Your enemy is your friend: what about a proctologist?

by Rick Jelliffe

One of the most startling aspects of the last year, to me, really shows the disruptive potential of standards: bitter enemies are hard at work making systems that also benefit their enemies in pursuit of a higher goal. A world turned upside down!

Examples include:

  • MS opening up their formats and taking them to Ecma and ISO

  • ODF and Sun making converters for Word

  • Microsoft paying for an open source converter between OOXML and ODF

  • IBM paying someone to review the draft specfication

  • Open source activists reviewing the draft

  • An ISO ODF editor making a big contribution to reviewing the draft

  • Microsoft blogs publicizing Gnumeric, Apple software and any applications that get any kind of OOXML support

All this competition and bile channeled productively! No wonder people are freaked out. :-)

But the paradoxes don't just mean that enemy act like friends, it seems. Friends also can get accused of being enemies. There is a very interesting post ODF vs OOX : Asking the wrong questions (hat tip to Doug) on the blog Spreadsheet Proctologist which I like very much because it brings out that ease-of-implementation is just as much (and perhaps mostly?) a question of what your starting base is (i.e. your native data structures and functions) as it is a question of what information and forms the external format provides.

But the readers' comments include statements like Your self-annihilating devotion to Microsoft is too evident., and Just by touching MS OOXML, you are playing their pawn in the only purpose for this exercise. To kill ODF adaption and therefore the threat of Open Office and others as a replacement for Microsoft Office products. Is to laugh! Now GNU developers are pawns and devotees of Microsoft! That GNU software, ooooooh, just another Bill Gates plot!

As a side note, but related to the theme of finding strategies so to make the acts of people's enemies as productive as the acts of their friends, I think that Stephane Rodriguez' comments (to that blog and, just as circumspectly, elsewhere) on the calculation chain should be paid more attention to. (Sometime I will look up whether it made it to any national body comments for the BRM, I hope so.) Calc chain needs to be reviewed with the question asked "Is the base case a little too complicated still?" It is a mild and productive question: I suspect programmers would be happy if some more leeway were provided. Now whether the issue is an Office one or a DIS29500 one, I don't know; but the issue should not be dismissed just because it was deposited by an ostensibly rabid whirlwind! Quite the reverse.


Ric Johnson
2007-09-19 14:41:26

I may be biased ( I am a .Net Developer) - but I honestly believe this is a new, friendly Microsoft. When they joined the OpenAjax along with Google, IBM, and Oracle, I knew it was a new world order!

Rick Jelliffe
2007-09-19 18:42:54
Ric: I don't know whether they are reformed or not. For standardization, it doesn't matter if they have mood swings: the standard is a mechanism for them to present their friendly face to the world but also it is a mechanism to buffer us from them if they go imperial on us again.
Rick Jelliffe
2007-09-22 20:58:48
All: I have removed a thread that was too personal.
2007-09-24 09:35:29
Something to note: the web increasingly makes it impossible or very expensive to take an antagonistically competitive view of others in the market. Given the increasingly layering of applications, toolkits, datasets and so on, perturbations introduced simply to keep a competitor off balance become too expensive to the originator. Interdependence is more real than ever.

OOXML/ODF spats come about for many reasons, but this kind of politics is also becoming more of a dinosaur itself. Office and ODF represent an old breed of office application that will have diminished markets. The new breed of component application relies on standards and frameworks. This is the edge of competition and churn now. It is as if CORBA were coming back in a new form but a higher state of being (it might really work).

Just at this juncture, I expect the hardware wars to start again.

Rick Jelliffe
2007-09-27 00:21:22
Len: I think people are getting a less naive view about OOXML and ODF, especially people reading the recent EC decision on the need for MS to disclose its protocols. If it is important for MS to disclose its protocols, make the available, and prevent gratuitous changes to mess up alternative implementations, why isn't standardization the route to take? And if it is important for their protocols, why isn't just as important for their file formats?

Sometimes I think about the OOXML/ODF issue through the prism of SMB/NFS. It would have been good if the Unixy (and open-ish) NFS was provided on all PCs to allow integration; but given that MS was going to provide its own protocol it becomes more important that they open up (in any and every way they can) their native protocol.

2007-09-28 09:38:49
Rob Enderle has a good blog about the blow back effects on the companies who are cheering for the EU decisions. Sometimes people just don't understand the forces they are unleashing. As I wrote there, it is one reason some of us are comparing these events to other American moves in the world. As in company cultures, if the inward competition turns cut throats, the outward cultures waits to clean up later.

I'm for open standards. I'm not against open source. They aren't the same thing but they are complementary. What I am challenging IBM and others on is consistency. Of course, I am interested in the 3D standards and have been for over a decade because I am an amateur world builder. Also because I occasionally advise companies on this topic and have a blog about this. From where I sit, watching the same companies that are trying to waste MS over OOXML tout Second Life and talk about standards while ignoring the ISO standards that exist is the height of bad business. When one looks at the EU decisions, then looks at leaks about moves at Google and MS to turn their virtual earth apps into virtual world business apps, then looks at the EU companies that have 3D software that clearly and demonstrably is superior to the American offerings, one wonders if Google, MS and Apple understand the global software market at all, much less IBM which is exploring in that market but have nothing to offer except conference speakers.

We've all gotten too good at the FUD game in America and I think the world is catching on. One hopes they improve or evolve past it instead of merely learning to play it themselves. So I watch the EU decisions a bit sceptically but hopefully. The economic balance of power is changing in software. I wouldn't want to be IBM going into the EU telling them that they are proposing SL or WoW or whatever as the basis for global 3D standards for VR when the EU companies are just becoming competitive by sticking to the standards and making them work. It's just too dumb to imagine.

Rick Jelliffe
2007-09-30 19:50:57
Len: Enderle's blog is interesting, though his surprise that the action happened in the EC is odd: as if the US anti-trust cases had not happened, as if the EC does everything the US would demand, and as if the US would further waste its political capital on this anyway.

It seems to be a good decision. Standards bodies are not constituted to hinder or aid monopolies; courts can do so, but only if the correct legislation is in place: it is the legislator's responsibility to create level playing fields and preventing locks-in and locks-out.

However, pointing out the inconsistency of someone wearing an iPod but railing against MS data lock-in just as MS are standardizing their data format is a probably futile. But it is ISO MPEG's fault: by allowing RAND but not free technologies they have fostered a system that works against free technology.

2007-10-01 05:58:02
Enderle points out what should be obvious: US companies who think the EU is a place to hold spats away from the prying eyes of the web or who think the EU will be easy to slick, well, they might want to start sending adults because the EU will. That doesn't mean the decisions are fairer. In fact, it doesn't mean anything other than self-interests will out. D'oh.

ISO MPEG is troubling but it is the cost of having multiple standards for the same domains. We've bumped up against MPEG several times while working on X3D/VRML. The media landscape is pitted with IP landmines.

This is why I talk about the Web3Dc and W3C solutions: member participation agreements. Having consortia that create specifications, implement them, vette them then take them to the standards groups works pretty well as far as getting a certain amount of the political squabbling done before the national bodies of different companies are involved. The difference among the consortia for IP is in the participation agreements they sign. This is a big sticking point for companies who begin to see a market as territory to be seized. Others who see a market as a place to buy and sell products often see it the unencumbered IP as an advantage because they can immediately begin to develop products and customer relationships free of indemnity concerns or lock-in. You can discern the objectives of the companies by the company they keep. And so it goes.

ISO, for good or bad, has to accomodate both approaches and the results are their meetings become the stage for the kind of shenaningans seen lately that are not new but probably unfamiliar to the web generation who tend to see things in black and white or MS vs The Free World. They don't have the experience to see the layers of indirection they are mired in or to understand the reasons for process and participation agreements that make nice BEFORE the meetings begin.