December 15, 2005

PlexNex2 Launches to the Applause of...

...3 cats, two cockatiels, and a Great Dane named Lucy.

As of today, my blogging moves over to PlexNex2.

Please go there for the latest.

December 14, 2005

Bangkok Post: OpenDocument & Sovereignty

Don Sambandaraksa's article in the Bangkok Post represents the most comprehensive mainstream journalistic effort that I have seen in the English language to synthesize the issues of open file formats with simple examples of how open standards can improve the efficiency of government services. The principal example is the response of the Thai government to the tsunami one year ago this Boxing Day.

The article quotes Bob Sutor effecively on several aspects of the open file format trend:
"You're seeing the last battle of vendors who are still trying to maintain some sort of market position by controlling data and information," Sutor said.

He also cited the response at the Federal level towards Hurricane Katrina. The FEMA web site would only accept requests for aid from people using Microsoft Internet Explorer. People using Linux, Macs or Firefox on Windows were effectively cut off from state aid, which Sutor said was "just not appropriate."
The article also mentions the Berkman Center's Roadmap for Open ICT Ecosystems, which would make awfully nice bedside reading over the holidays for anyone wishing to catch up on where the open standards & eGovernment conversations lie in places like:

- Denmark
- the Netherlands
- the United Kingdom
- The Commonwealth of Massachusetts
- Brazil
- New Zealand
- Canada
- Japan
- Sweden
- the European Union

The quality of coverage demonstrated by the Bangkok Post is blatantly absent in the US, UK & Europe. What's wrong with the media? Are you afraid Microsoft will pull their ad spend? It's apparently not the case in Thailand. Editors should be ashamed of their shrinking cowardice.

Governor on Web Apps

James Guv'nah has an interesting post on some interesting developments in the respective skunkworks at IBM & Sun which echoes my feelings precisely.

Vista is going to surface -- one day -- in the quaint town of Rich-Client-on-Thames and it will be a ghost town, innit?

Just a Spear-Carrier in the Opera of Open Standards

Hey, you'll never guess what I found out today!

That I was quoted in the Valoris Report (PDF), the European Union's gloss on file formats, published in December 2003.

If you have never read the complete, unabridged Valoris Report, actually entitled: "Comparative assesment of Open Documents Formats Market Overview", then shame on you. There, in section, "User momentum" (page 58), it reads:
"OpenOffice spokesman Sam Heiser [sic] predicts that will become the dominant desktop productivity standard within the next 10 years."
I would be happier about this pick-up if they had just spelled my name right. But I have only Thor to blame.

The quote was pulled out of an online news piece I had given to Thor Olavsrud who was doing such a nice job covering Open Source and open standards for back around the time of's 1.0 and 1.1 releases. (Thor later moved over to Research at Jupiter. I was always taken by his God-like Anglo-Saxon/Beowulf sort of name. How are you, Thor?)

Reading this article again, 2 years later, is one part Deja Vu and one part looking in the mirror and being horrifically shocked by the pate, the unfamiliar visage that glares back in equal freight & dismay:
The project considers a Linux win anywhere to also be an win, because all the major distributions -- including Red Hat, SuSE and Debian -- now bundle the suite with their software. But it would be a mistake to equate with Linux, Heiser said.

In fact, at last count, more than 60 percent of downloads are served to Windows users, he said, though he noted that "quite a few of them" utilize multiple platforms, not just Windows. But the project is looking to take more Windows users.

"That's our market," he Heiser said. "The 40 percent to 60 percent of Microsoft Office users who are using legacy versions, who did not pay, who aren't that involved with the software acquisition process, who don't really care about their toolset and use whatever is in front of them. These are intelligent people, but they don't care much about the software. They use whatever is around. OpenOffice is what's around."
I remember that conversation with Thor like it was yesterday. I was so pumped saying that stuff that, today, I hardly recognize the person who said it. Audacious...forceful...certain.

To my present chagrin it sounds like Steve Ballmer on one of his more amped up addresses to the Microsoft salesforce in Boca Raton. Or Ballmer when he recently said, "We will win the Web." (I thought that was too hilarious...just over the top.)
"If you take a look at where we're going with innovation, what we have in the pipeline, I'm very excited. The output of our innovation is great," says Ballmer. "We won the desktop. We won the server. We will win the Web. We will move fast, we will get there. We will win the Web." (Business Week, September 25, 2005)
Observe how he judiciously abuses the word 'innovation' -- sputtering like the village idiot having just stumbled into two lovers in the grass under the shade of the old Oak tree (such as you might find in a Constable, a Fragonard or an early Goya).

Perhaps the shock of spying upon my older self is due to the late hardball politics in Massachusetts wearing me down. But one thing sticks out regarding that statement, the one about OpenOffice: it's still true.

Updegrove's Play-by-Play

Andy Updegrove kindly provides on his play-by-play notes from the Senate Reading Room on Beacon Hill, today (Wednesday, December 14, 2005).

This always looked like a constructive effort on the part of moderate members of the Massachusetts State Senate to hear more-balanced views of the technical & economic merits of The Commonwealth (Executive Branch) computer department's policy ("ETRM 3.5") to adopt an open file format for office documents ("OpenDocument")...and for Alan Yates to continue to embarrass himself & his employer.

Judging from the tone of Andy's notes, this appears to have been the case.

Sun's Peter Korn has kindly posted the meeting's agenda.

Look for a audio transcript of the session somewhwere soon.

December 09, 2005

Dan Geer's Penetrating Remarks

Hon. Marc R. Pacheco
Massachusetts Senate
State House, Room 312-B
Boston, Mass. 02133

re: OpenDocument Standards

Dear Sen. Pacheco,

My name is Dan Geer. I am one of the half dozen ranking world experts in matters of computer security. By virtue of a long career both in academia (MIT and Harvard) and the private sector (six times an entrepreneur), there is absolutely no one in the State House who is not using software that I had a hand in producing, including yourself. I am a trusted advisor to the Federal Trade Commission, the Departments of Justice and Treasury, the National Academy of Sciences, the National Science Foundation, the US Secret Service, and the Department of Homeland Security. I am a Board member for a number of promising startups and their funding sources, have forty-two refereed publications, books and book chapters, four patents, over two hundred fifty invited presentations twenty percent of which were keynotes, and have been five times before the US Congress -- twice as lead witness. I have taught ten thousand students in the aggregate.

As an Officer of the Commonwealth, you understand the monopoly power of Microsoft quite well as the Commonwealth was the last man standing in the most recent round of antitrust litigation. What perhaps you did not grasp is the degree to which a computing monoculture is a security risk of the highest sort. It is, and I and others in the security research community are on record in unassailable ways that a computing monoculture is a hazard, but that it is an avoidable hazard if you want it to be. Microsoft maintains its power through user-level lock-in, as the Commonwealth noted and which it so adequately opposed. So long as that lock-in persists, there will be no solution to the monoculture risk. That lock-in is centered on and wholly confabulated with the use of proprietary formats for all documents produced by the Office Suite. Therefore, as a matter of logic and logic alone, if you care about the security of the Commonwealth then you must care about the risk of a computing monoculture. If you care about the risk of a computing monoculture, then you must care about barriers to computing diversification. If you care about barriers to computing diversification, then you must care about user-level lock-in. If you care about user-level lock-in, then you must apply yourself to the task of breaking the proprietary format stranglehold on the Commonwealth.

Fortunately, that has already begun. The Enterprise Technical Reference Model and its call for Open Document standards is precisely what is needed and it is not a moment too soon. As a ranking security professional with a doctorate in statistics, I can provide any amount of technical, quantitative proof that Open Documents are the point of maximum leverage and that the risk of remaining as we are exceeds any non-specialist's understanding including, with respect, yours. Warning times before attacks take place have fallen to zero. There is a new Windows virus every four hours. Perhaps 15% of all desktop Windows computers are running malware of some sort and I'll bet you $100 that includes your office. There is a direct and demonstrable correlation between increasing complexity of the Windows system and the effectiveness of attacks. Jurisdictional boundaries are meaningless if not undetectable in an always-on, fully-networked world. And as you almost surely know, your opponents are no longer misanthropic isolates but are instead professionals. So long as the Commonwealth voluntarily allows itself to be locked-in by the proprietary document formats of a proven monopoly, the Commonwealth cannot diversify and therefore the Commonwealth cannot mitigate its risk in any but the most marginal and palliative ways.

I am ready to vigorously debate these points with any and all comers both privately and in any venue. This is, in other words, a matter on which I actually do stake my professional reputation, my fortune, and my sacred honor. How may I be of assistance?

Very truly yours,

Daniel E. Geer, Jr., Sc.D.

P.S. I have blind relatives and if genetics is any guide may have that in my future. My comments still stand.

December 08, 2005

Ecma Rubber-Stamps the MS XML Proposal

Industry sources indicated Thursday that Ecma International has voted to create the Technical Committee and move ahead with submission of Microsoft's "Open"XML to that standards body. The one dissenting vote -- the lone dissenting vote -- among members of the TC was IBM's. hp abstained, which is equivalent according to Ecma rules to a "no" vote.

There are standards and there are sub-standards: facts tell which kind Microsoft is putting together. The company's lunge at Ecma is proving what many suspected even before all the details were available, that Microsoft's Ecma submission equates to only superficial change in the status quo: that Microsoft's file format for Office 2003 (and for the next version, Office "12") remains effectively proprietary.

The Terms of Reference in the Ecma submission betray a sneering measure to cloak a proprietary technology in the false mantle of collaboration and openness. Microsoft is calling their file format "open" while it will lack several important requirements that would justify the tag.

The Terms of Reference answer several of the glaring questions begged by Microsoft's Thanksgiving-week public relations extravaganza, which amounted to a Pre-Announcement of this pretend opening of their file format. Here are some of the conclusions we can now make in question & answer format:

1. Who controls MS XML after Ecma International takes on the specification?

Microsoft only (with moral support from a list of partners & customers with no public evidence of contributions to the design, some of whom have been contributing publicly to the OpenDocument specification, too).

The Ecma submission gets the technology-to-standards body relationship promiscuously BACKWARDS. The language in the Terms of Reference, "a. Produce a standard which is fully compatible with the Office Open XML Formats..." [italics added], indicates that the "standard" intends to be derived from existing technology.

Appropriate standards work -- like that of the OASIS OpenDocument TC, for example -- involves public people and organizations working together to come up with technology that satisfies the requirements of a document format that will be used by an infinite number of software developers and solve a long continuum or problems proposed by anybody, collaboratively.

In glaring contrast to the empty roster of contributors to the MS XML format, OpenDocument has had many important contributors to its creation & specification though OASIS:

Vendors Who Added to the Specification
End-Users Who Added to the Specification
2. Who (what vendors) are extending the MS XML file format to implement it in their own software?


Rest assured, however, that Microsoft will inform the world press as soon as a vendor comes on board to embrace their new "open" proprietary format in its software. I don't expect any to show up, because no organization or financial institution in recent years has been willing to finance a play that competes head-to-head with Microsoft in a landscape dictated by Microsoft.

MS XML exists in the current Office 2003 product, but this is not the format that will compete with OpenDocument. The format that will compete with OpenDocument is approximately one year from public release and over 24 months from reaching OpenDocument's current level of accomplishment with respect to OpenDocument's relationship -- ratification complete -- with its respective standards body.

Please mind also that the technology of OpenDocument has been used and tested for about 5 years, well more than twice as long and with approximately twice as many users globally as have ever touched MS XML.

Conversely, thanks to the confidence behind a sincerely open process, OpenDocument has a growing list of vendors deploying its open file format:
(For a current list, see Wikipedia's entry for OpenDocument. The list grows weekly.)

This list is why Microsoft blinked in Massachusetts; the list is really a reflection that the market demands a sincerely open file format now, and it reflects why Microsoft is making all appearances that they have one too. Personally, I find it comically absurd, but you should feel free to assert your own opinion. (Please do, by the way, in my Comments section, below.)

3. Who (what customers) are adopting MS XML (the relevant one that would be available in Office "12")?

There are none. The specification for Office "12" is not published yet, the software is not available and there are no use cases.

Ostensibly the customers who endorsed the Ecma/ISO concept would be among the first customers to adopt Microsoft's new phoney "open" file format, however, we have already seen that examples such as The British Library, whose esteemed name was referenced in the early public relations work, will be adopting many formats -- most prominently ODF!

Conversely, the list of actual OpenDocument adherents is now quite large and growing (many pro-active organizations have not published that they are standardizing on OpenDocument-ready office suite is a partial list off the top of my head):
  • Adobe
  • City of Bergen, Norway
  • City of Mannheim, Germany
  • City of Munich, Germany
  • City of Vienna, Austria
  • Earnie Ball Strings
  • The Executive Branch of The Commonwealth of Massachusetts
  • The Gendarmerie
  • Google
  • HLB International (a Melbourne accountancy)
  • International Business Machines
  • The Library of Congress
  • The Reichtag
  • Scalix
  • Sun Microsystems
  • Tadpole Computer
  • Telstra
  • Verizon

Wrapping Up

The initial list of participants on Ecma's new MS XML TC includes Microsoft friends, partners & competitors, some which have asserted a significant influence also on the strict requirements of openness embodied by OpenDocument. They include:
  • Apple
  • Barclays Capital
  • BP
  • British Library
  • Essilor
  • IBM
  • Intel Corporation
  • Microsoft Corporation
  • NextPage Inc.
  • Statoil ASA
  • Toshiba
(Thank you, Pamela Jones | Groklaw)

The MS Office XML proposal rests measurably beneath the high-water mark set by OpenDocument at OASIS for an open standard. And there -- according to new information stated as well as implied in the Terms of Reference to the Ecma submission -- it will likely remain until the market asserts its view as to its preference for either an open or a proprietary file format.

Hammersley & the BBC Archive

(Florentine Street Sceen. Photograph, Ben Hammersley)

Wandering the Web you come across some interesting things.

Ben Hammersley is one of the better writer | journo | hackers and has given good thought on blogging & the Semantic Web (as well as dry laughs and some nice pictures).

Ben is working on a project to organize the BBC archive with Matt Biddulph.
Matt, who is doing the real work, explains it best:

'Ever wondered what’s in that archive? Who looks after it? It turns out there’s a huge database that’s been carefully tended by a gang of crack BBC librarians for decades. Nearly a million programmes are catalogued, with descriptions, contributor details and annotations drawn from a wonderfully detailed controlled vocabulary. I’m the lucky developer who gets to turn this hidden treasure into a public website. No programme downloads yet, but a massive searchable programme catalogue.'

Think IMDB for the BBC, only bigger. And made by funky bastards with a penchant for structured data.

This is when you start re-thinking everything you ever believed about content, its value and The Long Tail.

SATIRE: Nobel Laureate excoriates Microsoft

In announcing Harold Pinter as the winner of the 2005 Nobel Prize for Literature, Horace Engdahl, Chairman of the Swedish Academy, said that Pinter "in his plays uncovers the precipice under everyday prattle and forces entry into oppression's closed rooms."

Harold Pinter, in his acceptance address to the Swedish Acacemy in Stockholm yesterday, ripped unrelentingly into The Microsoft Corporation.

I put to you that [Microsoft] is without doubt the greatest show on the road. Brutal, indifferent, scornful and ruthless it may be but it is also very clever. As a salesman it is out on its own and its most saleable commodity is self love. It's a winner. Listen to all [Microsoft managers in the papers] say the words, 'the [customers of Microsoft]', as in the sentence, 'I say to the [customers of Microsoft] it is time to pray and to defend the rights of [our users] and I ask the [Customers of Microsoft] to trust their [Leader] in the action he is about to take on behalf of the [great installed base].'

It's a scintillating stratagem. Language is actually employed to keep thought at bay. The words '[the Customers of Microsoft]' provide a truly voluptuous cushion of reassurance. You don't need to think. Just lie back on the cushion. The cushion may be suffocating your intelligence and your critical faculties but it's very comfortable. This does not apply of course to the 40 million people living below the poverty line and the 2 million men and women imprisoned in the vast gulag of prisons, which extends across the US.

* Note: the words in brackets are my own and not the words of Harold Pinter. For the actual text of Pinter's remarks to the Swedish Academy on December 7, 2005, see The Guardian Unlimited UK.

Harold Pinter Links

Harold Pinter dot org
The Guardian Interview | August 3, 2001
Pinter, at Wikipedia

Pinter's Plays

The Room (1957)
The Birthday Party (1957)
The Dumb Waiter (1957)
A Slight Ache (1958)
The Hothouse (1958)
The Caretaker (1959)
A Night Out (1959)
Night School (1960)
The Dwarfs (1960)
The Collection (1961)
The Lover (1962)
Tea Party (1964)
The Homecoming (1964)
The Basement (1966)
Landscape (1967)
Silence (1968)
Old Times (1970)
Monologue (1972)
No Man's Land (1974)
Betrayal (1978)
Family Voices (1980)
Other Places (1982)
A Kind of Alaska (1982)
Victoria Station (1982)
One For The Road (1984)
Mountain Language (1988)
The New World Order (1991)
Party Time (1991)
Moonlight (1993)
Ashes to Ashes (1996)
Celebration (1999)
Remembrance of Things Past (2000)

CCIA Letter to Ecma International

Letter from CCIA President, Ed Black, compares OpenDocument to the Internet protocol, TCP/IP. Is it so?

CCIA to Ecma: 'Reject MS Office XML proposal.' It is not open. Endorsing single-vendor technology is not what standards bodies are established to do. Innovation & competition occur on open standards these days. Insist on true openness.

Dec. 7, 2005

Mr. Harald Theis
Ecma International

Dear Mr. Theis:

Tomorrow you will hold a preliminary vote on the proposed establishment of an Ecma International standard around Microsoft’s Office XML formats. On behalf of the Computer & Communications Industry Association, I respectfully request that you reject this proposal.

The Computer & Communications Industry Association has supported “Open Markets, Open Systems, Open Standards” since our inception in 1972. Members employ more than 600,000 workers and generate annual revenues in excess of $200 billion.
We support openness because it leads to greater competition, lower costs and more innovation. Open standards, moreover, prevent vendors from designing technology control points that keep customers locked in long after they want to switch to other products.

No one begrudges any company the opportunity to make new versions of its products compatible with previous ones. The larger problem is the frustration that arises when businesses, consumers and governments must deal with “standards” that are simple ratifications of what almost any proprietary software company would do in the normal course of business.

Microsoft, in fact, has promised the world an open standard. On Nov. 21, Microsoft’s Jean Paoli said: “We are expanding the language of the current royalty-free license to specifically enable developers who work only with open source licensing to also be able to work with Office Open XML. This will enable any customer or technology provider to use the file formats in its own systems without financial consideration to Microsoft.”

There can be doubt of the importance of this proposal. Hundreds of millions of people are dependent on Office software for their daily computing needs. Yet, for all of its importance, the proposal before you does not meet basic principles of openness. It provides no assurances as to third-party access or implementation of the standard. The proposal does not call for open management and control. In fact, it indicates that no one can introduce or remove features from Office 12 save Microsoft itself. Lastly, there is no assurance that the Microsoft will actually support the standard should it disagree with actions taken by Ecma.

The Commonwealth of Massachusetts, which rejected Microsoft’s earlier XML proposal -- indeed the world -- demands far more. Innovation requires that there be strong and productive competition in the marketplace. In the ITC sector, this means that standards must include the participation of many technology developers in order to assure the widest degree of adoption and interoperability.

Because open standards are by definition controlled by no single party, they facilitate interoperation among suppliers, partners, peers, and customers. Standards such as HTML, XML and TCP/IP maximize choice, minimize production costs and make competition work for customers of all kinds. In the long run, market forces work better, and vital records can be preserved forever -- not just for two or three product cycles. This proposed standard assures none of these things.

Mr. Theis, the world is at a crossroads. Much, if not most technological progress today takes place in a milieu of open standards. Rather than approve this proposal as is, we urge you to insist on true openness. You should demand more of any vendor that brings a standard to your committee. If Microsoft’s proposal is to have any meaning at all, competitive vendors and open source developers must have a strong role in its development. Microsoft, likewise, should promise to develop within the confines of the standard it puts forward, and should license any intellectual property within Office 12 so that all developers can be assured that their software licenses will not conflict with Microsoft’s. Once again we urge you to reject the proposal.

If I can be of further assistance, please do not hesitate to contact me.

Sincerely yours,


Ed Black
President & CEO

December 07, 2005

Who Needs the "Rich" Client?

Berlind is right on the money again.

"Tipping point: The Web is easier to use than your hard drive"

This piece is about the relative complexity of navigating the desktop (i.e. Microsoft Windows) withall its confusing buttons and alternative ways of doing the same thing...versus the ease of accessing 8 billion Web pages basically in a uniform way.

I've been saying for a while now that Microsoft's business model -- reflected in their doubling-down on the FAT CLIENT strategy with Intel at their side -- is grossly irrelevant, given the direction applications are migrating. How long do you think it will take for this to become apparent to general IT decision-makers?

December 05, 2005

New in 2006: the "Google Effect"

IDC analyst, Frank Gens, talks of the "Google Effect" for 2006 in which IT companies opening up their business models and cultures will become hyped.

Well, isn't it nice that something good is finally getting hyped? The problem this presents is that we'll have to be more discerning on relative states of openness. I'm going to have to write that article on the Beaufort Scale after all.

December 04, 2005

Workplace's Green Fields of Asia

IBM announces that Workplace's release date is firming up for early 2006 (Martin Lamonica | CNet). Workplace features OpenDocument and MS Office file formats and will deliver office suite functionality to the browser. It is one of the prominent examples -- from Big Blue itself -- of applications drifting from the FAT client desktop into the data center; I've been thinking about other examples in this trend, lately:

- "Computing's New Bottleneck"

- "Web Word-Processor Sightings"

- "New Blood for OpenDocument"

- "ODF's Famil Secret"

Arthur Fontaine, the marketing manager for Workplace Managed Client, believes IBM's support for industry standards and the server-centric design of Workplace will appeal to customers in developing countries, particularly governments.

"The governments of India, China and other emerging markets are very interested in this," Fontaine said. "They don't have the legacy of having everything saved in Microsoft Office to transition from...This is an opportunity to start out right."

Arthur's point is not lost on my US clients who are migrating their desktop applications to get open standards rolling. They are looking at the Asian countries, where low PC penetration experience provides a green field, making introduction of open standards and Open Source & Free Software measurably easier than in the US and Europe, where attachments to legacy formats and habits established over the last 15 years make change more difficult. The Westerners will be examining closely the economics and experiences of Asian governents and organizations, relishing their uniform deployments if not salivating at the IT-Nirvana of having the opportunity to make a clean start.

Workplace will play an important role in Asia's technological leap ahead on the desktop precisely because things are taking place...not on the desktop. This will reinforce the early action back in the Western Hemisphere just like enterprise adoptions have a way of influencing the kinds of systems employees are inclined to purchase for home use.

Everything's connected.

Felice Navidad

"New York Still Life #15"
(copyright 2005, Sam Hiser)

To all my colleagues & friends, Happy Holidays!

Where to Focus?

"Don't waste your energy on the ugly. Save it for the beautiful."
Harold Arlen
in his diary

The Good Web

Nick Carr (for one) legitimately highlights some of the problems with the World Wide Web: pornography, moribund & repetitive information ("echolalia" he aptly called it), reinforced errors, ranting. He correctly and helpfully cited examples on Wikipedia that rightly embarrass the concept.

For cases, however, that assert the true balance, see Wikipedia's entry for OpenDocument...or the one for Herbie Hancock: elegant, professional, well-organized, informative; in a word, 'beautiful.'

The Web is takin' off and the best way to make it better is to...ahem...make it better. The inner beauty of the Web is that it's our personal responsibility, and opportunity, to do so.