Arnaud's Blog

Opinions on open source, standards, and other things

An undeniable sense of pride

I recently posted a rave about IBM support so I’m well aware that this may look like I’m just on some sort of a praising roll about IBM but I want to say it anyway: I’m very proud of the standards principles we announced yesterday.

I’ve participated in the discussions we’ve had that led to this announcement and I was truly looking forward to the annoucement. It’s actually been a bit hard to keep it quiet until now. I felt so good about it I wanted to tell everybody.

It’s nice to feel proud of the company I work for. I have to say that in my now almost 9 years here I have never been made aware of anything we’ve done that I felt ashamed of. IBM has a strong culture based on principles rooted in ethics and just doing the right thing. In challenging times those principles are more often than not restated and everybody is given clear instructions not to cross the line, be it from a legal or ethical point of view, even if it means we’ll lose.

With all the things that have been reported around OOXML over the last year I’ve often wondered what it must be like to work for a company that appears to be willing to go beyond what most would find acceptable to win. I’m glad this merely is a rhetorical question for me and surely hope it will stay that way.

I think it’s important to lead by example and I hope the publication of our standards principles will encourage other corporations to take similar actions.

As it’s been stated, but sometimes missed, our goal is to encourage the standards groups we participate in to do some introspection and adjust as appropriate rather than walk away from them. I look forward to working with standards organizations around the world to help them raise to the challenge and improve when needed, for everyone’s benefit.


September 24, 2008 Posted by | standards | | 5 Comments

The value of preparation and going slower

Ok, maybe I’m just rehashing the obvious here but, it occurs to me that in our ever faster pacing world we sometimes forget simple wisdom which is worth restating and reflecting on.

I’ve been remodeling my house quite extensively and while I’ve hired contractors now and then for specific tasks I’ve done a lot of the work myself. And when I say myself, I literally mean that. This is myself alone.

Working alone isn’t always the easiest obviously. Sometimes a helping hand can save you quite a bit of time and trouble but, I’ve come to realize that working by myself forces me to prepare more and this leads to better results in the end.

One such example is simply when nailing something up on a wall for instance, be it a sheet of drywall or a piece of framing. If you have a helper, one typically holds the piece in place while the other nails it. It’s fast and easy, but actually not that precise.

In contrast, when you’re alone, you can’t hold the piece and work on it at the same time. So, you have to first figure out some support mechanism that will hold your piece in place and free you to work on it. Using a support mechanism actually allows you to much more precisely position your piece before you move on to nailing it in place.

I’ve done that on several occasions and it never fails. I always end up with a better result that way.

Now, it’s true that it’s a slower process, especially given that I sometimes have to first build some kind of contraption to hold my pieces in place. But you’ve got to wonder about always trying to go faster. Is it really worth it?

Look at OOXML (what? you didn’t see it coming? 🙂 ) What have we gained from having this rushed through the standards process? Now that the dust is starting to settle down it’s easy to see that all we end up with is a specification of terrible quality and a lot of collateral damage, including for Microsoft, Ecma, ISO, and IEC. Wouldn’t we have been better off taking the time to do it right?

I sometimes marvel at some of the old buildings and wish we took the time to build more like those. Buildings that are not only functional but also elegant. Buildings that show, from the quality and the level of detailed work they present, how much their makers cared. Something which is unfortunately too rarely seen on modern buildings.

Of course, one has to find the right balance. But it seems that the balance is currently heavily tilted towards always going faster, even if it’s at the cost of producing lower quality. I think we should slow down a bit and give quality another try.

September 15, 2008 Posted by | standards | , , | Leave a comment

Rave: IBM support

I don’t usually talk much about what IBM does but today I’m going to.

People I work with know that I’m usually pretty vocal about what I think the company doesn’t do well but if there is one thing that IBM does really well in my experience is support.

I’ve been at IBM for close to 9 years now and this has been true all along. Whenever some piece of material breaks down it gets fixed extremely quickly and painlessly.

I just had a couple of such experiences. Last week a disk on one of my computers started to fail. I called support in the afternoon and the very next morning a new disk was delivered to my door. I work from home.

Most defective items have to be returned. But IBM support makes that really easy. With the new item comes a label to ship the defective part back. All you have to do is place the old part in the package, stick the label on top of the old one, and order the pick up either by phone or over the web. In some cases, the box even contains a piece of tape for you to use. Can’t be easier.

Last Friday my son managed to pour a glass of water over my keyboard. I called support and this Monday morning I received a new keyboard.

In cases when the whole computer has to be sent, you first receive a shipping box – overnight – to send it in. Typically two days later you get it back repaired. The turnover can’t be better.

I should point out that this is no special services for employees. This is the exact same service anybody gets.

Anyway, I can’t say I have much experience with many other companies when it comes to support but I have never seen anything getting close to what IBM does in this regard.

I’ve actually realized that I like that so much that it’s often something I bring up when people ask me what it’s like to work at IBM.

So, it’s only fair that I should give the company credit for that. 🙂

September 15, 2008 Posted by | ibm | , | Leave a comment

Not just “virtually” but literally annoyed

What is up with all the use and overuse of the word “virtually” in advertisement? Am I the only one to be annoyed by that?

I can’t say when it started but it seems to have become the norm. I hear it all the time and I find it really annoying.

Sometimes it makes sense to me. Like in this ad for some cosmetic product which claims to “make all skin defects virtually vanish”. This seems like a proper use of the word. The defects don’t show anymore but they haven’t actually vanished.

Most of the time though it’s used in the less common way (although this may no longer be true I guess) of meaning “almost”. Like in the ad for this air purifier that “virtually eliminates all odors” or this software product which is “virtually bug free”.

I don’t know but that seems just wrong to me. But I suppose in a country where superlatives are the norm in advertisement only a minority of people will actually be annoyed. Well, I’m one of them.

September 6, 2008 Posted by | Uncategorized | , | Leave a comment