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Open Source Software Up the Stack

Dennis Byron

ISO's OOXML voting: There's a month of your life you’ll never get back

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I have not posted on the OOXML International Standards Organization (ISO) vote here on my ebizQ open source software (OSS) blog in 2008 because, in my opinion, open source and standards (lower case) are not related.

Open source and standards are different animals

Open source is about three things: a community/culture, a development model, and a set of software license terms and conditions. That’s what I blog about here. Despite conventional wisdom, my research says there are no OSS business model and no separate OSS market.
• There is no OSS business model because most OSS offerings that are monetized are monetized with subscription maintenance in the same way that has been used for years to sell non-open-source software.
• There is no OSS market because I find very few enterprises that procure OSS because it is OSS; they deploy a piece of OSS because it does some function well and, secondarily, they do not object to the accompanying terms and conditions (in a few situations they like those terms and conditions). Because OSS is not a marketplace motivator, there is—by Marketing 101 definition—no OSS market.

Standards (lower case), on the other hand, are retroactive recognition by the marketplace that some widget facet is the best widget facet of that type in the marketplace so everyone else that wants to compete in the market should have that widget facet or something like it if they want to succeed. Typically the widget facet that everyone agrees on is not a competitive factor in the market (actually I cannot think of any example where one is a competitive factor but in good analyst fashion, I say “typically? so as to hedge my bet.)

But no self respecting OSS blogger can go through the last three months—and especially the last month—without at least opining once on the OOXML standardization subject. So here you go:

Standards and so-called international Open Standards are different animails

1. Surprise/surprise—all international Open Standards organizations are effectively run by large commercial companies with skin in the game. They are nominally government entities but nominally and reality are two different things. By the way international Open Standards are always expressed in upper case, like all good propaganda, and are not the same as standards in lower case.

(IBM (NYSE:IBM), which probably has an employee on just about every one of the 87 national standards bodies that could have or did vote on OOXML, didn’t disagree on Thursday March 27 when an anlyst asked it to comment that the proposed standard had already passed. An official announcement is due on Wednesday 4/2. The lastest leaked count I saw before I posted this commentary claims OOXML was approved handily--but other reports said the approval was only by a whisker. My opinions here are the same, PASS or FAIL.)

2. Governments care about lower-case standards for good reason—but it is when they start picking winners and losers in the marketplace by legislating or edictizing international Open Standards (always upper case) that they become dictatorships.

(For example governments should not and as far as I know don’t care whether your auto has left or right-hand steering. But they have the right to care whether you drive on the left- or right-hand side of the road.)

3. Large commercial companies employ lobbyists to influence governments—I know it is not the same everywhere in the world but here in the U.S., the right to petition the government is constitutionally guaranteed to all citizens, even to Bill Gates.

(So when the Norwegian standards body or wherever listened politely to and then ended a meeting with 20 noooxml.org members who were petitioning them, it was not a Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT) conspiracy. The noooxml.org members had no procedural say in the matter at that point apparently, and the Norwegian or wherever committee that did had been meeting about the subject for two years. Ditto in Germany, Croatia and any other country mentioned in the prevalent conspiracy theories written about by anti-Microsoft blogoblatherers, all repeating the same blather interminably.)

4. In particular, IT document format standards are a solution looking for a problem. There are over 200 international Open Standards (upper case) for the most popular document format you’ll ever use, paper. Do you care and/or do they in any way affect your life?

That’s the reason that most impartial observers like myself have noted from the start that the whole OOXML farce was simply an attempt by Sun (NASDAQ:JAVA) and IBM to take market share away from Microsoft. For example, see Mary Jo Foley, the International Herald Tribune, and so forth. Nothing wrong with that except for the waste of shareholder money (see Note below). It’s just how the game is played.

All the rest is bullcrap from IBM/Sun lawyers, lobbyists and employees. This was not about government records retention, long-ago-approved ISO processes, the length of ECMA (not Microsoft’s) standard document, the superiority of another truly Open Standard (even though it was developed by a proprietary company acquired by Sun in 2000), and especially not about the completely absurd idea (coming from Europeans—where they cannot agree about which side of the street to drive on) that only one standard is needed. Like I said, there are over 200 for paper.

A few recommendations:
• Where governments need standards, let them vote on them in legislatures like anything else that affects our lives rather than hide behind so called Open Standards consortia.
• Where they don’t (which is most places, especially as related to document standards), let the market decide.

(Note: If you are interested, I have posted on the waste of shareholder value caused by so-called international Open Standardization on my IT investment research blog site--see link in right hand column.

(In particular, because I live in Massachusetts I have fully debunked the conventional wisdom—perpetrated by blogobatherers from around the world who couldn’t find Massachusetts on a map—that the Commonwealth of Mass. is some kind of mini-version of Neelieland.)


What a load of self-serving nonsense. Do you work for Microsoft by any chance?

Your paper example is fallacious. The standard used to make the paper I store my information on is irrelevant, yes. But the format in which electronic information is made available is very relevant - especially when that format is owned and controlled by a proprietary vendor who can choose to make changes to it at any time simply to force users to spend money on an upgrade. Thanks but no thanks.

And then there is the technical case for OOXML, or rather, the lack thereof:

Catch a wake up; you might learn something.



I love the way that whenever anybody says anything that does not tow the ODF Alliance party line (party including IBM, Sun, RedHat, Google etc) then somebody jumps up and asks if you work for Microsoft, I get it all the time.

It seems that in this day and age people are not allowed to have their own opinions, much less express them.

As for the "evidence" that is often quoted, when will people start to realize that it is all coming from the same source, the same company that has been trying to carve a place for itself in the office automation space since its own monopoly fell in the mid 80s?

BTW, how is the ODF Alliance funded, and what do they really stand for? They seem to spend more time trying to supress emerging document formats than they spend actually supporting ODF.

Dennis Byron’s blog on open source software: A longtime market research analyst follows what “the movement? means to business integration—in applications, infrastructure, as services, as architecture and as functionality.

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