OpenDocument Format community steadfast despite theatrics of now impotent 'Foundation'

OpenDocument Format community steadfast despite theatrics of now impotent 'Foundation'

Summary: When in mid-October 2007, the OpenDocument Foundation (ODf, yes, that's a little "f" that's not to be confused with the OASIS- and 400-member strong OpenDocument Alliance-backed big F-ODF: the OpenDocument Format) announced that the World Wide Web Consoritum (W3C)-backed Common Document Format (CDF) was the heir-apparent to what it believed was a dead-on-arrival OpenDocument Format, many confused the ODf to be one in the same with the ODF and the latter to have one foot in the grave.

TOPICS: Emerging Tech, IBM

When in mid-October 2007, the OpenDocument Foundation (ODf, yes, that's a little "f" that's not to be confused with the OASIS- and 400-member strong OpenDocument Alliance-backed big F-ODF: the OpenDocument Format) announced that the World Wide Web Consoritum (W3C)-backed Common Document Format (CDF) was the heir-apparent to what it believed was a dead-on-arrival OpenDocument Format, many confused the ODf to be one in the same with the ODF and the latter to have one foot in the grave. Given the striking resemblance between the names and acronyms of the Foundation and the Format, that mistaken obituary was an easy one for casual observers to write. Especially given the way Microsoft, the company whose Office empire is probably more threatened by ODF than most people realize, capitalized on the confusion by spreading its own FUD on the story.

But that and other FUD couldn't be further from the truth. Based on dozens of interviews that I've conducted over the last few weeks, the OpenDocument Foundation, whose three principals are Sam Hiser, Gary Edwards, and a legal eagle who goes by the nickname "Marbux," went out on a very thin limb where no one else -- not the vendors behind ODF, not OASIS (the consortium that hosts the technical committee responsible for the standard's development), and not the World Wide Web Consortium (chaperone to the Common Document Format [CDF] standard) -- was willing to join them.

Not only does it appear as though they were on a thin limb with their opinions that ODF should be buried and that CDF should take its place, they crawled out even further when they publicly disclosed that the W3C and IBM shared those opinions as well. Any statements corroborating the ODf's position from either organization, particularly IBM given the millions of dollars it has invested and continues to invest in ODF, could very well have cast a dark shadow on the productivity document standard that just recently earned its stripes as an international standard from the International Organisation of Standardisation (ISO). It's an honor that Microsoft's competing Office Open XML (OOXML) has so far been denied (but it is up for reconsideration next year).

Citing specific interactions (conversations, emails, etc.) with the W3C's lead contact for CDF Doug Schepers and Doug Heintzman, director of strategy for IBM's Lotus Division (where IBM's collaboration technologies are developed), Edwards claims that both organizations were supportive of his and Hiser's belief that, at the expense of ODF, CDF should be the strategic target for anyone seeking to store their documents in a file format that was universal, open, and that provided a clear transition path from formats that predispose or lock customers into certain applications like those (formats, applications) from Microsoft.

It is true that Edwards and Hiser interacted with both the W3C and IBM. Unfortunately for them however, this is where Edwards' and Hiser's recollections of those interactions varies wildly from those of Schepers (W3C) and Heintzman (IBM).

One thing that's important to keep in mind about how standards are set (and how decisions are made in technical committees at consortia like the W3C [CDF] and OASIS[ODF]) is that the process often involves vociferous debate among those involved. To the extent that many of the participants who contribute to technical committee meetings are also employees of vendors with some interest in the standards associated with those committees, part of their roles in the process is to represent those interests. Since not all vendors' interests are aligned, disagreement and debate comes with the territory. They're to be expected. But so too is a willingness to compromise. At some point, in the name of progress, everyone who participates in the standards setting process knows they may have to give-in on certain issues that may be of import to their employers.

Representing the OpenDocument Foundation, Edwards and Hiser were both participants in the Open Document Format technical committee work at OASIS and respected ones at that. But somewhere along the line, their beliefs regarding ODF and CDF could not be reconciled with the positions of the other committee members. Pretty much everybody I spoke to agreed that this was one of those disagreements that happens in the standards setting process where someone wasn't going to get their way. It happens. It's a part of the process. But what happened next is not nearly as common. Claiming that the OpenDocument Format wasn't nearly as "open" as its supporters claimed it to be, the ODf walked off in a huff.

If IBM or Sun, two of the OpenDocument's Format's biggest supporters walked away in such a "huff," it probably would have meant the end of the OpenDocument Format. But in the bigger picture of the OpenDocument Format, between its backers at both OASIS and in the OpenDocument Alliance, the OpenDocument Foundation's irreconcilable differences with the rest of community were just that: irreconcilable differences that lacked any potence to affect the momentum or direction of the Open Document Format. Unfortunately for the OpenDocument Format community, the ODf's "huff" was a molehill that became a mountain when, in addition to the ODf<>ODF naming confusion, Edwards and Hiser not only became very vocal about their convictions (convictions that are voluminously documented in easy to find passages around the Web), they cited the W3C and IBM as having tacitly endorsed those convictions.

This is where Schepers (W3C) and Heintzman (IBM) as well as others in both organizations feel as though Edwards and Hiser are grossly misrepresenting the content of their interactions. According to W3C spokesperson Janet Daly, when Schepers first heard of the Foundation's interest in CDF, he did what the W3C often does -- he reached out to the Foundation with an invitation to further the conversation. According to Daly, "Any time it looks like a third party may be doing interesting work with one of our recommendations (that's W3C-speak for "standards"), it's not unusual for us to want to learn more." But this is where the W3C's account of that "conversation" and Edwards' account differ. Whereas the W3C viewed the "conversation" as par for the course outreach, Edwards' e-mails to me describe the ODf's interactions with the W3C as more of a relationship that had to be kept secret from OASIS. Wrote Edwards to me via e-mail:

....When the Andy Updegrove published his article (W3C's Chris Lilley: CDF Not Suitable for Use as an Office Format Can't Replace ODF), a member of our team sent a copy of earlier eMail exchanges with our W3C contacts to Updegrove arguing that Andy's article mis-characterized both our relationship with the W3C and, the work we were doing with CDF and WICD. All of which is true.

There were however a couple of problems with this action. For one thing, we were not authorized by our W3C contacts to share these discussions with anyone, let alone the lawyer for OASIS who had already declared a hostility to anything the Foundation might do....

....I hope you can understand our reluctance at this point to discuss this issue in detail or provide evidence certain to compromise the positions of innocent and sincere bystanders.

The implication of Edwards' note is that the conversations with the W3C had matured far beyond a level of basic outreach and involved a relationship that saw merit in the Foundation's thinking about CDF as a better strategic format for universal document interoperability than ODF.

The W3C however has a different version of its interactions with the Foundation. The reference to Andy Updegrove's interview with the W3C's Chris Lilley (who is also intimately familiar with CDF) is significant. In that interview, Lilley flatly rejected the idea that CDF should be the target in the world's search for an open, universal file format for productivity applications:

So we were in a meeting when these articles about the Foundation and CDF started to appear, and we were really puzzled. CDF isn't anything like ODF at all – it's an "interoperability agreement," mainly focused on two other specifications - XHTML and SVG. You'd need to use another W3C specification, called Web Interactive Compound Document (WICD, pronounced "wicked"), for exporting, and even then you could only view, and not edit the output.

The one thing I'd really want your readers to know is that CDF (even together with WICD) was not created to be, and isn't suitable for use, as an office format.

In a subsequent e-mail to me, Sam Hiser argued that the Foundation's words had been twisted and that it never suggested that CDF would take the place of ODF. However, in both e-mails to me and posts to the Web, Hiser and Edwards have made it clear that the day that ODF-supporter and Massachusetts CIO Louis Gutierrez resigned was the day that ODF died, in their estimation. In his e-mail to me, Hiser wrote:

It's unfortunate you're pointing to the Updegrove|Lilley statements. They are as confusing as can be...Right about now Andy's bloated corpse may be floating down [Boston's] Charles [River] and Chris [Lilley] is doing his best to shade for his W3C colleagues his 180-degree incorrect statements.

On November 10th, in a public thread on the OpenDocument Fellowship's Web site, Edwards wrote:

Chris Lilley's comments are in direct opposition to those we received a week ago from Doug Shepers, the head of the CDF Workgroup. doug however asked that we not publicise his comments until Sir Timothy has had a chance to weigh in.

In my interviews, not only does the W3C reject the reference to W3C director Sir Tim Berners-Lee as a fabrication of the facts and stand behind Chris Lilley's statements 100 percent, the W3C also remains emphatic that its conversations with the Foundation were never more than cursory in level. In fact, at one point when technical information was e-mailed to Schepers, Schepers purposefully ignored it.


It didn't take many patent infringement lawsuits for the standards consortia industry to wisen up. To prevent patents from inadvertently becoming part of a standard (thereby entitling the patent holder to royalties), standards consortia now require a full intellectual property (IP) rights disclosure before anyone will even look at some potentially patented or copyrighted technical material.

If Schepers or any other W3C staffer laid eyes on such technical material prior to such disclosures being made and cleared by the W3C's general counsel (Danny Weitzner) and, later, some W3C standard coincidentally ended up with a similar technology in it, the IP holder to that technical material could claim that the W3C saw its patented technology and willfully infringed on it.

As said earlier, the W3C isn't the only organization claiming that Edwards and Hiser have misrepresented certain conversations and exchanges. Via e-mail on November 19th, Edwards wrote to me:

On November 8th, 2007, Sam and I conferenced with IBM's Doug Heintzman. Doug laid out IBM's "grand strategy", as well as expressed his concerns that CDF might be damaged by the ODf communities public hostility to the Foundation.

The IBM "grand strategy" turns out to be CDF+ (using multiple profile variations) to connect ODf desktops to the IBM Cloud of web platform Notes Hub, SaaS, HaaS, SOA and Web 2.0 collaboration services. The key is connecting desktop Lotus Symphony ODf documents to the IBM Cloud using fluid ODf <> CDF+ conversions.

We found this strategy to be very cool and very resonant with our own thinking. Like IBM we were also very concerned about the Exchange/SharePoint juggernaut. Unlike IBM though, we think the marketplace is unable and unwilling to tolerate the disruptive costs of replacing MSOffice with ODf alternatives.

Back to the aforelinked thread on the OpenDocument Fellowship's site, Edwards wrote:

[Sun and IBM] have been arguing for years that CDF is the way to go. Today IBM admitted to us that ODF is a transitional field format only. They know that CDF is the future, and have spent enormous resources positioning WebSphere, Lotus Notes, and the Eclipse Community in that direction. ODF is a transitional desktop play only.

If what Edwards was saying was true about CDF being the linchpin to IBM's "grand strategy," then the OpenDocument Format's strategic viability could easily be called into question. One day earlier, under the heading Document Format FUD: A Guide for the Perplexed, OASIS ODF TC co-chair and IBM staffer Rob Weir blogged his own thoughts on what had been publicly said and wrote:

So, does IBM then oppose CDF in favor of ODF? .....No. IBM supports both the development of ODF and CDF and has a leadership role in both working groups. These are two good standards for two different things.

Since Weir was obviously prepared to speak on IBM's behalf about its roles in ODF and CDF, I asked him about the "grand strategy" that Edwards suggested was a part of IBM's master plan. That's when Weir suggested I talk to Heintzman, but not without writing:

Lotus Symphony supports ODF as its native file format. It doesn't support CDF and we have no plans to support CDF in Symphony. IBM participates in the W3C's CDF activity, as we participate and support many W3C activities. But we don't see CDF and ODF as operating in the same space. They are two different markups for two different purposes.

Not completely satisfied by this answer, I followed his advice and went to Heintzman. Weir spoke of the ODF support in Lotus Symphony. But what wasn't clear was whether ODF was strategic in IBM's thinking about Web-based documents, or whether CDF might have a role there instead. In his e-mails, Edwards has insisted that, whereas Microsoft's Office Open XML is designed to support documents on the Web as well it supports documents on the desktop, that ODF isn't nearly as robust. In order to loosen Microsoft's grip, argues Edwards, CDF will have to play a role.

But in a telephone interview, Heintzman, who remains confounded by Edwards' version of their conversation, flatly denied that CDF has a role in some IBM master strategy:

I sat down with them, said we're all on the same side. Our interests are aligned and I gave them some advice on how to move the industry in the right direction. I told them a bit about our emerging strategy, beyond Office, the importance of semantic layers and compound documents where we see things evolving to. But they dramatically misinterpreted and misrepresented what we said....

...ODF has a level of sophistication for rendering office documents that CDF doesn't pretend to. We know what CDF is, we chaired the [W3C's] CDF committee at one point. But they are apples and oranges....

...Gary and company had a technical disagreement with the OASIS ODF Technical Committee. Other members voted that their approach was not reasonable. It's a normal part of a healthy standards process....If Gary and company want to move on to greener pastures and invest in other parts of industry, then more power to them. But to position ODF as transitional is ridiculous. He got two things confused.

Heintzman went on to describe IBM's vision whereby a compound document architecture like CDF serves as a container for something that he hesitates to even refer to as a document. In his eyes, the container is more like a mashup of information coming from all sorts of different sources many of which are deeply intertwined with business process. One bit of that information could come from a range in a spreadsheet that itself is formatted in ODF, but that only a small portion of which is relevant to the information being mashed together in that container. Other bits of information could come from database queries, business processes, sources of video, audio, etc. Where something like CDF could be relevant, says Heintzman, is in the semantic layers that live on top of the content. For example, security: who has the access rights to edit the spreadsheet data or change the database query. Said Heintzman:

In our vision, the containers (documents) become much more intimately ingrained into a business process: You're not creating a document, but rather completing a mortgage application. The container will have bits and pieces of feeds, videos, and information coming from some back-end Siebel or SAP system and multiple people will interact in real time with different parts of that container. There will be a content layer and specialized sub-editors being able to manipulate the information in that layer -- one of which could be an ODF-based editor to the extent the content is coming from an office document.

There will be a semantic layer for the semantics of authorship and approval and it may include content semantics so that the container can be tagged manually or automaticaly through pattern recognition and fingerprinting. This would enable searching and discovery in ways not doable before. A lot of this goes beyond what office document editors can do today, but that doesn't mean that [the role of office document editors] changes.

What's CDF's role in this? It's really hard to say at this point whether it will be CDF, Xforms, or something else that becomes the meta-container. These are young days.

Heintzman also made it clear that nothing he knows of in the container space he referred to offers the kind of fidelity that a office document format like ODF offers and therefore, IBM remains fully committed to the OpenDocument Format indefinitely. When I asked Heintzman to size up that commitment in terms of dollars, he said it was hard to put a finger on it. But between the programmers, researchers, consultants, lobbyists, and lawyers who are heads down on ODF, or have just part of their time allocated to it, the expenditure is easily north of $5 million per year and the company has no plans of slowing down any time soon.

So where are we?

Well, for starters, any insinuation that the OpenDocument Format is dead, hurt, or even scratched is just pure FUD. The people behind the OpenDocument Foundation have clearly participated in the OpenDocument Format's evolution in a meaningful way that has earned the respect of their contemporaries. But to say that the loss of their involvement or their changing opinions about the long term viability of the OpenDocument Format are in any way a reflection of the direction that the OpenDocument Format is taking would be mispeaking. The Foundation's closure and departure from OASIS can't even be characterized as a splintering of ODF the way Unix splintered (or the way Red Hat and Novell's treatment of Linux could be considered a splintering). In the big picture, it's a non-event.

As for the differences over what was said, I don't want to say anyone is a liar. I wasn't in the room or party to the relevant threads. So all I have to go on is what everyone on both sides of the debate is telling me. I can repeat that here (which I've done) and leave the decision as to which one of the three following things is true to you: (1) Hiser and Edwards are accurately representing their interactions with the W3C and IBM and the people they communicated with like IBM's Heintzman and the W3C's Schepers are part of a well-organized conspiracy to discredit them, (2) Hiser and Edwards are purposefully misrepresenting the content of their communications, (3) it's all a big mix-up -- an honest misunderstanding.

Where there's more information to be had to help you make that decision, the Web is very liberally sprinkled with opinion over the matter. A lot of it comes from Gary Edwards and Sam Hiser who, at the very least, feel very strongly about the validity of their approach to document portability and interoperability. In everything they've written to me and on the Web, they argue passionately about why they really believe CDF is strategically the world's best option as a strategic universal document format. I've purposely left most of the technical arguments out. At this point - they're opinions. Today's not the day to vet the merits of the different approaches. I promise to come back to that at some point (perhaps in 2008). Today, I just wanted to get to the bottom of the he said/she said and, to the extent that more facts are needed, my sense is that additional information will come to light once I press the publish button. That is after all the beauty of the blogosphere. The mob usually finds the truth, eventually. Someone will be vindicated.

Finally, in doing my homework for this story, I thought I'd draw attention to one glimpse of the future that I found to be fascinating.

At the beginning of this post, I pointed to a blog written by Microsoft's Director of Corporate Standards Jason Matusow who was clearly seizing the opportunity created by the ODf<>ODF controversy to undermine the OpenDocument Format Camp. Don't fault him. To the extent that the ODF community loves to take shots at Microsoft, he has a job too and he's doing it well as evidenced by headlines like Formats, Formats, and more Formats....some say there should be only...except the other one...and that one...and the new one...and...<sigh>. Matusow is a sharp guy and I have a lot of respect for him, especially after my last podcast interview with him.

But towards the end of his post, there was something he wrote that caught my eye:

All of this seems to make the point stronger than ever that when you are speaking about document formats, you are really speaking about an adjunct technology to the applications which are the real "solutions" in this discussion.

After re-reading that statement several times, it dawned on me how very different the thinking appears to be at Microsoft versus IBM. Matusow sees the application as the real solution. True to form, Microsoft is a very application centric solution provider. But in my discussions with IBM's Heintzman, he told me:

I can have multiple people interacting with a container -- some through a tiny Web browser gadget that can get cells from an ODF spreadsheet and others who are specialized people with different tools for affecting different parts of the document.

In fact, in everything Heintzman told me, IBM's strategy sounded more information-, business process-, and people-centric than it sounded application centric. I was vaguely reminded of a blog I posted last year about knowledge/information centricity vs. document centricity. While it speaks nothing of the implementations (Microsoft's solutions could easily turn out to be more knowledge-centric than IBM's), I think IBM is using the right language and Microsoft would be well-served by de-emphasizing "the applications." Long term, applications as we know them are dead and the functionality we associate with applications today will simply be a part of the data we're interacting with tomorrow.


Topics: Emerging Tech, IBM

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  • Wow!


    Thanks for the large effort here.

    At least the Spanish <a href="">like our style</a>.

  • Great job, David

    Thanks for digging a little truth out of the muckety-muck.

    Mucking is more of a muck-mongers malingering manipulation of many malignant minds. The muck just oozes out of them.
    Ole Man
  • Thanks for the research! But, I am sure MS will still be using this for FUD

    when trying to get approval for OOXML as an OSI standard. Is that next February that is the last chance to get the fast track approval?

    But, I would also like to see more investigation into all of the dirty tricks that MS pulled on the last OSI vote, and all of the problems that has caused, such as not being about to get a quorum for voting on other things.

    Well, we DO understand that you can not report on everything . . . . . .
    • What of the dirty tricks that the ODF pulled

      Oh, that is right. They are all good, honest people with absolutelly NO hidden agenda!
      • What dirty tricks?

        Please, citation required.
  • Application/process centric view are the same thing

    My opinion is that both views are in effect looking at the same thing.

    Using a car engine analogy, both wants to sell you a car engine. IBM sees the whole car engine as a process, asking people to contribute little programs here and there (spark plugs, cam belt etc).

    MS sees the whole car engine as an mega application, and spark plugs/cam belt as applications inside the applications.

    In other words, its simply calling spark plugs/cam belts by other names.

    IBM's style can alienate suppliers, because it implies you are just a small and replaceable thing. By calling the same thing an application, MS's style gives suppliers the ego boost needed.

    But when communicating with others on a broader level than buyer-supplier relationship, IBM's style is better. The IBM engine like a process, implying it is replaceable. The MS engine is a mega-application, implying lock-in and cannot be replaced.

    Catch 22, isn't it?
    • Not the same thing at all

      ...and here's the difference:

      The document-centric view supports user-created applications. The application-centric view means that the document format is built around a single application vendor's needs, without ease-of-modification outside of that application as a goal.

      I'm a toolmaker. I support a team of developers by building tools that help them do their job better -- not large tools, necessarily, but pieces that fit in where they're needed, add some glue here or there, on the like. Of the positions I've held in my professional life, it's what I like to do best.

      Tools frequently need to interact with documents -- but when a document is built around a single application, it's more often than not opaque -- and when it isn't opaque, it frequently has cached information which makes it difficult to modify by third-party tools, meaning that I as a toolmaker can't improve my company's efficiency by making tools which interact with those documents.

      It may never be as easy to operate on an OpenDocument spreadsheet as a CSV file -- but I'll take them over OOXML any day, because the standard has enough sanity to it that I can write tools that interact with them cleanly. Why is it cleaner to interact with OpenDocument files than OOXML ones? Well, there are a bunch of specific technical and design decisions that were made during the standards' drafting -- but I'd argue that the root cause of those decisions being made the way they were is the difference between document- and application-centric philosophy.
    • Not even close

      Getting away from the automotive analogies, consider a law office:

      Application-centric: it's all about WordPerfect, MSWord, the networking, the user interface, etc.

      Document-centric: it's all about the motions, briefs, replies, declarations, affidavits, etc.

      Means vs. ends.
      Yagotta B. Kidding
  • Very sad

    Thank you David. I think your well researched and informative piece will help to put the kibosh on this festering controversy. I followed the work by the ODf for a while. I think they had a lot of ideas and insight to offer. But it almost appears as though the CDF was used more as a launching point for the ODf and its principals' careers than it was for the good of ODF. It's a sad tale. I sincerely hope that Gary Edwards, Sam Hiser and "Marbux" will put their considerable talents to work on other projects that find their way into the public good.
  • RE: OpenDocument Format community steadfast despite theatrics of now impote

    David -

    Excellent article, well-researched.

    Two things spring to mind:

    First, when there has to be an article saying, "No, wait, you thought it was dead and it isn't dead yet..." uh, it's dead.

    Second, during the 1990's and early 2000's, you could tell it was spring when all of the UNIX vendors (and I include all of the *NIX) got together and announced that no, really, they're going to consolidate on a single standard this year. There's just something in people with UNIX DNA that makes them claim to want open standards, and then pout when the standards don't quite match what they want (which is always benevolent and for the good of all mankind, of course) and then go create their own implementation anyway, at the expense of a common platform. It happens every time. And I mean every time. lists 393 different distros... if that doesn't make it clear then nothing will.

    If you hear someone in UNIX or open source saying that they've just come to an agreement about an API standard or document format or anything like that, just nod politely and say, "That's nice" and ignore them. The "agreement" won't last beyond the next build... never does.

    I prefer to hitch my wagon and my career to one company with one vision and one technology platform that continues to improve and innovate over time. I'm not saying that choice is right for everyone... I'm just saying that I have business to do, not standards to sort through, and guesses to make about which distro is the best, and that works better for me.

    Just learn from history about this sort of thing... ODF was dead-on-arrival not because it's a better or worse choice than OOXML (I have no idea which is better, really) but because the nature of those with UNIX DNA never allows these kinds of "open" agreements to succeed. They all just splinter. Every time.
    • Standards in the UNIX world

      SBArbeit -- I'm not sure that your concerns are valid.

      Your concerns about fragmentation in the Linux world are not necessarily well-founded. There are two (2) serious Enterprise Linux distributions right now -- RHEL and SLES. If you want a commercial product with vendor certifications, those are your choices. I don't see deciding between them any harder than choosing whether to buy new workstations with Vista or XP.

      As for the idea that open standards don't last in the Linux world, recent history simply doesn't bear that out. The LSB is respected by all the major Linux distributions and most of the minor ones; both enterprise distributions and a great many minor ones use RPM as their packaging format; everyone uses ELF as their binary format these days; and so forth.

      To be sure, there are interesting new developments going on -- Ubuntu has promise, for instance -- but if you want to work with a company which will be doing the same thing 10 years from now, you could do considerably worse than Red Hat. (Mind you, I don't use Red Hat -- we deliver a black-box solution, and made a decision optimized for that environment -- but if you want a single vendor with a consistent direction, there's one out there).

      If you'd like to discuss this further, I'm
    • ...and re point 1...

      <I>First, when there has to be an article saying, "No, wait, you thought it was dead and it isn't dead yet..." uh, it's dead.</I>

      Is that to say that OOXML is dead, too? There've been articles written talking about how the initial fast track vote failure didn't in fact mean that OOXML was dead, after all.
    • A standard is not the same

      As prostrating oneself before one powerful

      Until you do a detailed study of what a
      standard is, you are only skinning your
      ignorance by speaking on the matter.

      Thank you for your input. It has been filed
      to it's proper location. The trash can.
      Ole Man
    • Well, if you don't mind vendor X being in charge of your IT...

      You said:

      [i]I'm just saying that I have business to do, not standards to sort through, and guesses to make about which distro is the best, and that works better for me.[/i]

      Define "best." When you go with something supported by only one company, you disable your ability to make choice. There's more to best than implementation. For example, price. Standards enable switching. If you develop an addiction to one supplier, that supplier can double the price of your products and who are you to argue? You can't switch. That supplier is in charge of your IT budget, or at least a part of it.

      Off the discussion of price, you're addicted to one supplier, you can't switch, and suddenly, the product becomes insecure. There are more secure products on the market, but you can't switch to them.So, you must wait for your supplier to fix the security problem according to what's convenient for them. OK, now, who is in charge of your IT security? You, or your supplier?

      You can extrapolate this to other parts of your business, if you want and suddenly, who is in charge of your business? You, or your suppliers.

      Standards put you in charge. You may have complete lack of faith in them and the process, but every day, more than you may realize it, you are relying on standards to get you through the day. Not just IT standards. And all of them have given you choice that you should covet.

      • I mostly agree. Let me clarify...

        David -

        Thanks for your reply. I really appreciate your thoughts here. It's obvious that I'm talking about Microsoft, so let's get that out of the way. :-)

        It's not that I don't think there should be standards; I'm all for having standards. And Microsoft continues to do a better and better job of implementing and supporting many of the standards that exist out there, particularly lower on the stack. Their conformance to RFC's and ISO's and all the rest is more and more baked in to their products. That doesn't mean that they don't compete and differentiate in places on top of that... just that they understand more than ever before that interoperability is the entry fee for competition in an increasingly server-based world. The more you dig into the behind-the-scenes info of developers' blogs and, amongst other places, the more this is made clear about what's going on in Redmond. If they weren't doing this, I would be extremely uncomfortable using their products in 2007, for many of the reasons you cite.

        The point I do want to repeat, though, is that standards or agreements amongst the UNIX crowd is not traditionally a strong suit. The ODF/CDF controversy is simply the latest instantiation of a pattern that I've observed over my 25+ years of programming. I'm really speaking more about disposition or psychology than technology here. There seems to be a susceptibility, in those who participate deeply enough in UNIX/Linux or open-source that they actually understand the source code, to splinter at the first occurrence either of a disagreement about feature set or about the utility of a new contribution. And this seems to be a classic case of that. First, they participated in and supported ODF. Then, a few people came up with what they thought was a superior open format, CDF. Then, when the other team members didn't see things their way, they split off. This is how we have around 400 distros of Linux, isn't it? And that doesn't count the UNIX variants over the years.

        To me, this speaks to one's perspective on creating technology. I love writing code, let me be clear. But the question to me is: am I writing that code to serve a purpose, or simply because it fulfills a whim or a deeper ego need? Does the code exist in a vacuum or in a larger context? I like Microsoft's perspective on that continuum: they generally write code to serve a function and create value in a larger context. Sometimes they miss, but that's the fundamental perspective and purpose. My feeling about the UNIX/open people is that they frequently write code without a deeper view on the use of that code. If they did, I think they would seek compromise more often, not just say "screw it, I'll do it myself" as often, and we wouldn't have such a long and, in my mind, sorry history of the splintering of these kinds of efforts over the years. I wish they could get together, I really do. It would be better for the industry. Instead, I'm left reading reviews of Ubuntu / Solaris / OpenSolaris / SuSe / Red Hat / AIX / Debian / Slackware / Kubuntu / Mandriva / Fedora -- and I'm forgetting probably a dozen other "major" variants -- and installing all of them and trying to figure out what to do about it. Or, I can devote that time and energy to delivering value to the company in which I do IT. It's maddening... and if it's not maddening to someone reading this, I have to wonder about our different ideas of the role of IT in today's world. Does that make sense?

        I appreciate the geek factor in it, I really do (I've written Assembly on three different platforms in my life), but I get paid to deliver value and forward motion. I've always felt the one-step-forward-two-steps-back of the splintering part of our industry, and I just shake my head sadly at this one.

        If one happens to be opposed to Microsoft "winning" the battle over open document XML schema, don't get angry at them for proposing a spec... get angry at those who can't agree on what to support in its place, and get involved. It's an complex and important issue, and an interesting one, too.

        Anyway, I hope that's a better, more focused, fuller explanation of my perspective on this particular controversy, and on these types of controversies that I've observed over the years. I realize that I've made some generalizations here (it's a message, not a book) but I trust that you'll understand where I'm coming from.
        • Operating Systems vs the Web

          Hey, SArbeit-

          You cite examples with operating system standards, but that's really only applicable when you control your whole food chain. You can run your entire shop on Windows, where the content creators and consumers are known quantities. And when you need to communicate outside your shop in some way beyond email (that's a standard), you can always convert your MS Office doc to ASCII (hey, that's a standard, too) so the guys on Mac or Linux can read it. Maybe your argument even applies to office software... dunno, that's not really my interest or area of expertise.

          But it sure doesn't apply to the Web. Without open Web standards, there would be no Web as we know it... there would be CompuServe's Web, and AOL's Web, and CompanyX's Web. You'd be making your choice(s) of service provider (and their browser) by which Web community you wanted to reach.

          You seem to misunderstand what CDF is (which is kinda surprising, since David explained it well in his article). It wasn't done in response to ODF, or OOXML, or with office apps in mind at all. CDF's WICD specification is a Web format, for Web documents, not some office format. That's been confused in the press, but I hope after David's article, it will be more clear.

          Do people making standards disagree from time to time. Well, yes. And I agree with your larger point that the end-user experience is where the rubber meets the road. But I think your generalization to all of standards is inaccurate.

          I guess you're reading this reply in IE... that's great, I wrote it on Firefox. Good thing we have open Web standards.

  • Obviously

    The failure of the latest version of Microsoft Office to sell proves Mr. Berlind's point that "applications as we know them are dead".

    And it also proves that how people interact with the computer, convenience and efficiency, are not significant because "the functionality we associate with applications today will simply be part of the data".

    There will be no uniquely satisfactory solution because standards will enforce that all applications must deal with the data only within limits inherent in the format.

    Yes, the death of innovation and responsiveness to customers is possible. But I'll assert that most buyers think of data as far secondary to applications, that the formats should contribute rather than limit. Users are not concerned with formats, but with what appears on their screens.


    "While it speaks nothing of the implementations (Microsoft???s solutions could easily turn out to be more knowledge-centric than IBM???s), I think IBM is using the right language and Microsoft would be well-served by de-emphasizing 'the applications.' Long term, applications as we know them are dead and the functionality we associate with applications today will simply be a part of the data we???re interacting with tomorrow."

    IBM's "language" of course assumes that the most popular application can be obviated. It's an implication of the company's commercial strategy. And Mr. Berlind's discussion seems an endorsement of that strategy.
    Anton Philidor
    • Re: Obviously

      You are only partially right with your assertion that "Users are not concerned with formats, but with what appears on their screens." I will agree that this is true for most users as long as their chosen application remains supported. But some people have become more aware of the importance of formats, and I expect that to increase with time.

      Most people who have been using PCs (and in many cases, other classes of computers) for more than 10 years are likely to have files around that they can no longer access (or they've given up and deleted them) because the application is no longer supported and there isn't a decent translator available, or they're in the position of trying to keep an obsolete application running long after support for it has ended. (I personally know at least one person who still struggles to keep WordStar running on Windows XP because there isn't time to learn a new application and recreate files used almost daily, and because the format is not open, there are no translators that can handle a lot of the features used in those files.) And then there are the many people who have been forced to upgrade to newer versions of Microsoft Office much earlier than they wanted to because they have to share documents with others who are using a newer version and Microsoft has changed the format in the newer version.

      It will probably take a few more years, but I think eventually anyone who needs to retain any electronic documents for longer than a few years is going to realize that a truly open format is the best (and maybe only) solution. How much longer it will take for them to realize that OOXML is not truly open (despite the name and Microsoft's rhetoric) is harder to predict. Unfortunately, for many it will probably only happen after Microsoft dies (which will almost certainly happen eventually) or Microsoft decides to end support for OOXML, whichever happens first. Of course, at that point, it may be too late for them to salvage many of their files.
      • Compatibility

        Your argument is predicated on the assertion that Microsoft is unconcerned about or at least ineffectual at assuring customers can continue to use older software and associated formats.

        Note that you make the assumption formats are tied to software; you're implicitly rejecting Mr. Berlind's idea that what the software does will in some way be tied into the data. At least for Microsoft. I agree with that assumption.

        No_Ax has more than once made the contrary argument, that Microsoft has hobbled its products by being too concerned with backward compatibility. I think the company will reduce complexity by making backward compatibility an almost free-standing application. But the point is, the company does pay attention to the problem you discuss.

        One of the results is a series of version readers and converters from one Microsoft format to another. Also, competitors have, to be viable, found ways to read Microsoft formats. I expect there is little relevant software which entirely ignores Office outputs.
        The functionality may not be perfect, but it is often effective.

        Within a reasonable time frame, say 50 years, which would you prefer to see on an old hard drive, a format from Microsoft or a format which was never in widespread use?

        Which format is better documented will be arguable, but the continued availability of software able to read the Microsoft format is far more certain. With so many copies of so many applications in circulation, the odds are substantially better.

        A de facto standard is likely to be readable for a long time.
        Anton Philidor
        • Microsoft is unconcerned about or at least ineffectual at assuring customer

          And that's what makes all your spinning so
          obvious, Anton. Anybody with two brain cells
          to rub together knows that Microsoft's
          motives are to make more (and more and more
          and more) money. They don't give a flip
          about anybody's customers (including you),
          as long as they keep coughing up the dough.

          Do you really think that your efforts at
          further confusing the already confused
          public by transposing, extrapolating, and
          interpolating such words
          as "standards", "formats",
          and "applications" are beneficial to anyone?

          I propose that your motives are the same as
          Microsoft's for doing what you are so good
          at.... making more (and more and more and
          more) money. Exactly where you fit into the
          puzzle or what your connections are, I don't
          know, but I can tell you, bub, you aint
          pulling the wool over everybody's eyes and
          you aint blowing smoke rings up everybody's
          butts with your elegant oratory and devious
          Ole Man