My last blog posting was in a tone that was a bit too snarky for my tastes. I was writing late, and tired – and that is never a good combination. Readers of the blog have, in the past, asked me to maintain a more level tone given the issues I’m addressing. So, my apologies for that.
There are some very serious issues on the table for industry right now with the document format discussion as a whole. The role that standardization will play for technologies is clearly a huge issue. There are many who are saying that standardization is THE answer to interoperability, and that “open” standards are THE answer to standards.
I have blogged in the past on the idea that interop is acheived many ways and that all companies use some combination of four ideas (products, community, access to technology, and standards) to bring about interop. Also, there is a natural, and healthy, tension that exists between unique value of solutions and interoperability. Perfect interop may make for a crummy commercial opportunity for a product, whereas perfect uniqueness makes for crummy interoperability.
In the Open XML discussions, those that oppose the Ecma format are using some very heavy-handed tactics and rhetoric to advance their position. The work done by individuals on behalf of ODF – I’m completely fine with their approach. IBM, I don’t have as much sympathy for. Their own business model for many of their current software products contradict the positions they have taken in the document format discussions. Sun has been more consistent in terms of their actions on this front – but they too are motivated by commercial gain. And, so as not to put myself in an awkward position – Microsoft’s position on Open XML has been one of commercial interest as well. The difference there has been that our motivations have always been rather transparent, we’d like to see broad adoption of Office.
The creation of standards is not an pretty process, and it is important to remember that no one participates in a standard-setting activity by accident. Standards are not created by accident – there has yet to be a situation where someone stumbled over an obstacle while carrying a stack of technical specifications and serendipitously ended up with a standard. Standards participation is generally focused on advocacy of a specific technology (usually in order to create a market opportunity) or on unseating an encumbant technology. These may seem to some as unsavory goals, but they are usually the drivers for companies to participate. Governments have a different set of goals in standards, for example health and saftey or the fostering of market competition. Yet governments too have some corners of their standards closets that they don’t flashlights peering into too deeply. There are constant claims and counter-claims of block voting by some countries, or trade barriers being erected through standards, or protectionism of a specific industry from disruption by new competitors.
The next few days are going to be very interesting. I’ll do better at keeping the snarky comments to a minimum.