Tuesday Jul 14, 2009

☞ Marketing and Exploitation

  • More scientific research which tells us what we would already know if we weren't so busy anthropomorphising.
  • "Taken individually, these dubious actions might be dismissed...taken together they suggest a consistent philosophy" -- Yes, yes, I've seen MiniMicrosoft saying they have "turned the corner" but this episode suggests the underdog self-image is alive and well. Microsoft's military assault on the standards world deserves a written history; this is a good start.
  • I'm a Zipcar member and they have a scheme where anyone who joins up via a member referral can get $25 or £25 free usage of the service (as well as the member getting the same). If you ever need a car for a few hours in a major US city or in London, Zipcar may well interest you.
    (tags: Zipcar Travel Eco)
  • This is a brilliant video - great, catchy song, amusing video, restrained yet direct message. It deserves to be a chart hit. I want to buy a copy so I can listen to it while I'm flying United...

Wednesday May 20, 2009

☞ Exciting events and Interoperability news

  • More local geek activity. Given the employment profile in the area I've been amazed this sort of thing hasn't shown up before - very welcome. Southampton is rapidly emerging as "Silicon Port".
  • "The OpenDocument Format (ODF) Alliance today cautioned that serious deficiencies in Microsoft’s support for ODF needed to be addressed to ensure greater interoperability with other ODF-supporting software. "
  • "Kernel Conference Australia is a Kernel-focused technical conference to be held in Brisbane, Australia, from July 15th to 17th, 2009. Any and all Open Source kernels and the technologies within those kernels are open for discussion. The only hard criteria is that the kernel must be covered by an OSI-approved license." -- Don't be put off by the fact this is Sun-sponsored, the organisers are creating a genuine and inclusive technical conference that looks very worthwhile.
  • New site helps you see just how compatible office suites are with each other.

Friday May 01, 2009

☞ ODF, Patents and Copyright in NZ & SF

Tuesday Mar 24, 2009

Document Freedom Day 2009

Today is Document Freedom Day, the second year it's been celebrated. We have a great opportunity in front of us this year. With Microsoft promising to support ODF any day now in their latest office suite (and with the ODF plug-in already freely available for their older versions), it will become politically acceptable for organisations everywhere to standardise on ODF for their documents.

This is an important step, because ODF is widely supported and implemented, openly developed and provides a baseline that will be readable for years to come. That protects the ability of future generations to read our documents in just the same way that we are able to read the documents that explain what went on in previous generations.

So what can you do to celebrate? Here are some ideas:

  • Steer your organisation to adopt the Open Document Protocol, with the intent of sharing only widely available and open formats with other organisations.
  • Give a friend a copy of OpenOffice.org
  • Give a friend who's locked in to Microsoft Office a copy of the ODF Plug-in
Happy DFD!

Wednesday Nov 05, 2008

ODF Toolkit Union

Another milestone on the Open Document journey was just announced. Sun and IBM are joining together to sponsor the new ODF Toolkit Union, a collaborative community to develop the tools software developers need to support ODF in their applications. The goal is to make it very easy for any application to embrace ODF and to do so with a collaboratively-developed codebase so that it's really easy to make interoperable documents.

There's a substantial initial code donation there from Sun, including an ODF DOM and a .Net ODF library, all licensed under the Apache License v2. There is also an ODF validator, to help developers check the documents they create are correctly constructed.

Hopefully this will catalyse participation by a very wide range of developers, and promote the spread of document creators and consumers that work smoothly together. If I can clarify things for any organisation wanting to join the Union, get in touch by e-mail (details at the foot of the page). And if you're at ApacheCon, come and find me today and ask.

Monday Oct 13, 2008

OpenOffice.org and archiving

At the ODF Workshop last week, a number of the delegates were asking about the right way to handle archiving of their documents. Obviously ODF offers a baseline file format that promises long-term readability and editability, but the question remains of how best to handle files. With the release of OpenOffice.org 3.0, there are now two alternatives, and we heard at the conference of a third alternative coming in the future from ODF.

  1. ODF plus PDF

    Most of the archivists I have spoken to have insisted that one should always keep the original document in its original format, regardless of other choices. The easiest option for archiving is to retain the original file, with an optional copy filtered to ODF if the original is not in ODF, and then accompany the file with a PDF image. Technology exists to automatically create all this.
  2. PDF Container

    OpenOffice.org includes extensive new PDF handling features, including PDF/A support, access to PDF's distribution and use controls and the ability to include the original ODF in a "container" inside a "hybrid PDF". This last feature offers a fine archiving alternative, where a single file is created but within it the original ODF is retained for future use.
  3. Read-Only ODF

    At the workshop, we heard from Jomar Silva on the future of ODF 1.2. One of the features he described was signed, read-only ODF, allowing the preservation of the document exactly as used (it's on slide 4).

Choosing which to use is obviously a decision for each archiving authority, but the richness of the new PDF support means that the options open to arhcivists just grew enormously.

Wednesday May 21, 2008

Microsoft Embraces ODF, At Last

Slipstreaming Gull

I was tidying in my office recently and found my attendee badge for the Open Source Convention held in Monterey in 2000. The big news that year (apart from the fact that the world didn't end) was that Sun, which had just bought a German company called Star Division, was releasing their flagship product StarOffice under an open source license and sponsoring a new open source community called OpenOffice.org. The t-shirts we all received just said "Freedom". We all had high hopes that simple but bold move, as well as giving all of us a great document suite, would begin to lubricate the market for document tools and get its corroded competitive gears turning again.

I'm now completely convinced that it worked. The widespread adoption of OpenOffice.org both on Windows (for which millions of copies of OO.o are downloaded each year) and on GNU/Linux (where it is distributed with almost every copy) was an early sign. The growth of OpenDocument format from a seed planted by OpenOffice.org to an independent plant nurtured by OASIS to a spreading young tree at ISO was another.

But today there are many senses in which we all in the OpenOffice.org community could be delighted at our influence on the world of software. The steady pressure has paid off. Not just because OpenOffice.org is better than ever at version 3.0 (now available in a native Mac version among others). But because we were accused of being derivative, yet it's now our innovation that is setting the pace.

Change of Heart?

I'm referring to the announcement Microsoft just made that they will be issuing a service pack for Office that adds native support for ODF. I've been repeatedly calling on them to support ODF like they do many other formats, and to do so in a way that makes it just another format that can be made the default. They've said they will as of SP2, and I warmly congratulate them on finally overcoming the NIH and FUD instincts. Way to go!

More than that, they also announced they will join the OASIS ODF TC and work to develop ODF. I've also been calling on them to do this, pretty much since the TC was formed right in front of them (they are board members at OASIS) in 2002. I'm not a member personally, but if I were I would want to warmly welcome them to the team as it enters the final straights towards completion of ODF 1.2 and submission to ISO.

Of course, I might also reflect on the fact they are finally doing exactly what Stephe Walli said they ought to do to kill ODF. But for now, it's huge, warm congratulations on giving your customers the freedom to leave and the confidence to stay - and a small British mutter of "about bloody time".

Tuesday Feb 19, 2008

Document Freedom Day

Comma - Open

The news just went out that March 26 2008 will be the world's first Document Freedom Day, celebrating and championing the cause of true freedom for our data. You may recall that I wrote about this back in 2006 and also gave a speech at the European Commission. I coined the term "Freedom To Leave", referring to the liberty to take your data and go elsewhere uninhibited by DRM, closed interfaces or file formats that require a particular program for faithful reproduction and use.

I believe this to be the new front line in defending the freedoms of computer users. Richard Stallman's four freedoms are now driving the mainstream of software (especially here at Sun), and while software freedom is not yet a given, the next challenge for us is our freedom to own and move our own data anywhere, any time.

Defining Data Freedom

I believe there are multiple dimensions to data freedom.

  • There is the personal dimension - being able to take the data I "own" and use it with any software or service that's appropriate.
  • There is the historical dimension, ensuring future researchers have access to the electronic information that is driving directions in society today.
  • There is the commercial dimension, ensuring that data interfaces remain open, equitable and interoperable so that we have a fair yet competitive marketplace.
All of these converge on Document Freedom Day. I'll be taking time on March 26 this year to celebrate and campaign for each of us to have the Freedom to Leave, with our data - I hope you will too.

Monday Jan 21, 2008

Strategically Ignoring Customers

Interesting to see the Microsoft folks making a big deal out of the fact that companies are implementing OOXML features in their software products. I'd hesitate to join them being thrilled at IBM's new-found support for their strategy. Truth is, when there's a monopolist in the market it's impossible to ignore the consequences of even their worst ideas, let alone their good ones. Responding to the needs of locked-in customers who will find themselves using OOXML is a different deal to strategic support.

A much more crucial question, though, is why the folks at Microsoft are so surprised. If you know your customers have a requirement, surely you respond to it? The real question this situation brings to my mind is not "why are IBM implementing OOXML features". It's "why won't Microsoft implement support for ODF at least to the same level as RTF built-in to Office?" Given they have a number of very significant and visible customers demanding that support, it seems to me they are the ones with the explaining to do, not IBM, Google, OpenOffice.org or anyone else.

Sunday Nov 11, 2007

Verse Remembered on Reading a Certain Posting on Slashdot

Epigram on Singers

Swans sing before they die - 'twere no bad thing
Should certain persons die before they sing.

Samuel Taylor Coleridge, from Verse and Worse

Wednesday Jul 04, 2007

Choice and Light Bulbs


Reading Sin-Yaw's blog about power plugs and the need for a conversion 'dongle' last night, I started wondering what other examples of "a choice of standards" there are. Looking around the house I realised there were quite a few. Since it's a holiday for lots of my readers, I'll take the next few days to tell some stories about what I found.

So let's talk light bulbs. I pulled the box of spares out of the cupboardBox of Bulbs and took a look. There were red, green, blue spotlights; 60W and 100W bulbs; 25W and 40W candle bulbs; some 6W low-energy bulbs; a great halogen-in-a-bulb that gives a brilliant room-filling light; and plenty more. Having a choice of light bulbs is good. I can decide to put the 25W candle bulbs in the light fittings in the hall, for example, and save energy and money out there. Then I realised that I can't use the 25W candle bulbs in the candelabra in the lounge in place of the 40W bulbs I usually use.

The reason? The lounge fitting takes small bayonet connector (SBC) bulbs, but the hallway fitting takes small edison screw (SES) connector bulbs. Candle bulbsSimilarly, the reason the low energy bulbs (delivered free of charge at one point by the electricity company) are still in the box is that they have a full-size bayonet connector (BC) but the lights that need them in the kitchen all have a full-size edison screw (ES) connector.

There are similar stories for the rest; the great halogen has an ES connector but the socket where I'd like to use it in the study is BC, for example. The outside light has an ES fitting but all the weather-proof low-energy bulbs I can find that are the right shape for the casing have a BC so I am forced to continue using something incandescent. Having a choice of connectors like this simply leaves me with redundant bulbs in the cupboard. It also means when I buy a new lamp I probably can't use the spare bulbs I already have in stock. A choice of standards for bulb connectors reduces my choice as a customer since I find I am unable to buy bulbs in bulk and unable to use old bulbs in new lamps.

That doesn't mean choice is bad. I want a choice of colours, of energy technologies, of wattages, of shapes, of reflector styles and so on. But I want them all with a common connector so that when I'm shopping I know any bulb will work. Choice that serves the customer is choice of bulb, not of connector.

Part 2: Choice and Flash Memory
Part 3: Choice and Power Supplies

Tuesday Jul 03, 2007

ODF Plug-in for MS Office Released


Independence Day for MS Office users is here! I'm pleased to say that the Sun ODF Plug-In for MS Office has now been officially released. The Word-only version has been in beta-test for several months. The release version enables users of Microsoft Word, Excel and PowerPoint to read and write documents in the ISO-standard Open Document Format (ODF).

Peter Korn reports that it works well with accessibility technologies, so that people locked in to MS Office by the lack of standards on Windows for AT tools are also free to work with colleagues using ODF. It works on Windows in Office 2000, XP and 2003 and is a completely free download. Support services are available if required. Now MS Office users can get the feature their supplier refuses to include - full ODF support intuitively implemented right in the application.

Here's what the team has to say about it:

The Sun ODF Plug-in for Microsoft Office allows users of Microsoft Word, Excel and Powerpoint the ability to read, edit and save to the ISO-standard Open Document Format. The ODF Plug-in is available as a free download from the Sun Download Center (SDLC). Download the ODF Plug-in.

The Plug-in is easy to setup and use, the conversion happens transparently and the additional memory footprint is minimal. Microsoft Office users now can have seamless two-way conversion of Microsoft Office documents to and from Open Document. The ODF Plug-in runs on Microsoft Windows and is available in English. More language support will be available in later releases.

Huge congratulations to the team who built the plug-in, and to the OpenOffice.org developers who wrote the code from which it has been adapted. Not that they should have needed to do that, of course...

Friday May 18, 2007

Message to Denmark: Dual Format Standards Are Bad

Twisted Spire in Copenhagen

I gave an interview at JavaOne which seems to be causing a stir because of the way it's being spun in translation in Denmark. The spin seems to be suggesting that I think it's OK to have a dual standard in a country for document formats, both ODF (the open format used by multiple applications including Microsoft Office1) and OOXML (Microsoft's Office 12 file format).

To be clear, I do not believe that. It's clearly Microsoft's strategy to socialise that idea but it's not an ideal outcome. Having a single, baseline standard for document files is clearly preferable, and because of its complexity and the way it unfairly advantages Microsoft's existing products, OOXML is clearly a very poor choice for a national standard. Thus I would always advocate having a single standard and making that standard ODF. It's good for Norway and others, so why not for Denmark too?

Will that happen in Denmark? Well, the amount of pressure Microsoft is bringing to bear on the Danish government by funding lobbying, media activity, astroturfing and more, I am worried that the legislators will cave and have a dual standard. That may sound pragmatic but in practice that's a disaster for Denmark. Because of the existing market power of the monopolist2, Denmark's history, culture and due process will end up in a format that can only be faithfully rendered with Microsoft products3.

My comments were meant to indicate that fear, and any version of them stating I support a dual standard in Denmark or any other place is incorrect. The best future for computer-maintained documents is ODF4 and I recommend Denmark follow the trend and standardise on it.

  1. Via Sun's free ODF plug-in, although it ought to be a built-in feature of Office if Microsoft are serious about interoperability.
  2. The Rambøll report already indicates the scale of the lock-in the country faces - it's assumptions of continued use of MS products are what pushed the cost up for alternatives. It seems to me that suggesting writing this monopoly into the law makes the situation worse, not better.
  3. We can already see how impossibly hard OOXML is to implement, from the poor quality of the (partial) translators that people have built and the repeated delays of Microsoft's own Mac implementation. I said more in the audio interview on this subject.
  4. Probably with an allowance for added-feature namespaces layered over it to allow products like MS Office to have proprietary features. Having ODF as a baseline does not preclude inclusion of either backward-compatibility capabilities or added-feature support, it just sets an interoperability baseline that does not assume the perpetuation of Microsoft's monopoly.

Monday Feb 19, 2007

ODF Plug-In Preview Available

I'm pleased to say that the OpenDocument plugin for MS Word 2003 is now available for preview.

This initial plug-in application will support the conversion of text documents (.doc/.odt) only and full support of spreadsheet and presentation documents will be available in the final version, expected in April. The converter is easy to setup and use, the conversion happens transparently and the additional memory footprint is minimal. Microsoft Word users now can have seamless two-way conversion of Microsoft Word's documents to and from ODF.

The download is being managed by SDLC and the experience is pretty ugly (lots of clicks, sorry), but persevere. Try clicking on the file name rather than using the Download Manager when you finally get there, you may well find as I did that it's easier. There are feedback instructions in the Readme file that comes with the plug-in.


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


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