Wednesday Apr 09, 2008

Driven to Extremes

Well-attended protest

I've been speaking at the excellent Go Open 2008 conference here in Oslo today - attendees may be interested in my slides. My talk embodied the comments I made in response to Michael Tiemann a while back.

Of much more interest was what happened at lunchtime, however. I've heard plenty of accusations from certain OOXML proponents that all the noisy opposition to them is coming from extremist agitators and anarchists and should be ignored as a consequence. The (very un-Norwegian) activities in Oslo today seemed to suggest otherwise. As the International Herald Tribune reports, there was a demonstration and protest march by placard-wielding demonstrators on the streets of Oslo - see the local TV report. This in itself is unusual - Norway is not given to such outbursts - but there's more that makes it unusual.

This protest was organised not by extremist agitators but by Steve Pepper (who made a great speech), the widely respected chair of the SC34 mirror committee that reviewed OOXML for Standards Norway and by his colleagues. I asked them why they were taking this unusual step and they told me it was because the majority view of their committee had been ignored by Standards Norway. They are furious - Pepper has resigned. So there may be extremists involved in the protests against OOXML somewhere, but in the specific case of Norway the protesters are highly respected standards and business people who have been driven to extremes rather than starting from them.

Podcast Interview With Trond Heier

Trond Heier, Linpro CEO I also had the chance to interview the CEO of Linpro AS, a respected Norwegian open source service provider, about his reasons for taking part in the protest. You can listen to the podcast in either MP3 or Ogg format. Trond explains that the message Steve Pepper delivered was in English so that the Norwegian group could encourage other, similarly unhappy groups in other countries to speak out as well. The protest was held outside the building where JTC1 SC34 was holding a meeting.

More pictures:

Organised by the SC34 mirror committee Outside the ISO meeting Message to Microsoft Message to Brussels

If you are a writer looking for photos or clips for your article or blog, you are free to use any of these as long as you attribute them to me. I'd also prefer you to link to this blog posting 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, or anyone else.

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

Wednesday May 30, 2007

US OOXML Discussion Now Public

I just heard that INCITS V1, the group making the recommendation to ANSI on whether the US should support Microsoft's proprietary OOXML format in being fast-tracked to ISO, is considering creating a public archive of its conversations on the subject. In the interim while they consider a more formal arrangement, Jon Bosak has placed the April and May correspondence on iBiblio. Take a look and, if you're a US citizen, use it to guide the comments you make to INCITS V1.

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.

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


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