Dialogue on definition of 'open' continues

IBM's senior program manager of Web services Standards Tom Glover (also president, and Chairman of the Board for the Web Services-Interoperability (WS-I) Organization) has responded to my feedback on defining open.  Why define open?

IBM's senior program manager of Web services Standards Tom Glover (also president, and Chairman of the Board for the Web Services-Interoperability (WS-I) Organization) has responded to my feedback on defining open.  Why define open?  Well, defining it is worthless unless people understand all of the potential benefits (eg: self-control over your own technology destiny vs. passing that control to vendors).   Then, once the those benefits are well understood, having a definition makes it easier for technology buyers to recognize the degree to which something that claims to be open (or support open) really is open and which of the potential benefits accrue to them should they elect to use that "something" (a product, service, vendor, etc.).   I discuss the degrees of openness  -- a concept first explored graphically by IBM's Bob Sutor -- in my follow up to the flap between Apache vs. OASIS.  As a side note, the Apache/OASIS WS-Security conflict lives at ground zero of the reconciliation of the current incompatibilities between the open source and open standards movements.  Something has to give way and Sun could be nudging hard enough on the open source side of the conflict that we could soon see the equivalent of the Berlin Wall being torn down (stay tuned for my blog on this). 

In his blog, Glover gives the discourse some structure, distilling my discussion of "open" down to four bullet points:

  • Is open absolute or relative? I say it's relative but I had a hard time pinning down Glover's position based on what he wrote.  My interpretation of what he wrote is that once you cross over into the open range (with degrees of openness providing the measurement of granularity within), then open is an absolute state.  You're either in the open range, or your not. I called Glover to get a better fix and he said that I essentially got it right adding that in the world that he and Bob Sutor are thinking of, "in theory you can select a set of criteria to be used to score the openness of something, you can score things against those criteria, and you can decide on a score that's good enough to call something open."  However, one problem with that system is the question of who decides what that borderline score is?  Chances are that there would be some disagreement over this (there already is and we don't even have a systemin place).  So, given that,  I think we're better off sticking to relative because today, not everyone agrees on the point at which "closed" ends, and "open" begins. 
  • It's time to decouple the words "open" and "standard."  Glover agrees that other things are open besides standards and that there are standards that aren't necessarily open.  And here's something Glover also told me he agrees with: to the extent that it makes sense to come up with a range of granularity for open, it might be a good idea to do the same for "standard" (de facto vs. de jure) and then, perhaps, overlay them (sounds like a Gartner Magic Quadrant, only way way way better).
  • Compliance: to measure, or not to measure -- history has proven that, left unchecked (and I won't point any fingers here), vendors will claim compliance in situations where others might disagree.  So, the question here is, in addition to helping buyers recognize the degrees of open and the degrees of standard, once they pick their dots (specifications that, to one degree or another are open, standard, or both) on the aforementioned chart,  can you help them to recognize the degree to which certain solutions support that specification.  This is actually a third diminension to the chart.   Sun for example, keeps a very tight grip on compliance with the various Java specifications.  Technology buyers appear to appreciate that because of how much easier  it is for them to recognize and then acquire certifiably compliant solutions.  Very few specifications however have the equivalent of Sun's tightly supervised compliance regimen.  Not even the World Wide Web Consortium has something like this (although I have suggested it to them).
  • Adoption of open "stuff" gives buyes more control-- Glover asserts that buyers of technology -- ones whose infrastructures fall comfortably in to the open range -- are not the only ones who benefit from their "open discipline."  Glover says that in a win-win type of way, sellers of compliant solutions benefit too.  Maybe those benefits come full circle back to the buyers who end up with more choices.  But, at the end of the day, you wouldn't need many fingers to count how many solution providers don't have some sort of proprietary extensions to their supposedly compliant solutions that, when invoked, can make it difficult for customers to switch, should you ever want to.  So, as an advocate for buyers (ZDNet's readers), my focus on this point will always be about how buyers can get the most out of their IT and that doing so starts with making sure they don't relinquish control of any part of it to vendors because of reliance, dependence, or addiction (a range if you ask me) to proprietary technologies or formats.  But I completely understand the point Glover makes which is that a healthy ecosystem can emerge -- one in which everyone wins.
[Update 7/19/2005: See the response to this blog from IBM's Tom Glover]