'

Will the opened stay unbroken?

Even when proprietary standards are opened, the opening comes at a high price which most customers can't or won't meet. Most of the proprietary advantage remains. The proprietor remains free to close the door.

Ada Habershon, author of “Will the Circle Be Unbroken?”
Now that programmers have, after enormous effort, figured out how to open up the iPhone, SharePoint and the Server Message Block the question occurs, how long will it be before they're locked up again.

How long, in other words, will this code circle stay unbroken?

(Thanksgiving trivia. This year marks the 100th birthday of Ada Habershon's mega-hit gospel song "Will the Circle Be Unbroken?")

Despite the enormous effort and expense which has gone into making these proprietary systems interoperate with the open source world, the fact remains their owners could shut the doors on these advances tomorrow, if they chose.

We have seen Microsoft play these games with OOXML, which it calls OpenXML. Apple's "bricking" of its iPhones with new firmware is well known.

Each time a proprietary standard is changed, behind the corporate curtain, an enormous cost is imposed on those who want to interoperate. Most accept reality and live in the proprietary world. Others don't.

My guess is that Sun's link to CFIS may stay in place so long as Sun and Microsoft remain on good terms. MainSoft's work-around with SharePoint may be less stable.

And this may be the proprietary vendors' point in maintaining control of standards. While the Mainsoft fix is admirable it is still a barrier to competition, expensive to implement and not easily duplicated. Your average doctor's office is not going to disobey Microsoft's SharePoint monopoly.

Even when proprietary standards are opened, the opening comes at a high price which most customers can't or won't meet. Most of the proprietary advantage remains. The proprietor remains free to close the door.

Why do users or corporations tolerate this? Because the iPhone is cool. Because SharePoint is seductive. Because Office is what everyone uses. Because customers don't think they'll ever need interoperability until they decide they do.

The answer for open source is always to come up with something better. Something better than SharePoint, better than Office, better than the iPhone. Proprietary advocates sneer that's impossible, that open source can't innovate by its very nature.

So my Thanksgiving prayer to the open source community is this. Prove them wrong. If I can get a picture of Ada Habershon into the tech section of Google News, anything is possible.