you play in my market at little risk to me.

The network changes everything. I argue in my current keynote (after Benkler) that injecting the network into society removes the commercial benefits previously achieved by closed behaviour, and the plethora of new software the journalist observed seems to support that. The canyons were the first world of software and interoperability was their high-altitude pass. The plains are the new world, where the spread of open formats and software grows the market and gives us all the opportunity for success - in whatever compatible way we choose to measure it.

The new world is being made by iCalendar, Atom/RSS, OpenDocument, OPML and their like, overturning one of Cringeley's five lock-ins (cited by Charles Miller recently) in a world that's also rejecting the other four. Truly open formats are creating the new market, and those who attempt to subvert the trend with pseudo-openness will fail.

Sunday Jun 25, 2006

Wave After Wave

I can't let the last week pass without mentioning the incredible wave of support that ISO26300, the OpenDocument family of file formats, have been receiving around the world. Last week we saw Belgium and India joining Denmark and many others in recognising the importance of using a truly open file format for their dealings with their citizens. I was especially struck by the wisdom of this part of the Belgian decision:

From September 2008 onwards, Belgium's federal services must use ODF when exchanging documents, though other formats will still be allowed for internal use, Strickx confirmed. However, Belgium is leaving the door open for Open XML [that's Microsoft's Newspeak-renamed Office 12 format that they are pushing through Ecma with the help of some corporate friends - S.]

"Open XML today does not exist, as there is no product on the market that supports it. Once it is available as a product and proposed to the ISO, it is possible that the format will also be accepted," Strickx said. However, there will be an additional hurdle: Open XML must also be proven to be easily convertible to and from ODF.

The old standards system is in urgent need of a fix - Ecma still has the ability to "bless" standards that it gained back in the 80s, even though today it is among the most closed and anachronistic of standards bodies. But the Belgians are allowing for that, requiring that even if Microsoft is able to manipulate this anachronism to get Office 12 XML a standards stamp, the pragmatic rule of round-trip conversion will also apply. Smart. The tide is turning.

Tuesday May 02, 2006

ISO 26300

My colleague in our international standards team writes:

the OASIS Open Document Format spec is now an international standard. Its designation is ISO/IEC 26300. It passed without oppostion. (There were a few abstentions.) There was very broad support worldwide.

This is a landmark moment for the Free/Open Source Software movement. An innovation that started there - the OpenDocument family of file formats - has been reviewed, adopted and now endorsed at the highest level as an international standard. We now have a standard for productivity documents that is recognised by governments (there is a little more bureaucracy to handle, as Andy Updegrove reports, but the standard is official).

If we wish, we can now draw a base-line across the productivity tools market and tell our suppliers we will not tolerate further competition and lock-in below that line. Innovation above that line is desirable - expected, even - but attempts to force upgrade, lock out competition, control my own use of my own data, are all now unacceptable. We have the tools of freedom in our hands. Time to use them.

digg story

Tuesday Mar 07, 2006

Cod Psychology

Fruit Bats

I have been watching Microsoft now for a very long time. I'm struck by the way one of their characteristic tactics has held firm for the whole time I have been watching. The tactic? When Microsoft knows it's in the wrong, it attacks with its weaknesses - has done for years. It's what I gather psychologists call projection - superimposing your own faults on others. There are some excellent examples in their response to the ODF Alliance. My sources here are reports of conversations with two brilliant Microsoft debaters, Alan Yates and Jason Matusow. Let's see how the technique works, and what we can learn of Microsoft's true fears by observing it.

Jason "told The Register Tuesday IBM and Sun Microsystems have an economic agenda in advancing ODF".\*
Of course all the companies involved have business-related agendas. Two points to note:
  1. They may try to imply otherwise by attacking the Alliance this way, but Microsoft has a clear economic agenda in opposing a truly open standard; protection of their monopoly on desktop document software.
  2. Microsoft is also essentially alone in its advocacy of Office 12 XML - the other participants at Ecma are either MS Office bond slaves1 like Apple and Intel or organisations like the British Library who want to make the impact of Microsoft's products on their archives as small as possible and are also connected to ODF. Describing the Alliance as just Sun and IBM ignores the breathtaking breadth of the membership but frames the debate nicely for Jason and Alan.
The Alliance is "advancing ODF as an 'exclusive standard.'"\* (Alan Yates also used this term so it's clearly in the speaking points I saw Anders using in Copenhagen.)
Microsoft is desperate to nip this ODF uprising in the bud. They are determined they won't support ODF in Office 12, because to do so both validates the standard and provides their customers with a way out of the roach motel ("your data can check in but it can't check out"). They want to exclusively support MS Office 12 XML and are pulling out all the stops to get it rubber-stamped as a "standard" in order to counter the clear direction in Europe and elsewhere towards standards. In other words, Microsoft wants MS Office 12 XML Format to be the de facto exclusive standard, and in their own products it will be the exclusive standard.

"The alliance is an effort to push an economic agenda with a competing product," Matusow said.\*
Microsoft's product is not even released yet, and will be the only one supporting MS Office 12 XML for a significant time. It suits them to pretend that this is all about OpenOffice.org but ODF is actually already widely supported.

In IT Wire, we read "While we await the release of Microsoft Office 2007, promised to hit our shelves before the end of 2006, Yates dismisses open source rival Open Office.org 2.0 as being 10 years out of date."
The weakness here apart from the previous point? Well, Microsoft itself has found its customers are not impressed by all the bloat added since Office 97, and the only real reason for moving for maybe 80% of its customers is that it's at the end of its support life and new copies can't be purchased. Microsoft is even trying to bully and shame its own customers into the "upgrade", calling them "dinosaurs" in the blanket advertising of London I saw yesterday. The truth is that, for the majority of users, the innovation point has moved elsewhere - the strengths of software supporting ODF include global localisability (that's OpenOffice.org), portal usage (IBM Workplace), online editing (Writely), Linux support (KOffice and OpenOffice.org). Microsoft has none of these features, which are the ones the future wants. It's still stuck in WinThink.

Alan Yates ... accused the alliance ... of wanting to push the ODF as an "exclusive" standard to the detriment of all others, rather than enabling choice among formats like PDF from Adobe, Microsoft's OpenXML and HTML.\*
As well as being frankly untrue (OpenDocument only standardises editable formats and in fact complements PDF and HTML), it turns out that Microsoft intends to attack both PDF and HTML in its forthcoming Windows release. Vista includes XAML, intended to move beyond HTML, and XPS, intended to replace PDF.

"So we are meeting the requirements of backward compatibility with all of the billions of documents that are in previous Office versions," [Yates] said.\*
There's a non-sequitur here. There is no important sense in which any new XML-based format can be "compatible" with previous binary file formats2. It's applications that are compatible with the old formats. And it turns out that all the applications that support ODF are also compatible with .DOC files3. Microsoft's weakness is that it faces a break with the lock-in to date. Office 12 has a new user interface, demanding extensive user training. Office 12 has a new file format, requiring a format conversion of key records. For the first time in a decade, customers are faced with a genuine opportunity to slip the surly bonds and Microsoft is terrified that any percentage might do so. Maybe ODF is presenting them with "Innovator's Dilemma"-style disruption?

Sum of All Fears

So what do we learn about Microsoft by analysing their attacks on the ODF Alliance?

  • Microsoft's worried about it's huge Office revenues, possibly their most important cash cow and most significant lock-in mechanism.
  • They are increasingly isolated in opposing ODF (the ODF Alliance is now approaching 100 members, in a time span equivalent to a finger-snap).
  • They want MS Office 12 to be the exclusive format used on the computers they control through their monopoly.
  • They are concerned about how great a lead ODF has in both application support and mindshare.
  • They are worried that they are missing the new imperatives of the world that open source and web-hosted applications epitomise.
  • They are worried by the way HTML and PDF offer vendor independence and intend to attack both in Vista.
  • They are worried that their "dinosaurs" (a.k.a. their customer base) won't see value in Vista and Office 12 and may use the end-of-support of previous products as an opportunity to migrate to the new world, or just stick with what they are using because it's working.

So much for psychology 101. These Microsoft arguments are advanced sophistry at its best. I hope you're enjoying watching the masters at work.

  1. I've taken some heat in the comments for describing Apple in particular this way. Note that I am not asserting this globally; obviously Apple makes Microsoft's life miserable as they deliver a superior product with taste and skill. But I have personally checked and in both cases the support of TC45 is based mostly on calling-in of favours rather than on any technical merit. I should probably know better than to bait Mac bigots (I am one myself, after all) but this is the way it is this time round.
  2. Actually, in the realm of the technical there is a way in which a format can be considered less or more suitable for storing the results of file conversion by an application, but it too is a consequence of the capabilities of the program rather than the format. A complex software product is the instantiation of a developer worldview. It's possible for concepts to exist in one worldview that can't be represented in the other easily. In human languages, an example of this would be the Portuguese word saudade, for which there is no equivalent in English and to understand which involves a certain appreciation for fatalism. It's unlikely that a sentence in Portuguese that includes "saudade" would be translated into good English in a way such that the translation of the English back to Portuguese would involve the word "saudade" again.

    In Wordstar there was a keystoke that you could insert to tell the word-processor to centre the line in which it appeared at print time. MS Word has no equivalent concept and so is "incompatible" with Wordstar - it can only centre a paragraph. Thus, one might say that .DOC was incompatible with the Wordstar file format that preceded it as, once Word has processed the Wordstar file, the "centre this line" command is lost for ever and reading back the resultant .DOC in a hypothetical version of Wordstar that was able to do so would show no sign of the "centre line" command that had been in the original.

    Fortunately, ODF was designed explicitly to be compatible with the worldview of MS Word, according to the designers, so is able to record the concepts representable in .DOC files. Moreover, it's OK with XML to include tags in a file that a program doesn't understand - they can be ignored by the program - so the Wordstar case need not happen; the unsupported character could just be immortalised as a fragent of XML recording the exception.
  3. No thanks to Microsoft by the way - everyone else has gained compatibility with .DOC the same way the accessibility device vendors have implemented Office support, through hard, miserable reverse engineering. If it turns out that there are any imperfections in the .DOC import by any vendor, it's not their fault. Microsoft continues to benefit from the undocumented state of .DOC even in Office 12 where they would like us to think it's history. That, as I understand it, is part of the recent ECIS complaint to the European Commission.

Updates: Mar 11, added new footnote 1, clarified in first item that everyone has a business agenda.

Monday Mar 06, 2006

Dispersing some FUD on ODF

I've heard some people saying crazy stuff about OpenDocument over the last few days (naming no names, at least for now) since we all launched the ODF Alliance. Here's some samples.

The ODF Alliance is just Sun, IBM and their friends.
That's a whole lot of friends. On launch day there were 35 (including well-known Sun supporters Novell, Red Hat, Corel, EMC and EDS, plus the Technical University of Denmark, Indian Institute of Technology and a load more) and I gather sign-ups are happening faster than SIIA can cope. No, ODF Alliance is actually a groundswell of support for a once-for-all solution to all the problems that monopoly control of document formats causes. We all know we're at a point of change, with genuine choice, and if the current dominant supplier wants to stay dominant they'd better hear us all and instead of patronising put-downs give us what we want, the way we want it.
The ODF Alliance want to push ODF as an exclusive standard to the detriment of all others vs. enabling choice among formats such as PDF from Adobe, Open XML, HTML and others.
No. The ODF Alliance wants to see one baseline standard for editable documents, just like we already have one baseline standard for web pages in HTML and one baseline standard for non-editable documents in PDF. Choice of whether to exchange editable or non-editable or web-viewable is good. Choice of how to do each of those is not good.
Choice and competition is better than arbitrary technology preferences.
Totally agree. Having a single baseline standard promotes competition and choice. It has done so in all sorts of industries and now it's the turn of desktop documents. But choice does not create competition if it's a choice of standards, as Blu-Ray and DVD-HD are about to prove. When there's a choice of standards, leverage of monopoly power is what solves the debate, to the detriment of the market.
It's more important that we have XML and customers can customise it than that we have a single document standard
That's certainly important to as much as 3% of users - look at the market share for SGML editors to see how many. But the other 97% of us would like to have the confidence that if we write something today on our Macs we'll be able to read it next year on desktop OpenSolaris (replace with your own preferred values!). That's only going to happen with a document format that is widely implemented on all platforms, like OpenDocument.
Almost all documents use legacy MS Office binary formats. Compatibility is vital. Only Microsoft's new Office 12 XML format can do that
Uhhhm - excuse me? Reading .DOC and it's undocumented siblings is an application function, painstakingly reverse engineered by the OpenOffice.org community and others over the years as Microsoft laughed. Once you've read the file, it can be saved into any format designed to preserve the document architecture - as OpenDocument explicitly was. The argument is a non sequiter.
OpenDocument doesn't support all the snazzy new features we want to unnecessarily add to our next release of XXXX so we can't use it.
But OpenDocument is an XML file format stored in a standard compressed file container. You can both add extra files to the container, and you can add extra XML to the individual files in the container. You can extend it to your heart's content, and yet all other programs that read OpenDocument will be at very least able to read it and probably to modify it. But you know this, of course, because Office 12 XML works exactly the same way.
Microsoft couldn't join the OpenDocument project
On the contrary, it's been conducted at OASIS, where Microsoft is on the Board of Directors and runs many WS-\* standards groups. Indeed, Microsoft staff even attended one or two meetings. In fact, former Microsoft employee Stephe Walli thinks they should have participated, but at the time their opinion was that the world didn't need a standard file format because we had .DOC - as Brian Jones of Microsoft admits, Massachusetts has made them change their mind, at least on that one.

The FUD machines can create clouds of FUD faster than I can disperse it, but that's a start at least!

Update: Indeed, here are lots of those arguments in action. The thing about ODF competing with HTML and PDF is truly stupid. Now, Microsoft is doing those things in Vista, so maybe it's a case of "attacking with their weaknesses".

Friday Mar 03, 2006

ODF Alliance debuts

Monarch ButterfliesI got in late last night from Copenhagen, where I had the pleasure of speaking at the Linux Forum Denmark. I actually got to sit down and chat with Alan Cox at last, which was very enjoyable (charming guy), and I was made very welcome by the organisers - they even drove me to the airport at the end when it was clear the blizzard that had sprung up was going to prevent me catching my flight if I took a taxi. Mind you, the blizzard delayed the flight by 2 hours (but only once we were all on board, saving SAS from its statutory responsibilities).

One of the important subjects for the day was the launch of the new ODF Alliance, a broad-based advocacy group promoting the use of OASIS OpenDocument formats for word processing, spreadsheets, presentations and more. The group comprises many different kinds of groups, from corporations to open source communities and universities. Bob has a round-up of the press reaction, and Andy Updegrove has a great article about what it means to have the Alliance around and so does Pamela at Groklaw.

I seem to have spent the whole week talking to people about this, and the themes will be familiar to regular readers here - about how we need to recognise the maturity of the document creation and viewing market and draw a baseline standard across it so that innovation doesn't mean the loss of earlier work; about standards and openness and how Ecma fails the test; about the subtle dishonesty of some of the counter-arguments (watch for abusive manipulation of the disability community by the anti-ODF lobby next, just like in MA); especially about the ODF Alliance and its role as an independent rallying-point for advocacy.

Something I have said repeatedly is that the ODF Alliance is pro-freedom, pro-history, pro-individual, pro-openness. It's not anti- anyone. The web site even uses technology that some abhor, but it was formed by a diverse group of people genuinely pro- something and no-one gave a thought to partisan political correctness as SIIA put the resources together. It's just an idea whose time has come, as all of us found over the last 10 days or so as we recruited members. We found almost everyone we asked said "of course we'll join" the instant we asked (a few then got vetoed by superiors, can't say who).

It's Saturday and I am decompressing after a busy week, but I'll leave a final invitation. The ODF Alliance. Please get your organisation to join now or, if you are unable to do that, join one of the many member organisations. We need to all send a clear message that it's time for a real standard so that we aren't condemned to forget our history by the competitive software market and its dynamics.

Wednesday Feb 22, 2006

Avoiding the Digital Dark Ages

I'm home again from my travels, after a visit to Amsterdam on Monday and attending Peter Quinn's breakfast briefing for European politicians yesterday (also briefly mentioned by IT Week). Microsoft must be really worried by Quinn - they went to the trouble of shipping in their patent chief Marshall Phelps to speak in a hurriedly-arranged (and sparsely attended) parallel briefing in the room next door in the European Parliament.

Peter continues to be inspiring, and the MEPs that came to the breakfast had some great questions. Today is apparently George Washington's birthday and one of Quinn's comments harks back to those days. Quinn's primary motive in starting the policy to use only open formats in Massachusetts was to ensure that the current political process has an trail of supporting documents that's at least as rich as the one we have today explaining American independence.

My fear, shared by Quinn, is that future historians will look back on today as the "digital dark ages", where only the final outcome of deliberations is available and all the contributing threads of discussion are lost to proprietary formats, obsolete media, impenetrable DRM and e-mail retention policies that delete everything after 12 months.

Quinn has already succeeded to a degree. Microsoft would not be at Ecma getting their Windows-only file format rubber stamped without him. There's still much further we have to go if we're to avoid the memory hole and escape the digital dark ages.

Monday Feb 20, 2006

Migrating to the second choice

Still not fallen off the world, just straight back into travel again - in fact, I just came back from a fascinating dinner with Peter Quinn here in Brussels, where I arrived earlier from Amsterdam after an impossibly early flight this morning from Southampton. Peter makes an excellent point as he discusses the need for legislation to control the lock-in that's cropped up all over government IT.

He says that it didn't take a law to create the lock-in, just lots of isolated, incremental decisions by CIOs all over every government. So while we're waiting for the equivalent of anti-trust legislation over file formats and protocols (which is surely coming, by the way), there's no reason why informed purchasing decisions shouldn't also be removing the lock-in one department at a time.

One question that needs asking, for example, are what are the exit costs of a decision. People are hot on procurement costs and "TCO", but the biggest problem we all face is that CIOs are able to make decisions without having to take into account the needs of the people who will have to undo their decisions.

My proposal: include in the procurement cost a calculation of the cost of migration from the number one solution on the short-list to the number two solution on the shortlist. That should give a good indication of the mininum exit costs from a given procurement.

Wednesday Dec 28, 2005

Massachusetts Stands Firm

According to the Globe, the Government of Massachusetts has asserted that the policy to move to ODF and the deadline to do it by the start of 2007 remain unchanged: [Thanks, Bob]

''We are moving steadily towards that deadline and we expect no changes in those rules," Fehrnstrom said. Under the Aug. 31 initiative, the state would require all documents produced by the state's executive branch to be stored in a new, universal computer format, called OpenDocument.

Some commentators have been tying to make it seem as if that's not the case, so it's great to have an official clarification. To be clear, Massachusetts are still planning to only allow vendors with bona fides open data format support to trade with them. Peter Quinn's legacy stands firm and fair, with all of us gaining equal access to the State.

Tuesday Dec 27, 2005

Casualty of the Status Quo?

I had a little flurry of e-mail over the break with news that Peter Quinn had resigned as CIO of the state of Massachusetts - not because of any internal disagreement, but because he's not a politician and isn't prepared to be treated like one. Pamela says:

... my sources tell me that it in no way indicates a change of policy there. And he was not forced out. Just that a decent man has no taste for the unpleasant tactics that one finds in politics nowadays and doesn't wish to be the focus of controversy. Can you blame him, after the sordid article in the Boston Globe?

I'm very sad to see such a smart and honest guy as Peter hounded from his job by the dirty tricks of the status quo. I only met him once, at the meeting in Armonk, but he impressed me as immensely fair and balanced in his business judgement. He just wanted the best for Massachusetts in the long run, and was brave and honest to follow that thought through to its logical conclusion, without protecting the incumbent vendors from the force of the logic. I think Massachusetts has lost a good public servant and that's to be regretted.

I also note that Andy is still awaiting a reply from the Boston Globe's ombudsman after Quinn was exonerated. I hope there's a decent answer. It's bad enough for public servants to have to work within the fiscal and transparency guidelines that have been applied to them. If they are also going to suffer a public hounding whenever they impartially investigate how to meet the real long-term needs of the government they serve then we can all expect the truly good men and women to work elsewhere. As Brian McMahon says:

It says a lot about what's happened to public life (and public service), if someone who is just competently doing his job can be hounded out of it, and it doesn't count as being forced out.

Thoughts and pointers on digital freedoms and technology markets. With a few photos too.


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