October 15, 2005

Berlind: Anatomy of a Deaf Monopolist

Microsoft: what part of the word 'open' do you not understand?

(This site is turning into a David Berlind 'zine; however) Berlind offers a long review of the process by which Peter Quinn's MassGov ITD group selected a suitably open file format for its documents.

Berlind goes to unusual length with unusual clarity to explain the Commonwealth's process. Berlind's departure is in response to Microsoft officials' persistent claims of being 'set up.' Like a good journalist, Berlind takes Microsoft's objections at face value and digs into the timeline, public records and audio files of the meetings to find that Microsoft officials...

a) do not understand Open Source licenses; and

b) do not listen

This point, b), in particular deserves fleshing out.

It's possible that Microsoft officials have held the floor so long in their daily dealings (CA's TV commercial: "You'll take five HUNDRED!" comes to mind) that they now forget what it's like to hear other people talking, forget what you're supposed to do when other people speak.

What comes out of the Berlind piece so clearly is that while MassGov senior officials have been explicit for several months about their criteria, their requirements, for an open file format...
  • It must be published and subject to peer review
  • It must be subject to joint stewardship
  • It must have no or absolutely minimal legal restrictions attached
...Microsoft officials (Stuart McKee, in particular) were hearing:
  • Check! We have 400 million users who review our format
  • Check! Our customers give us feedback on features
  • Check! Our MS XML Reference Schemas are royalty-free; we're cool
Now, in light of how Open Source & Free Software has shifted the standard of what represents i) good peer review, ii) basic standard stewardship, and iii) freedom from encumbrance, these listening mistakes seem hilarious until you realize that Microsoft officials have no actual idea how Open Source & Free Software have changed the rules.

This slice o' life highlights the fact that Microsoft is still an industrial entity (working behind cinderblock walls with belief in hard materials) and its Open Source & Free Software competitors are Internet entities (working collaboratively, sharing ideas openly across the ether).

Ignorance of the rules is no excuse.

The only plausible alternate explanation for Microsoft people feeling they were hoodwinked in Massachusetts -- they actually asked David Berlind to write their side of the story, they believe their...side...of...the...story -- is that they missed OpenDocument, that they did not see OpenDocument coming; or, seeing it, they did not take its market potential seriously -- only seriously enough to hire Jean Paoli, one of the creators of XML, and develop their own XML file format for Office 2003.

This is a failure of imagination, that Microsoft's file format for Office -- the lynch-pin of its monopoly for both Office and Windows (yes, and Windows) -- could be challenged at both the technological and the user level under an Open Source & Free Software methodology. Inconceivable. OpenDocument was in full view since year-2000! Yet from Microsoft's vantage, the open XML file format developed by Michael Breuer and Daniel Vogelheim at Sun Microsystems for OpenOffice and StarOffice could not possibly be credible.

If this is true -- that Microsoft missed OpenDocument -- then the culpable officials are in such glaring dereliction of their responsibilities that they should be fired from a catapult into Vancouver or, even better, dropped from a C-130 at 30-thousand feet over the Aleutian Islands. Parachute or not? That would be Ballmer's call.

Now that MassGov has endowed OpenDocument with its due credibility, CIOs, you better get off our duffs. I'm not talking about State Gov CIOs: the guys & gals who just ran by your window doing OpenDocument windsprints. I'm talking about Late Adopter / Laggard enterprise CIOs. You better stop licensing dead-end Microsoft software -- including, God forbid, Vista -- because in 18 months your Board is going to ask you, "Where's my SOA?" and the next thing you know you're going to be standing -- like Alan Yates and Stuart McKee -- looking out the gaping hatch of a C-130 with a dumb look on your face and, optionally, a rip-cord in your hand.


At 12:01 PM, Anonymous gp Bazzini said...

very funny aboutht aeroplanes


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