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Tag: Massachusetts

David Berlind ACT Interview on the Massachusetts ODF Decision Video

Bob Doyle at CMSReview has once again generously devoted his time and resources to record and produce one of the events at our recent Boston conference. David Berlind from ZDNet, who has tracked the controversial Massachusetts decision to standardize on OASIS‘s ODF on Between the Lines (a blog you should subscribe to) in more detail than anyone, interviewed lobbyist Morgan Reed from the Association for Competitive Technology (ACT) before a live audience at Gilbane Boston. ACT, who lobbies for small businesses, but also Microsoft, is against the Massachusetts decision – Morgan was gracious enough to submit to David’s penetrating skepticism. Bob Doyle says he keeps this interview on his video iPod! Bob says you should use the QuickTime player. Here is the full interview, or you can choose chapters below:

Frank Gilbane – the Background
The Debaters – Morgan Reed and David Berlind
Lobbyist for Microsoft (MS) and Small ISVs
How Much Money Spent Lobbying Open Formats?
MS to Mass: Do you respect IP?
MS Press Release: Mass ODF Plan has failed!
By 2007 only ODF-compliant applications?
Does Massachusetts have any leverage with OASIS?
What if MS OpenOffice was chosen as standard?
Do MS and Internet Explorer encourage non-standard HTML?

Office Documents and eXtensibility

Jon Udell wrote yesterday that we should really be getting beyond the office document format debate swirling around the Massachusetts decision, because all heavy footprint authoring applications are headed for oblivion in our increasingly net-software-as-service world. (David Berlind also weighs in on the death of fat clients apps.) Tim Bray is skeptical because “… authoring software is hard.” While my view of the ODF debate is much closer to Jon’s than Tim’s, I agree with Tim’s caution here. While my coding skills were never in the league of either of these guys I have spent a lot of time working on authoring software, and more importantly, collecting requirements from users. Admittedly this was well before the Web existed, but what hasn’t changed one bit, is the need for authoring software to meet a staggering array of complex user requirements. Authoring software has to be flexible and extendable to meet the always unanticipated user needs. Authoring software is hard, and differing formatting and integration requirements will keep it that way.
Note that extending software functionality is not unrelated to extending the encoding of the content, which reminds me that…
Ironically, the reason I agree with Tim here is exactly why I disagree with the ODF decision: extensibility should be the first requirement of a government decision on an open document standard, and ODF looks uncomfortably like a limited implementation. From a practical point of view, scope is critical, but as Jon says, “In theory, governments should mandate standards, not implementations.” Perhaps the way to think about it is that governments should mandate standards (XML) but adopt implementations (form OASIS and Microsoft and perhaps others). Realistically there will be multiple versions (implementations) of each anyway, so a single implementation will never be enough.

Open Document Formats, Religion & Democracy

Two of the topics in the title are things we normally don’t touch in this blog. However, the tempest over Massachusetts’s OpenDocumentFormat decision is inflaming passions almost as much as religious and political issues do. In fact, I am writing about it because I woke up irritated at how ill-informed and irrelevant so much of the discussion about the state’s decision is. (Not a good way to start a blog entry!) I promised myself not to go on for more than the length of a reasonable blog-entry, so rather than dig into all the weeds, here is a short history lesson to bring out the big picture, and hopefully keep the debate focused on the real issue for Massachusetts’s and others contemplating similar decisions.

When we (in the standards community) debated open document standards 20 years ago, there was a religious and political fervor fueling the arguments of both sides. Our side (the SGML side, which included Tim Bray and Jean Paoli, now the chief XML people at Sun and Microsoft respectively), argued that nobody’s content should be held hostage by being stuck in a vendor’s proprietary format, and that the solution was a standard set of rules for describing whatever kind format was necessary that vendors were free to implement. The other side (the ODA “Office Document Architecture” side) agreed with that, however they thought the solution was for a bunch of vendors to get together and agree on a format that, instead of being proprietary to a single vendor, was proprietary to a self-defined group of vendors. This solution was even worse than the status quo for lots of reasons (lowest common denominator functionality, enhancements by slow international committee, unhealthy cabal-like motivations, …). At the time I thought of ODA as the soviet approach, and the SGML approach as the democratic approach. Fortunately, the SGML approach won, and that set in motion the developments that have given us XML today.

You can tell where I am going with this. But there is one more relevant aspect of this history to mention. One of the main arguments behind ODA was that the SGML approach was just too difficult to implement. They had a point, you have to pay for the freedom of flexibility. Their mistake was thinking there was an alternative that could anticipate all reasonable requirements. It can cost even more when you just can’t implement what you need to.

The situation today is a little different, but the need for organizations to be able to do whatever they want with their own content is exactly the same. The imposition of any single schema/format on all documents in any organization simply won’t work. Anybody who has been involved in helping organizations build IT applications knows that exceptions are the rule, and you can’t legislate them out of existence even in authoritarian corporate environments. A good decision for the state would be to simply require all documents to conform to one of a number of publicly documented and freely available XML Schemas – who cares what software did or did not create the content or did or did not design the schema? Certainly there are some complex details to work out, but there is no mystery.

We have had debates on this topic at our Boston conference last year and in San Francisco in the Spring, where there was more agreement than disagreement between Microsoft (Jean) and Sun (Tim) and the issues raised were refreshingly free from politics. It’s too bad we didn’t record it.

There is plenty of coverage on this topic. We have more comments and pointers, but also see Jon Udell and David Berlind.