Exploding heads in the open source community

Late last week, Tim O'Reilly announced at his company's open source convention that Microsoft would submit its shared source licenses to the Open Source Initiative (OSI) to be certified as true open source licenses. It's a curious notion, but makes a lot of sense.

Late last week, Tim O'Reilly announced at his company's open source convention that Microsoft would submit its shared source licenses to the Open Source Initiative (OSI) to be certified as true open source licenses. It's a curious notion, but makes a lot of sense. Microsoft probably wants to find a way to harness the energy and benefit from the scrutiny of the shared development process. They cannot do that, however, with a license that is designed by someone with strong antipathies towards proprietary software, aiming at every turn to create artificial walls around GPL product to ensure that proprietary software cannot use it. Big surprise, Microsoft's shared source licenses are more friendly to proprietary software, and I bet code licensed under them would be more acceptable to the company. That could matter, as if Microsoft were to use a particular external shared source product in its own products, it would quickly result in distribution numbers that would be the envy of most open source projects.

On Wednesday, the state of Massachusetts officially declared that OOXML, Microsoft's standardized XML document format, is on an equal standing with ODF, and thus suitable for state employees and contractors to use in work relating to the state. Perhaps some will view this as "just" a small east coast American state choosing to make life easier for the beast of Redmond. But, like a bag of popcorn, the popping starts slowly, and if the ISO does in the end opt to ratify OOXML as an official standard, expect the popping noise to accelerate.

Also Wednesday, Microsoft proceeded with plans to submit its new HD Photo document format to the JPEG Standards group. There's still a bit of ways to go, but it seems likely that it will be ratified. If you consider that VC-1 wasn't ratified too long ago by SMPTE (a format based on Windows Media Video version 9), one might conclude that Microsoft has found the open standards religion...at least in the sense that when it makes technology in-house, it moves to get it standardized early.

Among those with long-seated antipathies towards Microsoft, this was always certain to create a fair degree of cognitive dissonance. Microsoft is no longer keeping its technology so close to the vest. The battle is no longer for access to information, but whether Microsoft's standards are "worthy", a "my standard is better than your standard" sort of debate.

For some, it doesn't matter whether Microsoft standardized the entire WIN32 API. Microsoft "can't be trusted," and therefore, no standard with which they are associated will pass muster.

Fortunately, most aren't so dogmatic. Most will simply see that Microsoft IS being more open than they have ever been before. They will note that Microsoft is starting to standardize new technology early in the process rather than waiting for a smaller competitor to beat them to the punch and publicly embarass them in small east coast states.

Consumers (and developers) have more information about the protocols and formats Microsoft uses than ever before. No, Microsoft code that implement these standards will never be GPLed (though they may use the new licenses), and they have a greater tendency to create something that they drop as a closer-to-finished product on standardization committees, but that's the way MOST proprietary companies work. Adobe did this with PDF. Proprietary companies aren't going to approach the process the same way open source developers might, because they often build a market for a product before they step back and try to make a standard out of the resulting technology.

That's not a bad thing. Remember, proprietary companies have closer links to real world customers than most open source developers. That shapes the technology they develop, and is a useful feeder into the standardization process.

Irrespective of your preferences, developers now have a heck of a lot of information about the formats used by the most popular software products in existence. That can't be a bad thing. Open source has accomplished much in its competition with Microsoft. The fact that Microsoft releases this kind of information is proof of that.