Among the standards principles IBM announced on September 23rd, there is one that is particularly dear to me (surely because of my current responsibilities at IBM but also because of my background with W3C). This principle is what we refer to as the principle of “Global Application”. It reads:
Encourage emerging and developed economies to both adopt open global standards and to participate in the creation of those standards.
Despite what the OOXML proponents have been claiming for the sake of their own benefit, having multiple standards for the same task doesn’t do anybody any good. Multiple standards means market fragmentation and duplication of efforts. Market fragmentation and duplication of efforts mean less choice and higher cost.
As we move forward we must learn from the past while not letting it get in our way. We must ensure that standards are developed in such a way that all stakeholders can participate and feel compelled to do so. This is essential for all requirements to be addressed but also for everybody to have a sense of ownership. Both of these elements are key to the adoption of the standard by all.
I consider the case of the Uniform Office Format (UOF) a perfect example of our failure to do just that. What was it that led China to create its own format rather than work with us on expanding ODF so that it addresses their needs? Their work started with a fork from OpenOffice mind you. So, why weren’t they at the table with us?
We need to understand what went wrong and ensure that this doesn’t happen again. For everybody’s benefit. Failure to so will result in more pain for everybody, just like the pain we are experiencing with UOF.
The situation with UOF is now that China is trying to gain support from vendors like IBM. These vendors would like to play in the Chinese market but they have already heavily invested in ODF and are understandly not too keen on the idea of spending resources on UOF. They would rather see China adopt ODF. But ODF doesn’t quite fit China’s needs. So, efforts are being made towards a possible convergence of the formats but these are merely damage control that remain costly for all.
And this is not all. The Global Application principle cannot be separated from the principle of “Implementability” which reads:
Collaborate with standards bodies and developer communities to ensure that open software interoperability standards are freely available and implementable.
Indeed, one of the major barriers to global adoption by developing countries of the so called “international standards” is the toll on implementing them. Whether it is about paying just to access the document or about paying royalties to foreign companies for patents that read on the standard, the price tag this constitutes is just not acceptable to emerging countries. They already face enough challenges otherwise.
The European Commission as well as countries like India are trying to move the ball by developing policies that restrict public procurement to “open standards” which they define as being royalty free. This is provoking reactions from various organizations that want to stop this movement. Their main contention appears to be that we’ve been developing standards for decades on a RAND basis and adopting a royalty free only policy will rule out hundreds of existing standards and products. I say: tough!
It’s about time that we recognize that the way we’ve been doing standards isn’t going to work anymore. And we just cannot expect the world to be shackled by the way we’ve been doing things in the past.
Traditionally, IT standards have for the most part been developed by the western world and then pushed onto the rest of the world. A RAND based system might have been fine in an environment where the odds were balanced by the fact that all parties had more or less similar stakes in the game. But this doesn’t work when you add a bunch of new players who find themselves at the table empty handed.
So, it’s not surprise that the rest of the world is telling us “No, thanks”. Can we really blame them?
Those that cling onto the old ways are part of the past. The future simply cannot be based on a grossly unbalanced system that gives a hudge advantage to some parties. Getting rid of the toll on implementating standards is the price to pay to see them globally adopted. Failures to recognize that simple fact and attempts to derail the trends set by the European Commission and the likes are simply a waste of time.
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. 🙂
OK, I’ll admit that nobody has claimed otherwise. Yet.
But in these days and age you are never too prudent. It wouldn’t surprise me to see this or other similar fancy claim being published eventually.
Indeed, in its desperate and last minute attempts to convince National Bodies around the world that OOXML is happening anyway so they might as well support it as an ISO standard, Microsoft is eager to claim support by as many companies and organizations as possible.
As evidence, in its latest OOXML propaganda open letter Microsoft lists IBM among other companies as having “already adopted (or announced adoption of) Open XML in their products”. This, despite a clear explanation of the contrary by Rob Weir, published two months ago! Does anyone believe they haven’t seen it or heard about this? I sure don’t. And if there was any room for misunderstanding Bob Sutor’s statement filled that in.
A colleague in a foreign country even reported that in a National Body meeting he had been confronted by a representative from Microsoft who was trying to silence him via intimidation and insistence that IBM supported OOXML contrary to what he was saying.
Microsoft’s oversight of IBM’s denials is clearly not accidental. It is part of a well crafted and continuous disingenuous plan to convince NBs at all cost. There is already so much evidence of Microsoft going far beyond what most would consider normal lobbying behavior it is sickening. For one, I’m not ready to forget the case of the NGOs in India. Talk about dirty practices.
But what really is at the bottom of Microsoft’s claims is that basically any software that handles XML supports OOXML. While technically this is true to a certain degree, such a bold claim without any further qualification is pure misinformation. Obviously, one of the advantages of using XML is to make your format, whatever it is, easier to handle, it’s one of the fundamental benefits of using XML. But as I previously touched on in my entry on XML vs Open, there is a big difference between being able to handle XML files at the XML level and truly supporting the particular format at hand.
Supporting OOXML. cannot be merely declared on the sole basis that a software can read OOXML files, or store OOXML files. If that were the case, then any XML parser could be said to support OOXML and the Apache Software Foundation could be said to support OOXML because its XML parser, Xerces, can read OOXML files (one would actually have to unzip them first but it’s not like Microsoft would stop at that kind of detail). But it takes much more than that to really support OOXML.
One has to understand the actual structure beyond the XML representation and the semantic associated to each and every piece of data found in an OOXML file. That’s what the 6000+ pages of the specification are supposed to define, unfortunately they do that extremely poorly.
The good news is that I don’t think Microsoft is fooling that many people. Based on my own observation of Microsoft representatives and the way they talk to people they seem to be completely oblivious to the fact that they appear as if they think the people they are talking to are too stupid to see through their tired arguments. I’ve got news for them: people aren’t that stupid. Thankfully. And I’m hopeful the results at the end of the month will make that clear.
The other good news is that whether OOXML gets approved or not, I believe Microsoft will pay a high price for all of its mischief and its image will come out of this badly damaged, something they can only blame themselves for.
In the meanwhile, don’t take for granted any claims of support for OOXML from Microsoft. The fact that Microsoft claims IBM has adopted OOXML can only make one wonder about all the other companies they list…