November 28, 2005

Bob Sutor: The "Pure Openness" of a Standard

At one point over the Thanksgiving holiday, Bob Sutor broke away from the leftovers to add a large dollop of knowledge and a generous helping of common sense to Microsoft's "Ecma" tempest-in-a-teapot.

He lays out what a purely open standard would behave like in terms of several characterisitics:

1. Development
2. Maintenance
3. Accession
4. Implementation
5. Modification by Others

Then he goes on to describe how Microsoft XML -- such as it exists or can be described for the relevant purpose (we have no spec for the Office "12" implementation of it) -- behaves according to each. It's no surprise to anyone who pays attention to the substance of this situation that there are nothing but questions, mostly having to do with how the new Technical Committee at Ecma and then, possibly, ISO will behave in terms of permitting public, open collaborative input toward the ongoing formulation of Microsoft's XML file format.

If there is no forum for individuals and entities to make technical contributions to the format and no public open debate or consensus, if MS XML remains a platform for proprietary extensions, then the Ecma/ISO standardization process is a sham. Microsoft will have given the market its concessions on intellectual property and license terms (these are a few of the requirements articulated in Massachusetts) and yet the format would continue to score poorly against OpenDocument because it lacks a collaborative intent & public apparatus.

This comparison -- or a comparison which may be necessary between competing standards -- reminds me of an earlier exchange with Bob in which I suggested a Beaufort Scale for file formats. The only problem with placing OpenDocument (a certain "Beaufort 13" on our scale of openness) alongside MS XML is that MS XML does not exist today in the open form that's being broadcast and the many remaining questions mean that its openness cannot yet be qualified or quantified.

Those who opine on with "optimism" or gloat about Microsoft's new openness would do well to keep their own counsel for the many months it takes for these details to be revealed.


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