Open Tech Today - Top Stories

Friday, July 07, 2006

Correction: Light Exists, But Microsoft Squints

As the wise and insightful Sam Hiser has pointed out, Microsoft has not yet seen the light.

The light --- true interoperability, genuine openness, user control over their own data/documents and choices over their ICT --- is visible. And there are technologies that exist to help us reach it, such as OpenDocument Format.

But Microsoft remains allergic to light. It's "big" move is not about INTERoperability; it does not "build a technical bridge between the Open XML Formats and Open Document Format(ODF)," as advertised by MS.

Instead, it will build a vacuum cleaner (a "hoover" for you Europeans) by which MS uses the Open XML Translator to suck in any documents created in ODF. Or for you Star Trek fans, a giant tractor beam pulling ODF documents into Microsoft's proprietary orbit.

Sam Hiser describes it perfectly:
The tool [will] change ODF's open XML content into MSECMAXML's corrupted XML. That means Office 2007 -- a product not in circulation -- will one day be endowed with the ability to open an ODF file and save it as the Microsoft "Open XML" format . . . ODF files are being shifted into MSECMAXML, possibly the most proprietary format ever proposed in the history of standards. MSECMAXML is a private implementation of open XML so clogged with binary flotsam & jetsam, to which only Microsoft customers will ever gain access.
Interoperability is a two-way street. Until MS enables direct, native support for ODF in its software, it is not offering interoperability in any way. Here's another good article on the initial misreading of the news.

Until then, all you hear eminating from Redmond is a giant sucking sound.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Microsoft Sees a Light, as Predicted

Official announcement from Redmond today: Microsoft will set up an open source project -- the Open XML Translator project -- to create a series of tools that allow translation between its (non-open) OpenXML format and OpenDocument (ODF) format. My prediction about ODF is coming true, and faster than expected.

Should we be surprised?


Microsoft has always left itself a loophole for supporting ODF by saying it would support it when its customers demanded it. When was the tipping point reached? Apparently decisions by the State of Massachusetts, City of Bristol, Australia's National Archives, Denmark, France and Belgium are enough. Recent rumblings by India's National Informatics Center likely sent shockwaves around the Redmond campus. MS was clear that governments were the catalyst for its move.

Sure, the Microsoft press release still contained plenty of FUD. Here's a sample: “Open XML and ODF were designed to meet very different customer requirements ... [and] ODF focuses on more limited requirements." Ah, no, sorry, ODF is designed to meet critical demands for long-term access to data and ensuring interoperability. Nothing limited or specialized about those demands. More importantly, however, MS is voting with its feet, and its actions speak louder than its archaic words. True, it is not bundling ODF into Office 2007. Now that would be a BIG deal. Consider this a baby step.

Suppporting ODF, even indirectly by supporting creation of a plugin, makes good business sense for MS. The trend line is clear and upward for ODF, driven by a strong business case for open data formats. And instead of simply standing on the sidelines while others develop software plugins that make ODF usable in Windows, MS has decided to directly aid in their development (as an open source project, interestingly). This is a good thing for at least three reasons:

(1) MS involvement can improve the integration and ease of an ODF-OpenXML Translator into Windows;

(2) It is unlikely to kill off ODF by offering a less-than-optimal plugin that must be separately downloaded and installed into Windows (though that may be MS's intention) because ODF remains the only truly open data standard, Vista raises serious backward compatibility and data privacy concerns, and plenty of customers want out from under MS's heavy thumb; and

(3) It moves MS slightly farther along on the "openness" continuum, and hopefully begins to erode some of that ingrained resistance to all things "open."

Maybe Microsoft is beginning to see that openness is good for business. It shouldn't be just a PR stunt.

And it's not yet the full support of ODF that should happen, as noted in my most recent post above or discussed in Information Week here.

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

The (Mis)education of Ted Stevens

I know that often I expect too much of politicians. Example: I expect them to actually know something about the things they are making decisions about. And I'm often disappointed when they (and their staffs) display their ignorance.

So, here we go again ...

Here are the actual words of a politician with real power over the Internet in America:
I just the other day got an internet was sent by my staff at 10 o’clock in the morning on Friday and I just got it yesterday. Why? Because it got tangled up with all these things going on the internet commercially. […]

They want to deliver vast amounts of information over the internet. And again, the internet is not something you just dump something on. It’s not a truck. It’s a series of tubes.
Who is this genius? Ted Stevens, an 85-year old Republican Senator from Alaska. Unfortunately, he is also the Chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee, a committee with great influence over legislation about the Internet. The full audio of his comments is here. Listen and you will see that I am being kind with my remarks about him.

These are the people making decisions and policies about the Internet, technology and, in this case, net neutrality. It is probably a similarly sad situation in every country.

I am not a supporter of term limits for legislators, but I am beginning to think that a mandatory retirement age is a good idea.