Open Tech Today - Top Stories

Friday, December 29, 2006

Ayles Ice, Lohachara & Our Bi-Polar Disorder

Although they are thousands of miles apart, the Ayles Ice Shelf and Lohachara Island have a lot in common. They are the newest victims of global warming.

Canada now has a new floating island of ice, shown here breaking off from Ellesmere Island on August 13, 2005 ...

... while in India's Bay of Bengal an island has disappeared under the waves (It's now a smudge just below the island in photo), as blogged here recently.

Scientists reported today that the Ayles Ice Shelf, one of only six major ice shelves left in the Canadian Arctic, collapsed from the coast of Ellesmere Island into the sea. And it wasn't the first.

In 2002, the Arctic's largest ice shelf -- the Ward Hunt Ice Shelf -- broke up.

Is this news? It shouldn't be. In 2002, a paper published by the U.S. Geological Survey concluded by saying:
"The ice shelves [along the north coast of Ellesmere Island] were once much more extensive than they are today ... and it is reasonable to suppose that the disintegration of the Ellesmere Ice Shelf was a response to the pronounced warming during the last century ... It is difficult to ignore the connection between the state of the Ellesmere Island ice shelves, the state of the climate, and changes taking place elsewhere in the Arctic Basin. The ice shelves are bellwethers of climate change."
As a New Years resolution for 2007, we should wish all these ostrich-like politicians and skeptics to pull their heads out from the ice and see the bi-polar changes that global warming has already brought. Not to mention what's coming.

Categories: GlobalWarming, Canada, India

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

The Needle and the Damage Done (to Baseball)

Yet again, a federal authority is taking steps to restore integrity to America's national pastime forfeited by a shameful conspiracy between Major League Baseball and the Players Union.

Minutes ago, a federal court ordered that the urine samples of baseball players who tested positive for steroids in 2003 (the height of "juiced" baseball) can be used by federal investigators. This will undo a shameless, shady deal cut by MLB and the Players' Union to hide the evidence, protect the cheaters, and sell out the efforts of clean players.

That grey pall on Barry Bonds' name is one step closer to becoming a black mark, if his name is among those 100 samples that tested positive in 2003. Not that anybody seriously doubts his steroid use.

His personal trainer was guilty of steroid distribution, and sits in jail for refusing to answer questions about what Bonds knew. Hmm. Now why would he refuse to answer that question? Bonds' position is equally telling. He says that he never knowingly used steroids, though he admits using the infamous "cream" and "clear" distributed by Balco. What were the "cream" and "clear"? Steroids, as established in the Balco court case.

Anything to add Mr. Bonds?

Categories: baseball, steroids

Monday, December 25, 2006

No New Year for Lohachara

While most of us will celebrate the coming New Year with hopes for a joyful 2007, the people who lived on the tiny island of Lohachara in India will not. Their island, located where the great Ganges River meets the Bay of Bengal, is gone. It is the first inhabited island to fall victim to global warming. But surely not the last.

Lohachara had an address: Latitude 21.9 / Longitude 88.1058333.

It had a population: 10,000 inhabitants.

It had neighbors: Suparibhanga Island (uninhabited and also now submerged forever).

And now Lohachara has disappeared, swallowed by a rising sea. (It's the grey smudge just below the island in the center of the photo above).

I want to wish all those skeptical, "do nothing" politicians and "scientists" a special New Years wish ...

I wish for you to move to Lohachara's neighboring Ghoramara Island, or Sagar Island, or the Carteret Islands off Papua New Guinea, or Vanuatu ... stay awhile ... and then tell the world that global warming is not happening. I suggest, however, you bring some scuba gear and a boat.

Categories: GlobalWarming, India

Sunday, December 24, 2006

ODF v. OOXML -- Size Matters

Rob Weir has an excellent post comparing OpenDocument Format to ooXML, championed by Microsoft. The conclusion: Size matters.

The bottom line is that ooXML has a weight problem. Not only is it a bloated specification, but on average it also produces files that are bigger and slower than does its ODF rival when each is used by the same application.

This echoes the point made in my recent blog post about the practical differences between ODF and ooXML. In this Standards Smackdown!, differences in performance and complexity will likely impact decisions by developers about which standard to use.

Categories: OpenDocument, ODF, standards, ooXML

Saturday, December 23, 2006

Open Source Brings Neutrality and Manifestos

The debate about open source and open standards challenges governments to replace their rhetoric with tangible actions. Governments are gravitating toward the idea of issuing "technology neutral" policies as a starting point.

This raises two issues that most governments have yet to face: (1) What is technology neutrality? and (2) What must governments do to establish true ICT neutrality?

Neutrality (at least as rhetoric) appeals to everyone, governments and vendors alike. Few, however, have really considered what neutrality means and how to establish it.

A vigorous, open debate about technology neutrality is happening in at least one country -- Malaysia -- as evidenced by a recent opinion piece in its largest english-language newspaper the New Straits Times.

The second challenge -- creating genuine ICT neutrality -- is harder. Passive policymaking is not enough. As governments are learning, a "wait and see" approach produces endless waiting and little seeing.

As blogger here recently, the City of Amsterdam (and 8 other cities in the Netherlands) are waiting no longer. They signed a "Manifesto for Open Source in Government," committing themselves to exploring the use of open ICT. Amsterdam's City Council just announced that an initial test in the use of open standards and open source will begin in early 2007.

Do not be fooled by rhetoric, from governments or vendors. It matters less if someone uses the words "neutrality" or "manifesto." The only thing that counts is whether there are more choices in ICT procurement, whether vendor lock-in is eliminated, and who controls your data, documents and ICT decisions. Open is as open does.

Categories: OpenSource, ICTneutrality, Netherlands, Malaysia, government

Thursday, December 14, 2006

The U.N., Open Source and Repression

The United Nations helps governments use open source as a tool of repression, according to a group named the Inner City Press. Among their rambling and rumormongering, this group accuses the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) of aiding the government of Uzbekistan in using open source as an instrument to support systematic repression.

I would offer a few general comments on this:

1. The UN has not shown much leadership in technology policymaking. UNDP itself has been incoherent and contradictory toward open source. While UNDP’s former chief, Mark Malloch Brown, urged Microsoft to work with the open source community, its IT Department organized marketing presentations to staff by big proprietary vendors. The gulf between the words of UNDP management and the actions of staff is often wide.

2. At least one group within the UN system (and ironically under UNDP) does an excellent job in promoting forward-thinking ICT policies: the Asia-Pacific Development Information Programme (APDIP). Unlike many UN agencies, it is focused, principled, competent and physically separate from UN headquarters.

3. Let’s be honest. UNDP’s mandate is to work in poor countries. And many poor countries have un-democratic governments. Partnerships with such governments are always difficult, often problematic and sometimes compromising.

Specifically, about UNDP’s project in Uzbekistan ...

UNDP’s technology efforts in Uzbekistan fall under a new project assisting the Uzbeki government in the formulation and implementation of ICT for development policy. According to UNDP, the project aims to promote an “[e]nabling environment for civil society to participate actively in the development process.” This is normal, meaningless UNDP fare.

The project—which runs from 2005-2009 with a budget of $535,000—included financing a report on free/open source software. It also supports typical UNDP project activities like study tours, seminars and other capacity-building efforts.

UNDP frequently works with governments of all persuasions to develop ICT policy frameworks. Nothing wrong with that. Technology is one aspect of a country’s development efforts. However, it is reasonable to ask whether UNDP should have certain policy parameters or conditions to avoid technologies of repression?

In other words, should UNDP attach strings to its ICT projects?

This is a serious question. Possible conditions might include making UNDP funding of ICT projects contingent upon partner governments not blocking access to news sites, or establishing privacy protections for users. And certainly UNDP should not provide or pay for software used enable censorship or limit user freedoms. It needs to openly and strongly condemn such practices.

Perhaps all UN agencies should consider setting common policies for ICT-in-development projects.

Three disclaimers:
o In the past I have worked for UNDP projects in various capacities.
o UNDP-APDIP participated in the Open ePolicy Group, which I founded.
o I know one person in UNDP’s office in Uzbekistan, though we have not discussed this post or these issues.

Categories: OpenSource, government, UnitedNations

Monday, December 11, 2006

Standards Smackdown!

Technology rarely sparks public debate, let alone political intrigue. But a “no holds barred” fight has begun in the technology world over document formats. That means nothing to most people. But it is turning the IT world into the UFC. This fight is not just among geeky programmers. Industry heavyweights and governments are getting ready to rumble.

Ecma's approval of the Office Open XML (ooXML) standard this week sets up a big showdown. A competing standard – the OpenDocument Format (ODF) – is already ISO-approved.

I noted in a recent CNET article that Ecma's approval of ooXML will increase confusion in the marketplace. Consumers and companies now face two different document standards. One is a proprietary-encumbered standard, the other an open standard. Both are endorsed by standards organizations and industry allies.

The average person, even the average corporate customer will be confused. And when it comes to technology, the uninformed are easily abused. Politicians, often among the most technologically challenged, are already being targeted. It’s about to get worse. A giant PR blitz is coming. Corporate commanders are fueling the FUD missiles.

The ultimate question is which document standard will become the standard?

One group will greatly affect the outcome – the actual consumers of standards: programmers and IT developers. They are the people who use the specifications of these 2 standards. These developers (and companies that employ them) must deal with reality. Software development is hard work, and complexity drives up costs. It is true for software. It will be true for document standards.

According to a new study, in Asia today 70% of computer programmers use open source software in their work. Why? It’s cheaper than proprietary software and allows total access to the source code. Applying ooXML, a standard bloated with proprietary functions, will be difficult and costly. These will be serious disincentives to IT developers not employed by Microsoft.

All those Asian software developers using open source – 50% of them will use XML next year. Will they be willing to endure to pain and costs of using ooXML instead of ODF, a simpler, more open standard?

Welcome to the standards smackdown. The fighters have entered the Octagon. It looks like a sumo champion will face a jui-jitsu master. It’s déjà vu all over again. Want to know the results the first time? It’s here.

Oh yeah – it's on now.

Categories: OpenDocument, ODF, standards, ooXML, Microsoft

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Dutch Cities Demand Open Source

Apparently, passivity is not working. A group of 8 cities in the Netherlands will wait no longer for the market to provide more technology choices. Fed up with poor interoperability and uni-vendor dependency, they are demanding open source software alternatives.

An article (in dutch) in the Dutch newspaper Trouw describes the effort by several large Dutch cities to access open source choices. Indeed, they have gone so far as to publish a manifest insisting on open source options from vendors who want to compete for municipal ICT contracts.

Is this the IT equivalent of Martin Luther nailing his 95 Theses to the door of the Wittenberg church?

Categories: open, source, procurement, Netherlands, government

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Technology Neutral ≠ Open Source Inaction

Memo to governments: technology-neutral policies on procurement do not mean that governments should do nothing about open source. While governments like Malaysia are neutralizing formal preferences (or mandates) for open source, they should not become passive about procurement or competition within the ICT market.

Technology neutrality is not a natural state, for governments or anyone else. People have preferences, even if policies on paper do not. Removing a sentence from an Open Source Master Plan, as Malaysia has done, does not magically level the playing field in ICT procurement. Neither does an open source preference for that matter. Procurement trumps policy every time.

To establish a truly neutral and competitive procurement environment, governments need to focus on 2 things: (1) setting clear objectives; and (2) burning your old, standard RFPs.

For step 1, Malaysia has it right. Its OSS Framwork sets the right targets: increase software choices and interoperability, reduce total costs of ownership and vendor lock-in, and ensure security.

Step 2 -- changing how procurement is actually done -- is much harder. It requires both changing rules and how people act. Tweaking your procurement policies will not work because you cannot "tweak" people's behavior. More dramatic action is needed.

Three actions can help drive changes in procurement practices and behavior. First, issue new standard RFP provisions that show agencies what neutral language looks like. Second, establish new criteria for bid evaluation that takes proper account of how open source works in the market. Lastly, find a way to make agency interactions with vendors more transparent. Too often, procurement decisions are made behind closed doors before an RFP is even issued. That is not a formula for value for money.

Categories: open, source, procurement, Malaysia, government

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Government Procurement Adds to Open Source Problems

As governments embrace service-oriented and performance-based procurement, they are discovering one major problem: they are not very good at it. And this has serious implications for the adoption of open source solutions by the public sector.

Performance-based procurement of services presents new challenges, as U.S. federal agencies are learning. Services are not managed, measured or maintained in the same way as products. The focus is service needs, not products specifications. Procurement personnel trained in buying hardware and systems are spec-oriented, not outcome-oriented.

These difficulties are compounded with open source. Open source is just as disruptive of government procurement as it is for the IT industry. Worse, open source involves the procurment of both a software product (community-developed and often free) and support services (with performance-based contracts).

Common criteria for bid selection -- how well product meets specs, financial stability of the company, product costs, and alignment with current suppliers -- make no sense with open source. Getting the software and getting the support are often two different things.

While open source fits well with service-oriented procurement and its performance-based contracts, governments so far do not. More is required of IT staff with both open source and performance-based contracts before procurement begins. They need to understand the open source product/services and the outcomes they expect. They will need training to handle new demands with respect to estimating contract costs, conducting risk assessment, setting realistic baselines, performance benchmarks and financial incentives.

Metrics must become their new mantra.

Without a serious commitment to training, it is a lot to ask of any Acquisition Department.

Thursday, November 30, 2006

Lessons from the Open Source Frontier #2

Things with open source software are not always what they seem, or what is reported. Just ask the City Council of Birmingham (UK). Critics declared their open source effort a failure, but not so fast. Reports of the death of open source in Birmingham are greatly exaggerated.

According to its Head of IT, the City Council actually expects to realize cost savings over time, and contrary to press reports it plans to "significantly increase" its use of open-source.

Which brings us to a few additions to my original Lessons from the Open Source Frontier.

Lesson #3: Open source requires skills.

You can build them up or buy them. More likely, you should do both. But either way, a real migration is involved and requires experienced people--techs, installers and troubleshooters--to manage it. The level of skills on staff will impact the "team costs" (like project set-up, technical design, development, testing and training) that were so high in Birmingham. Investment to acquire those skills: real. Value of those skills for the next open source project: priceless.

Lesson #4: Objects in the mirror are less costly than they appear.

Government budgets are often short-term. The true TCO of technology projects is not. Costs for open source may differ greatly in the short term and long term. Special discounted license rates--such as offered by Microsoft to governments--affect the cost comparision in the short term. But start-up costs are not the only consideration. Vendor lock-in has its price. You never develop the technical and managerial skills needed to have more choices in the future. And the costs of your data/documents trapped in proprietary formats will always be there.

Even the iMpower Consulting report criticizing Birmingham notes:

"The extra resources involved in decision making and project management mean that the cost of this first-time open source implementation for BCC was significantly higher than for a comparable proprietary upgrade."

So, costs were higher the first time around. Is this a surprise? How much did the Windows license cost the first time around? The obvious implication is that management and training costs will be lower for future open source implementations.

Lesson #5: The price of lock-in is high, as is the price of freedom from it.

Identifying and eliminating technical "lock-in" is hard work, as Birmingham discovered. There are endless ways in which proprietary applications and configurations obstruct porting to any other technology. That is the price of lock-in, and it is permanently steep if you continue to live in a world of fewer choices. If you never move, you never feel the weight of the chains around you.

Lesson #6: Consider putting the cart before the horse.

Sequencing matters. Birmingham's rollout plans were ambitious, especially given the technical levels of its staff. A better business case may have been to begin by migrating applications before operating systems. Designing and implementing a Linux desktop system can be difficult. Yet, adoption of open source applications like Firefox and OpenOffice is often easy for users, as Birmingham learned. Either way, it should be budgeted and managed as a multi-year effort.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

You Want Open ICT? Burn The Boats (or RFPs)

When it comes to technology policies, governments should heed the words of Hernan Cortez … “Burn the boats.” Or, more specifically, burn the RFPs.

Procurement is the real measure of a government’s approach to technology. How “open” a government is toward ICT is not measured by whether or not it buys open source software, but how it procures technology. It's not what you buy, but how you buy it that counts most.

As governments are discovering – most recently in Australia and UK-- tweaking existing procurement policies to encourage more bidding by open source companies will not create more choices, even when specific open source companies are pre-qualified.

Procurement band aids will not lead to increased competitive bidding, ICT choices and access to innovation. Your old procurement rules, evaluation criteria and standard RFPs will not work. They will not level the playing field. They will not break vendor lock-in.

Why? Because conventional government RFPs are structured for big, proprietary vendors. They evaluate bidding companies based on criteria inappropriate for open technologies.

For example, public agencies still focus more on purchasing products, while open source solutions are more about services and support. RFPs often under-value interoperability, and instead focus on system specs and large product suites. Criteria such as minimum annual revenues and established user base disadvantage small companies and tend to proliferate vendor lock-in.

And let’s be honest, too many RFPs are rigged, written in order to buy a specific solution from a specific company with whom the procurement officers have long-standing relationships. Their objective is not best value-for-money, competitive bidding or technology neutrality, but buying a specific system already pre-determined.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Sunday in the Dark with George

I rarely comment on American politics here, restricting my blogging to issues of technology.

However, it is impossible to stand silent on the travesty that is President Bush's war in Iraq.

This entire Iraq fiasco has been a faith-based initiative from the beginning, perpetrated by a President wilfully ignorant of facts and other faiths, bolstered by officials with their own hidden (and deeply flawed) agendas. It is a classic example of presidential followership by a man with little understanding of the world.

To listen to President Bush speak about Iraq only confirms that he remains completely clueless about global politics, history and facts on the ground.

Bush in his own words ...

On the current situation: "Absolutely we're winning." (October 25, 2006).

On the Iraqi government: "We've all been impressed by the Iraqi leaders' commitment to maintain the unity of their country." (April 29, 2006)

On lesson of Vietnam for Iraq: "We'll succeed unless we quit." (November 17, 2006)

On the insurgency: "Those who want to stop the progress of freedom are becoming more and more marginalized." (January 4, 2006)

On Iraqi public opinion: "The Iraqi people are growing in optimism and hope." (June 25, 2005)

On Iraq's effect on the region: "The victory of freedom in Iraq is strengthening a new ally in the war on terror, and inspiring democratic reformers from Beirut to Tehran." (March 19, 2005)

On the current status: "I think we're making good progress." (January 26, 2005)

On the day Saddam was captured: "All Iraqis can now come together and reject violence and build a new Iraq." (December 14, 2003)

On WMD in Iraq: "We found the weapons of mass destruction. We found biological laboratories." (May 29, 2003)

And let us not forget...

"Major combat operations in Iraq have ended. In the battle of Iraq, the United States and our allies have prevailed." (May 1, 2003, as Bush stood below the infamous "Mission Accomplished" sign)

And now?

October 2006: deadliest month ever in Iraq. 3,709 Iraqi civilians killed.

November 22, 2006: Over 100 bodies found, victims of sectarian executions.

November 23, 2006 (one day later): deadliest day ever in Iraq. Over 200 killed in Baghdad alone.

Is it me, or is the trend line pretty clear here?

The Iraqi "unity" government is more oxymoron than government, and helpless to stem the sectarian conflict. A key member of that government, Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr's bloc, has threatened to withdraw support for the Prime Minister should he even meet President Bush later this week. This same Prime Minister accuses factions in his own government of fuelling the conflict. This is the government central to success in Iraq?

There are no signs of democratic reformers awakening in the Middle East. Lebanon's government has collapsed, even before the most recent assassination of a prominent politician. Iran proceeds with its nuclear program. Yesterday in Bahrain, hard-line Islamist candidates swept to victory in parliamentary election. Hezbollah won elections in the Palestinian territories.

Worse, the insurgency, according to a classified report by this Administration, is now a self-financing operation, netting $70 - 200 million a year from illegal activities and ransom payments, aided by corrupt Iraqi officials.

Iraq produces a steady stream of bodies, and Bush ... an endless stream of platitudes.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

ISO + ODF + Brazil = A Tide Turning

The acceptance by ISO of the OpenDocument Format (ODF) as an international document standard is finally having a tangible effect on government policy. Or rather, it has given ODF a gravitational pull that is now turning the tide on government policies on document formats.

Today, Brazil officially announced the release of a new version of its national interoperability framework -- e-PING Interoperability Framework 2.0. In it, the e-PING recommends use of the OpenDocument Format for archives of documents, spread sheets, presentations, and graphical diagrams.

The e-PING 2.0 was the subject of a three-month public consultation. It applies to the exchange of information between systems of Brazil's federal government and other levels of government, cities, the judiciary, companies, international organizations and other countries.

And Brazil is not the only government on the ODF move. Italy and Switzerland are considering ODF as a national standard in light of its acceptance by ISO.

By the way ... this Open ePolicy blog has hit the century mark! This is my 100th posting. And a good day it is for ODF.

Friday, November 17, 2006

Thailand v. Philippines: Open Source Opposites?

When it comes to open source software, Thailand and the Philippines are heading in opposite directions. A change in government in Thailand has led to open hostility and backpedaling by the new Minister of ICT toward open source. At the same time, in the Philippines, Congress will begin hearings on mandating government use of open source.

In his first press conference as Thailand’s new ICT Minister, Sitthichai Pokaiudom referred to open source as buggy and useless. He added, "With open source, there is no intellectual property. Anyone can use it and all your ideas become public domain. If nobody can make money from it, there will be no development and open source software quickly becomes outdated."

Minister Sitthichai’s views on open source are 10 years out of date, and ignore or misconstrue a few basic realities:

o Open source and intellectual property are not incompatible. Open source simply involves a different approach to the use of IP, not its abandonment. It does not consign everything to the public domain; it is simply governed by a different kind of license. It offers a different balance between creators and users.

o Open source is not the enemy of profit. There are open source companies making money, lots of it. The fact is that open source requires new business models, ones that emphasize services over products. Entrepreneurs, enterprises and investors will struggle to learn what business models work. Some will learn the hard way. Open source’s creative destruction brings both innovations and business failures. In this way, open source is no different than other industries. Revolutions are usually messy, disruptive and divisive.

o All software is buggy, regardless of the software development model used. One need only consider the millions (or billions) of dollars and hours spent on Microsoft Windows over the past 20 years. It’s the nature of the beast. And here is another hard truth: software projects fail. The volume of proprietary software built that has failed surely exceeds the number of open source projects that have stagnated. That is hardly the basis for condemning either model.

o Open source offers more than just financial gain. As emphasized by the author of the FOSS legislation in the Philippines, open source gives small and medium-size enterprises greater access to ICT, enabling them to compete in new ways and new sectors. It allows for local customization that is often impossible with off-the-shelf, proprietary software. It gives organizations greater control over their ICT decision-making.

And yes Minister, open source sometimes saves money.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Is China Pulling a Bill Gates on ODF?

China is hot for open technologies, but on its own terms. So, does news that China has its own document format threaten prospects for the OpenDocument Format (ODF)?

The danger is a competing standard that might stall ODF's progress in Asia, but that risk seems low. Unlike Microsoft's OpenXML, China's UOF is not intended to compete with or stall ODF's acceptance.

Yes, China's Uniform Office Document Format (UOF) is the product of a broad public-private partnership among Chinese vendors, users and government-backed research institutes. Yes, key agencies--the Information Office of the State Council, Ministry of Information Industry, and Ministry of Science & Technology--support UOF.

However, China is not trying to kill or marginalize ODF. China is trying to solve a problem plaguing government procurement and its software industry -- the lack of compatability among Chinese office software is contributing to their unpopularity and difficulties in application integration.

The Chinese Working Group involved in UOF's development recommended an effort to harmonize UOF and ODF. OASIS will create a technical committee to collaborate with China on this. If China and OASIS are both serious about compatibility, this will be good news for ODF and China. UOF will be a truly open standard like ODF.

If they are successful, document formats will cease to be a barrier to innovation and interoperability. It will be a win-win situation that will increase choices for Chinese users, increase competition in office applications, strengthen the global competitiveness of Chinese IT companies, and drive open standards in a major IT market.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Lessons from the Open Source Frontier

For governments and companies seeking to use open source software to drive a national ICT strategy or company profits, China offers a few open source lessons.

Lesson #1: If you’re in the open source business, you’re in the business of communities.

Chinese companies learned this the hard way. Initially, only foreign software companies invested in building communities in China around their products. Now, both the government and Chinese companies are in the community building business.

Is open source community building really a big deal? The Chinese government thinks so. It regards open source communities as key to its software industry and is committing more public resources toward them in its eleventh Five-Year-Plan (2006-2010).

What is the upside for companies? Mainly they seek (a) to identify and develop the open source talent needed to speed product development; and (b) to promote their products in the local market.

Lesson #2: The long-term success in open source rests on talent, not mandates.

In real estate, the rule is “location, location, location.” The open source mantra is “talent, talent, talent.” Talent is the key to the long-term viability of open source communities (and businesses). But talent – that is, people – takes time to develop.

The Chinese government is not replacing market incentives. However, in some places the market is not enough. Chinese programmers find that earning their daily bread (or rice) leaves them little time to contribute to open source communities. And so, the communities languish with scant resources and few core participants.

Education, incentives to entrepreneurs, the competitive landscape for open source solutions all contribute to the long-term development of human resources for open source.

China is adding another option for governments to encourage the maturation of the open source industry. Not by procurement mandates, but by providing resources needed for communities to grow. Money is no guarantee, but support by a public-private partnership gives new open source communities a leg up. Not every country faces the same problems. However, in countries with a dearth of open source talent, governments can play a positive role in supporting the development of open source talent, both in their schools and online communities.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Ubuntu Rising

Ubuntu is everywhere, suddenly. It’s a phenomenon. Bill Clinton promotes it at the Labor Party conference. Nobel laureate Archbishop Desmond Tutu made it the heart and soul of South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

It is also the name of popular software championed by Mark Shuttleworth, the first African in space.

What is it? A Bantu word that roughly translates into "I am because you are.” It expresses the idea that a common bond links us all, the reality that my humanity is bound to yours.

Ubuntu is what makes us human. It reminds us that we are all in it together.

Which brings me to open source software. Open source is important – not only to technologists, but to everyone. Not as a business (which it is). Not as a religion (as some espouse it). Not as a bogeyman (for tech companies defending monopolistic profits).

Open source represents a bold statement that technology need not further divide people into “haves” and “have nots.” It expresses the combined power of ubuntu (the small “u” version) and technology to connect people. It is not about lines of code; it is about the collaborative effort of people to build something together … and to share it.

Open source says that we are not simply customers and salesmen, invoices and IP.

iPods, cellphones, laptops, Blackberries, portable DVD players – they are wonderful and addictive … connective and isolating. Open source is a different technological proposition. It allows total strangers to collaboratively create. It is both visionary and pragmatic, transforming dreams into code, passions into products.

Ubuntu is the most human of ideas, and open source is that beautiful idea in action.

Saturday, October 28, 2006

YouTube, iPods and Internet Artistry

Unlike most teenagers for whom virtual interaction with strangers via MySpace is as natural as, well, speeding tickets, I am still amazed when I find myself interacting with someone who I only “met” on the Internet – could be someone who commented on this blog … or even someone I “know” only from the cover of a music CD.

I had 2 separate but similar experiences with this recently.

Two weeks ago, I was trying to create a music video playlist on YouTube to mimic my favorite iPod playlist.

I was searching for a video of Pagode do Maracanã by Kátia Moraes, a phenomenal Brasilian singer now living in LA. You can hear the song (and others) here.

So, I was searching for her video, and failing.

But I did discover a backstage video of Katia and her fellow bandmembers in Pure Samba rehearsing. Among the comments below the video was a poster named “katiamoraes.” Right, so I emailed her. And soon found myself enjoying an ongoing exchange with an artist who up until that moment I had only admired silently from afar. Weird, and wonderful.

My first encounter with Internet artistry was even stranger.

I had lost a cassette tape with one of my all-time favorite albums by a now defunct reggae/ska band called the Blue Riddim Band.

The tape I lost was "Alive in Jamaica” – a live recording of their 1982 concert at Jamaica’s annual (and legendary) Reggae Sunsplash.

A brilliant musical moment under a full moon. And I only had an empty cassette box as a painful reminder of it.

Enter the Internet. I googled the band and sent “out of the blue” emails to anyone who had mentioned them online. Crazy … but not useless. I found someone on MySpace who has mp3 versions of all the songs on "Alive in Jamaica," as well as an earlier album. Jackpot! In celebration, I posted a favorite Blue Riddim song on my blog (where it remains).

Hit play and enjoy Nancy Reagan

Not long after that, I received my own “out of the blue” email from someone named Howard -- he was the original guitarist in Blue Riddim Band. We exchanged a bunch of emails about the band, their Sunsplash concerts and how on earth I ended up so obsessed with their music and a lost tape. Even got me hooked up with some underground concert tapes of Blue Riddim.

Cool ... and totally unimaginable without the Internet.

Friday, October 27, 2006

Why Do Militaries Love Open Source?

National security agencies seem to understand what most government agencies do not yet – open technologies (open standards, open architecture and open source software) must figure prominently in mission critical systems and solutions.

Proprietary tech companies frequently argue that open source is unsuitable for military and security agencies. Clearly, defense agencies around the world disagree. And their actions speak louder than vendor words. Then again, their words speak pretty loudly too …

U.S.: A recent Department of Defense report entitled Open Technology Development Roadmap Plan says it plainly: “[Open source] and open source development technologies are important to the National Security and National Interest of the United States.” Specifically, open standards and targeted use of open source are vital for:

o Enhancing the military’s agility to adapt to changing needs and capabilities.
o Securing infrastructure and increasing security by having greater technical visibility into software in defense networks.
o Enabling rapid response to changes in technology and the actions of adversaries.
o Facilitating more efficient use of resources through collaboration and code sharing.

True, defense agencies study everything. However, this is not just an academic exercise. Defense agencies around the world – friend and foe alike – are moving from study to adoption of open technologies faster than most other government agencies. This is true despite (or rather BECAUSE of) security concerns. They are leaders in open technologies.

Open source will be core to the U.S. Army's Future Combat System of robotic reconnaissance; mobile command and control platforms; ground and air missile platforms; and advanced targeting systems.

The U.S. military is not alone.

China: Its military was an early adopter of open source to guard against “back door” access and malicious code putting vital military information at risk.

Russia: Its Ministry of Defense and Ministry of Internal Affairs depend on a domestically developed, Linux-based operating system, not only to provide greater network security but also to end Russia’s dependence on foreign software production.

South Korea: Its military is investing some $400 million won to build an education center for open source software and establish systems to run war-game simulations and other defense exercises.

France: Ministry of Defense and Ministry of Interior are both open source users, to gain security-through-diversity in technology and avoid dependencies on any one technology (or vendor). Today, while 80% of French gendarmes use OpenOffice for daily work, the Ministry of Defense is funding a project to boost the security certification of Linux.

Finland: The Ministry of Defense, to ensure stability and security in key operational processes, uses open source to handle messaging, its intranet and other core services.

Vietnam: Under a directive from the Prime Minister, the Ministry of Defense is directly engaged in the experimental application and development of open source software for defense purposes.

You might expect open source to be a tough sell to national security agencies. After all, it provides you and your enemies access to source code. But it is not. What attracts militaries to open source?

o The transparency of open source builds trust in the software.

o It enables an agency to break lock-in and regain control over software maintenance, upgrades and costs.

o It helps build self-reliance in software needed for critical weapon system development.

o Open source is ideal for militaries because it is technically flexible and customizable, giving them tactical agility.

National security agencies often have advantages over other agencies – they usually have substantial IT security expertise and resources in house. Still, less endowed public agencies have options. They can invest in long-term training for personnel. They can use public - private partnerships to access expertise.

What do defense agencies know that others have yet to learn? Organizations of any real size need to integrate open source into their technical architecture and overall business strategy.

Saturday, October 21, 2006

Free Highways : 20th Century as ...

Cheap cars and free highways transformed America in the 20th Century. $100 laptops and free wi-fi broadband can do the same thing for the 21st Century.

It is a simple analogy ...

Free highways : 20th Century as Free Wi-Fi : 21st Century.

The Internet is our new national highway, or it should be. Like the original highway system, it is fundamental to both our national economic and security future. There will be a direct correlation between levels of broadband penetration and a nation's capacity for innovation and growth rates. That correlation probably exists already.

It's all about highways. Asphalt highways are about getting from here to there (a far away "there") quickly. Broadband is about the same thing, only you are moving across cyberspace, and moving much faster.

The U.S. -- indeed every government -- should treat broadband Internet access as priority public infrastructure. Investing in building broadband networks is as important today as construction of the national highway system was in the 1940s.

The highway system would not have worked if only most people could drive on it. It would not have worked if a few companies controlled the on ramps, or bundled packages of roads together for a fixed access price. Anything like that would have only one effect: fewer users and less economic activity. It is the same for broadband Internet.

The debate over "net neutrality" is important. But, honestly, it is in some ways a "high class" problem, as FCC Chairman William Kennard notes in his op-ed article in today's NY Times. The bigger debate is whether government should invest in broadband Internet as public infrastructure and a national priority?

Let's face the reality that Lawrence Lessig so perfectly describes ... "U.S. broadband sucks — it is too slow, it is too expensive, and it is too unavailable." His FT piece is here.

Chairman Kennard makes some excellent points, but misses the mark in his final words. As he put it, policymakers should focus on "getting affordable broadband access to those who need it." Actually, we should focus on getting affordable broadband access to EVERYONE.

Monday, October 16, 2006

Government is Own Worst Enemy for Open ICT

Side note: Please take the poll over here!!! -------------->

At last week's GOSCON conference, Andy Stein, CIO for the City of Newport News, Virginia, hightlighted the fact that governments are often their own worst enemies when it comes to openizing their ICT ecosysems.

The traditional procurement system does not work when it comes to open source. Even worse, it prevents innovative public - private technology partnerships and even agency-to-agency collaboration. Policies on open standards, open source and open ICT that are not directly incorporated into procurement rules and practices are destined to fail.

These are points that I make in every conference at which I speak about open technologies. It is also emphasized in the Open ePolicy Group's Roadmap for Open ICT Ecosystems. Governments that want to "openize" their ICT ecosystems and drive innovation need to re-write their procurement rules.

This requires not only ending the practice of naming specific products, vendors and technologies in RFPs. The whole RFP process needs to be altered, or scrapped entirely. Criteria for selection of bids needs to change. Due diligance and contract management need to account for the fact that open source licenses, communities and companies work differently than proprietary vendors.

News Item of Note: Loss of Data by U.S. Agencies is Widespread.

Monday, October 09, 2006

SOA is the future ... or is it?

Vendors are pumping the idea of service-oriented architecture (SOA) like there is no tomorrow, and for good reasons. But to businesses, SOA sounds like some hyper-techie thing that normal people cannot understand, and do not want to try.

According to a new survey, more than 50% of business people have no idea what SOA is about.

And that is good news! Really.

SOA is a good thing, but it focuses on the IT layer of a business. It is a concept by and for IT architects, not business people. So it is no suprise that business doesn't get it, or buy it yet.

SOA is the future of IT architecture. In simple terms, it aims to add flexibility to your technology infrastructure. As an approach to design, it allows you to replace components without replacing all the hardware and software you already bought or built. It allows you to "re-use" components, or allow others to use them as a shared service or system. It gives you business flexibility so your back office processes and front-end services can evolve without needing to entirely replace your installed base of IT. SOA helps you extend the life of your existing infrastructure, increasing the ROI of your capital investment in IT.

Sounds good, right? So, what's the problem?

The problem is SOA makes a bad situation worse within many companies. The problem is IT driving business decisions. It should be the opposite. Business needs driving IT decisions. The focus should be the "SO" not the "A."

A better approach is to integrate a clear service-orientation into all levels of a business, not just its IT. SOA needs to move up "the stack" -- defining "design" of services, business processes and information management, in addition to the technology layer. We need to talk about SOA without mentioning IT or architecture or any other technology lingo. Service orientation is a business proposition. And that is a converation that CEOs, CFOs and business managers can engage in.

If you need an enterprise architect in the room to translate, the discussion is on the wrong track.

Saturday, October 07, 2006

Open ePolicy Group in Wikipedia

Just wanted to share this. The Open ePolicy Group is now an entry in Wikipedia available here. I expect the entry to evolve as the OeG enters into its second phase (More on OeG 2.0 later).

Thursday, October 05, 2006

France Says: Vive le ODF! Vive Open Source!

The French government has taken another small step toward open standards, open source choices, and the full-scale adoption of the OpenDocument Format (ODF). This builds upon its earlier publication for comment of an Interoperability Framework that included the use of ODF.

The Prime Minister's Office commissioned a study on how European businesses could do more to develop industrial standards. Part of that answer is ODF. And part is building a critical mass of open source in its ICT ecosystem.

As the Open ePolicy Group has recommended, governments do not need to mandate open source in order to generate greater software choices and control over decision-making. Other policy options exist. The French report, authored by French National Assembly Deputy Bernard Carayon, offers a few examples when it suggests that government:

* fund a research center dedicated to open-source software security

* set up a system for exchanging best practices on open source for national and local government agencies

* allowing officials to choose among proprietary and open source software for their own workstations.

The rest of Europe should expect to hear from France about this ... The Report recommends that France start pressing its EU partners about ODF. Let the lobbying begin!

Thursday, September 21, 2006

ASEAN Pushes a Few Open ICT Buttons

The IT Ministers of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) issued a joint Brunei Action Plan for enhancing the ICT competitiveness of their economies and societies. When it comes to technology, ASEAN is making "open" its theme.

The Action Plan focuses on capacity building -- not surprising since most ASEAN members are developing countries keen to strengthen their knowledge and skill base. What may surprise some people are the things that this ICT capacity building is focused upon, such as free/open source software, open standards and the OpenDocument Format (ODF).

ASEAN directly links the realization economic and social benefits with ICT by specifically committing to "exploring open standards and open source technologies to increase ICT access and interoperability." ASEAN is clearly walking an open ICT path toward economic and social development.

And among the list of priority projects ASEAN offers: a training workshop on OpenDocument Format (ODF) and Free/Libre Open Source Software (FLOSS) Distribution Kiosks.

If open is as open does, then we should expect to see more open ICT efforts emerging from the ASEAN region over the coming years.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

Mr. Gates, Tear Down This Wall

Criticism of Microsoft is fashionable. It is also easy, fun and often justified -- as in the case of its dealings toward the OpenDocument Format or its blind hostility to open source software.

Everyone loves to hate Darth Vadar, the Borg, Hannibal Lecter, Saruman, lawyers, Starbucks, Bill Gates, or even better Steve Ballmer.

But, the enemy is not any one company or person. Walls are the enemy. Walls that suppport silos. Walls that prevent the sharing of information, documents, ideas and innovations. The genius of open source software is not the code but the collaboration -- its removal of walls.

Open ICT ecosystems are not fortresses, and should not be managed with the same fortress mentality that sadly characterizes many organizations and companies. This applies equally to Microsoft, Red Hat, open source communities, CIOs and governments.

Open technologies-- like open standards and open source--are a fact of life. Open approaches to innovation and business are increasingly tranforming economies and enterprises.

And yet, sometimes dramatic steps are needed to re-shape an ICT ecosystem that remains under competitive, for example when it comes to technology choices ...

... which brings us to the Phillipines.

A bill called the Free/Open Source (FOSS) Software Act of 2006 will be presented on Tuesday, September 12th requiring government agencies to use open standards and open source software. The bill is serious about preventing vendor lock-in:

"Under no circumstances are ICT goods and services to be acquired by the State restricted for use in a single vendor environment only. All prospective ICT investments of the government shall comply with open standards, and existing ICT systems will be reviewed for open standards compatibility."

The legislation will allow government use of proprietary software only when no open standards-based alternatives are available, or when a proprietary system is already widely in use and no open standards-based technology exists that interoperates with it. Oddly enough, that last exception may create a disincentive for major proprietary vendors NOT to interoperate if their products are already widely used within the Phillipine public sector.

Laws requiring open source have been a cause of controversy in recent years. In the Open ePolicy Group's Roadmap for Open ICT Ecosytems, we recommended that people focus less on the software development model and more on actions that increase choice and competition.

Why? Because open ICT ecosystems are neither 100% open or closed; they are a mixed environment. With open standards as a foundation, specific software procurement should be driven by the business case and clear public policy needs.

From that perspective, much of the draft Phillipine legislation seems designed to build a critical mass of open ICT in its ecosystem. It will promote research in open source software, incorporate open source into the computer science curriculum in schools, and provide legal recognition for open source licenses. These are all important ways to even the playing field for open source without mandating its procurement.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Do Patents Threaten Open Source and Innovation?

It is impossible to separate innovation from access to information, ideas and invention. But what happens when ownership of a broadly defined idea prevents its future use by a larger community of creators?

As Jim Moore at Harvard put it, "The patent process provides legal protection to inventors, so that when they take their ideas to companies for possible commercialization, the inventors are not cheated out of the intellectual assets they have created." True. Moore compares patents to home ownership. "The rights of a patent are analogous to the real estate title to a home or land. You have the exclusive rights to use your home or land -- within some limits (zoning, etc.)."

The problem, especially with technology patents, is that title often claimed by patent applicants includes a broad and vague description of its boundaries. To borrow Moore's analogy, they often describe the building vaguely AND fail to define the zoning. This is not by accident. Intellectual property rights are valuable, and there is a huge economic incentive to occupy as much "real estate" as possible, including land that does not yet exist. Securing pre-emptive ownership of land created in the future is a big part of patent strategies for many companies. This has turned patents -- an important shield for inventors -- into a profitable sword.

Software is an especially difficult area for intellectual property. And even more difficult now that open source approaches to collaboration and software development are proliferating, and accelerating software innovation globally. Complex software by definition addresses a wide range of concepts. It is no surprise that more and more software (developed in house in a proprietary way or as open source) is subject to claims of patent infringement, when more and more patents include very loosely described concepts. The result: more lawsuits.

Open source software is especially vulnerable to the patent sword given its approach to development based on collaboration, sharing of concepts and re-use of code. Although well suited to today's high speed, networked world, it does not fit comfortably with our 19th Century rules on intellectual property, or the monetary imperative of many companies to use them.

Indeed, there are companies designed purely as litigation factories. They don't make anything, except lawsuits.

Case in point: FireStar Software v. Red Hat. FireStar is suing Red Hat in court arguing that it patented the entire concept of object/relational mapping, not merely a specific method or software for using it. Such lawsuits are increasingly common, and may have a real chilling effect on open source developers and projects. Put another way, the enforcement of today's vague patent risks tomorrow's big innovation.

The challenge is to create an intellectual property regime better suited to a digital, networked world where the re-use of ideas is more rapid, more disruptive, and more closely linked to tomorrow's innovation.

Thursday, August 31, 2006

Public - Private Partnerships for Open Source

Public-private partnerships (PPPs) are much discussed these days by governments everywhere. The connection between innovation, growth of IT industry and PPPs will be one focal point for the work of the Open ePolicy Group 2.0.

In addition to my work on PPPs, I have been looking for examples of governments with PPP initiatives related to open technologies (open source, open standards, open architectures).

Today's example: Vietnam.

Vietnam's Central Committee for Science and Education has signed an MOU with Intel to jointly set up an OpenLab for the development and testing of open source software. Testing laboratories are nothing new, for Intel or other global IT companies. Labs focused on open source software are less widespread, but a growing trend. By partnering with the private sector, such PPPs can help governments overcome common concerns about the security and reliability of open source. And this PPP will produce the goods. In the end, Vietnam expects to install open source on 27,000 of its public sector PCs.

If you think this is simply about Vietnam luring a big investment from Intel, think again. Vietnam's government is intent on accelerating growth of its domestic IT industry and its e-government efforts. Vietnam is a government with a plan -- an official plan -- a National Plan for Open Source Software Development and Application. It is investing $20 million of its own money to develop open source locally.

What is driving this effort? As an official from Vietnam's Ministry of Science and Technology put it, "We are trying step by step to eliminate Microsoft."

Do you know of other PPPs focused on open ICT? The Open ePolicy Group would love to hear about them. Post a comment here to share it.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Denmark to ODF: Show Me the Money

... and it will. As a new report completed for the Danish government says, switching to OpenDocument format will save money. Big money. $94 million over five years, according to the Open Source Business Association.

The report examined the costs of various options for document formats when implementing a new Danish law that requires use of open standards by January 1, 2008.

Over time, we will see more quantitative cost assessments and business cases on decisions related to document formats. This will be important to convince governments and other high-volume document creators of the wisdom in moving to ODF and other open standards.

Choices exist. Microsoft Office and its developing Office Open XMLA. OpenDocument Format. But the real obstacle, as noted by Morten Helveg Petersen, one of the key architects behind the Danish Parliament's decision on open standards, is indecision.

Facing choices, governments often have trouble making a decision, especially if the cost implications are unknown. The availability of detailed cost evaluations and business cases will go a long way to overcoming indecision and accelerating the adoption of ODF. Money talks.

[All credit to John Gotze for publicizing this development in Denmark.]

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Goods News for ODF in Mass. (Despite Delay)

Full implementation of ODF adoption in Massachusetts has, it seems, been delayed six months until June 2007. But this minor slippage in execution is good news, not bad. Why? ODF adoption will begin in January 2007 as planned. And a plugin to allow Microsoft users in the public sector to save in ODF format, as a temporary "fix," will allow a smoother evolution to complete ODF implementation.

And who will be one of the early users of this plugin beginning in January? The Massachusetts Office on Disability. With a more realistic schedule for implementation, it seems clear that Massachusetts is on track for full ODF rollout with the support (even leadership) of the community of users with disabilities.

This is an important development, in both political and technological terms. The implementation schedule is still ambitious and will surely face difficulties. However, it means that a major political obstacle has been cleared. It also means that support and engagement by the disability community will drive further innovations in assistive technologies. It is fair to ask: would this have happened if ODF never arrived on the scene?

Open ICT in Eastern Europe, and a Hint of ODF

There has been speculation about the likelihood that open technologies --- open standards and open source -- will take root in Eastern Europe. I noted before that the ODF Alliance has over 30 members from Eastern European countries. In general Europe is showing leadership in the evolution of open ICT ecosystems, including adoption of open source and the OpenDocument format.

Now there is specific news about open ICT in Eastern Europe, and it comes from Croatia.

The government has announced a broad policy to adopt open source software across the public sector, together with guidelines on the development and procurement of software. Although the "open source" element of the policy is making all the headlines, it is misleading to think that Croatia has issued a requirement that all software be open source. Rather, the government is taking a more balanced approach.

Open source will be preferred over closed source solutions. Closed source software is not shut out entirely. The government intends to support local development of closed source software that meets open standards and, interestingly, open file formats. Schools will present both open and closed software to students, thus equipping them to work and innovate in a world of mixed technologies.

Why the big move in Croatia? Three factors compelled the government:

* Control: The desire to break its dependency on vendors and escape the rigid commercial conditions imposed on them is strong among governments. Freedom from external limitations will allow the government--i.e., the user--to modify, extend or link software as needed. It also creates greater transparency and interoperability not only in terms of its technology but also for public information and services.

* Growth: The importance of promoting innovation and market alternatives in technology cannot be understated. Growth is both an economic and a political issue. Governments seek to build domestic ICT markets, and see open technologies as one strategy to lower market barriers for new innovators.

* Money: Money matters. Open ICT enables more rational distribution of budgets by creating an ecosystem in which there is greater collaboration (and cost sharing) in the development, maintenance, and use of ICT. This helps reduce the total public expenses of providing public services.

And the hint of things to come for ODF in Croatia? Consider what Domagoj Juricic, leader of the Central State Administrative Office's e-Croatia project, said:
The state administration bodies create and exchange a lot of electronic documents. There is a great danger that documents cannot be opened and presented in readable form after a certain time, because we don't have the licence anymore of the proprietary software, or the vendor can seize support of the old types of documents. Therefore we require the state administration bodies to use open standards for creating electronic documents.
Do I hear the sound of ODF knocking on the door in Croatia?

Open policies are an important step, but policies are only paper. Translating these policies into actual procurement will be key to actually changing how services, technology and people act.

A side note: Sam Hiser, who predicted an ODF move in Croatia, is well positioned to take the silver medal for ODF predictions. (I had guessed a possible move in Malaysia who announced official consideration of ODF in July.)

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

ODF Delayed in Massachusetts?

The State of Massachusetts will release its mid-term assessment of OpenDocument. Apparently, recent discussions with disability rights groups have had an impact.

As blogged here previously, the issue of how ODF will affect accessability by people with disabilities is a political deal-breaker for ODF, not just in Massachusetts but for all levels of governments in the U.S.

At least one news source is reporting that CIO Louis Gutierrez will announce a delay in the scheduled January 1, 2007 implementation of ODF until an adequate plug-in can be developed.

One other notable news on open standards:

* Open Standards & RAND: In case you doubted my previous objections to the use of "reasonable and non-discriminatory" (or RAND) as a sound element of open standards, look no further than this story. In a legal battle between Nokia and Qualcomm, the fight is over the meaning of RAND. To repeat my view on this: RAND is not an objective standard and will only generate endless litigation. It is something only lawyers could love. It should not be part of any definition of an open standard.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

A Laptop for Every Child, in Thailand

It's official. Thailand's (current) Prime Minister officially announced plans to provide every primary school child a laptop free of charge.

It is a bold policy. It will cost millions to deliver, even though Thailand is partnering with the One Laptop per Child project which will provide laptops at a cost of $100 each. And yes, a country like Thailand still has pressing social needs that require more resources. But, Thailand sees that it will never get where it wants to be without dramatic steps to eliminate its digital divide among its youngest generation.

There are complaints about the laptop. It does not have a hard drive. The price of computers is dropping every year, and companies are already starting to market laptops under $500.

All true.

But flash drives, web services and online storage are tomorrow. Hard drives are yesterday.

And companies? Yes, computers are getting cheaper. But not cheap enough to ensure every child can afford one in Thailand, or the U.S. The "One Laptop per Child" project has challenged the market. Companies will respond if governments (and others) move enough units. That is how competition works. Demand driving supply, and innovation.

Now, if Thailand can match trained teachers and engaging content with those $100 laptops, it will see exciting things happen in the future of its children.

Monday, July 31, 2006

Spain Steps onto the ODF Map

Two days ago, the Council of Government of the Spanish region of Extremadura -- La Junta de Extremadura -- decided to adopt the OpenDocument Format (ODF) as the official format for exchange of information and documents among government officials.

By adopting ODF, Extremadura becomes the first Spanish Administration to not only mandate ODF, but to adopt any standard data format. Wisely, the Extremadura government is giving all agencies one year to complete the transition to full use of ODF (and Linux as well).

The official announcement is here in spanish.

What is driving Extremadura in its move to ODF and open source? Its press release focuses on four factors: (1) perpetural access to public documents; (2) breaking dependency on proprietary formats and vendors; (3) security; and (4) cost.

It should not surprise anyone that Extremadura is leading Spain in the adoption of open standards. Last year, it began a large-scale migration to Linux in its schools and hospitals. Extremadura's regional government has publicly linked the use of open source software to the region's long-term economic and social development.

Sunday, July 23, 2006

Will ODF Bring a New Orange Revolution?

Maybe a new Orange Revolution is coming. If so, the first shot was fired in the small Dutch city of Groningen.

A municipal government in the Netherlands has decided to cancel its Microsoft contract and migrate to OpenOffice beginning in 2007. The main driver behind the unanimous decision of the City Commission of Groningen: cost savings.

And plenty of it. At least €330,000 of savings. That is real money for a city of 180,000 people and translates into saving €1.8 per person. Extrapolate that for the entire Netherlands and you have a savings of about €29 million. Even with the cost for training and ongoing support, the long-term savings should be considerable.

The decision was the result of a 3-year process which begin in 2003 when three organizations proposed a move to open source and open standards to the City Commission.

And since OpenOffice provides full support for the OpenDocument Format (ODF), Groningen is going open on the open standards and open source tracks at the same time.

That should give the Dutch fans something to cheer about.

Friday, July 21, 2006

Who is the ODF Alliance?

There is no doubt that the ODF Alliance has been a major success since launching less than 5 months ago. As of today, the Alliance lists 274 members from 45 countries plus 1 international organization.

I do not know if a breakdown of membership gives us any clues about the next governments to adopt ODF, but it does present some interesting things. Here are the top 25 countries of origin (and number of ODF Alliance members):

US (54)
France (19)
UK (18)
Germany (14)
Netherlands (14)
Australia (13)
Denmark (10)
Italy (10)
Canada (9)
Czech Rep (9)
Poland (9)
India (7)
China (6)
Switzerland (6)
Hungary (5)
Portugal (5)
Russia (5)
Spain (5)
Ireland (4)
Norway (4)
Sweden (4)
Belgium (3)
Brazil (3)
Mexico (3)
New Zealand (3)
Taiwan (3)

No surprises at the top with the U.S. and European countries dominating the top of the list.

But there a few interesting points. 31 members from Eastern Europe. That is more than Asia which has 26. Only 9 members from Latin America. Africa has only 1 member from South Africa. No South Korea. No Thailand. Only 1 from Japan. Given the strength of Asia in open technologies like open source software, it may be fertile ground for ODF if a greater push is made.

And maybe it will be Eastern Europe that provides the next ODF adopter, as Sam Hiser predicted here.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Next Stop for ODF: Asia?

Maybe it was just a lucky guess. Or maybe I was just name dropping. Or maybe I had a psyhic connection created during the year that I lived in Kuala Lumpur. Who knows? But there is new forward motion for the OpenDocument Format (ODF) in Asia. Location: Malaysia.

It seems that Malaysia is not content to boast the world's tallest building. Now it is aiming to be the first country in Asia to endorse ODF.

Hasan Saidin has blogged about an ODF proposal made to the SIRIM, the national standards developing agency appointed by Malaysia's Department of Standards Malaysia.

Today, a meeting of SIRIM's technical committee on e-commerce unanimously approved a "project" to make ODF an official standard in Malaysia, perhaps as soon as end of 2006. This initiative did not appear from nowhere. Malaysia voted "Yes" for ODF to become an ISO standard. Now, it may be headed to official adoption in Malaysia, and a place at the center of Malaysia's national ICT agenda.

Friday, July 14, 2006

Who is Next in Line for ODF?

Just for the hell of it, I will offer a guess (based on no inside information) ... the next government to consider making open standards and the OpenDocument Format official policy will be in ...


Maybe I am just overly influenced by Italy's victory in the World Cup, but I see a critical mass of support for open technologies slowly building in Italy over the past five years. A few notable facts:

1. 3 of the ODF Alliance's newest members since Google joined were from Italy.

2. Firefox share of the browser market in Italy is now over 20%, one of the highest in the world.

3. The Province of Genoa has made open source software a part of its ICT strategy.

4. Italy's Minister for Innovation and Technologies issued a ministerial order in October 2003 inviting public sector bodies to consider open source alternatives.

4. As far back as 2001, the Italian Government identified open source as a key enabler for building an Information Society in Italy.

OK, I am probably wrong about Italy.

But this I know: there will be a next government that endorses the use of ODF. I don't know where, but there will be another. And it will be really interesting if it happens in a region other than Europe. South Korea? Malaysia?

What do you think?