About a week ago, Rob Weir (of IBM) asked whether harmonisation is a sensible route to take in order to unify and establish a single universal document format. It is in everyone’s interest to have one single format. Based on Microsoft's admission, it is not truly necessary to have OOXML. Microsoft could adapt its applications (office suite) to ODF and then specify extensions which can be carefully learned.
The following writeup considers the feasibility of this, but it is not very optimistic.
This post has four points:
1. Translatability Informs Harmonization
Difficulty of translation is a rough indicator of the degree to which reconciliation of the formats is difficult.
2. Models Limit Translation/Harmonization
There is no assurance that either format is universal enough, in the sense that it can faithfully express all documents of the other format.
3. We Must Know the Differences
We need to know the severity of the model disparities and individual-feature differences before concluding how much useful harmonization is possible.
4. The Reality in the Punchbowl
That given, would it not be simpler for Microsoft to simply embrace ODF, which is the only international standard? India’s press has said more about the ODF advantage in the following new article.
“OXML needs a thorough review before India can commit anything. Rushing through the 6,000 page specification through the fast track process by ISO is not going to help. The ODF standard was approved after six years of intensive study,” said Venkatesh Hariharan, co-founder Open Source Foundation of India and member of Knowledge Commons, a Knowledge rights group.
By all means remember that charity in India was magically boosted by Microsoft amid times of voting on OOXML (India was bound to say “No”). See our previous writings about the role of charity in greasing up politicians and other decision-makers [1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9].
The 451 Group goes further with the question of harmonisation. It takes into account the impact of a possible antitrust action.
The incentive for Microsoft to fully cooperate and fully interoperate should be greater given global antitrust pressures. ODF developers and supporters should take the opportunity to do likewise, thus improving format flexibility and choice.
Under pressure from the European Commission and with knowledge that an invitation was made to harmonise, it would be both rude and vain of Microsoft to carry on with OOXML. The world has spoken and it does not want OOXML. Virtually all OOXML support is paid for in one way or another. It is a story about corruption using money. █
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[Thanks to Digital Majority for the links]
As we continue our journey which explores the source of the issues at hand, we often find that the issues boils down to political manipulation, sometimes managed by lobbyists acting as proxies (with high salaries) for large corporations [1, 2]. In general, there are many activities that do not cross people’s minds as often as they should, e.g. kickbacks, which are a form of bribery, just like heavy political influence that rewrites laws.
In this week’s news we have another story about lobbying. RIM spends some big cash on it.
$890,000 seems like quite a bit of money until your remember that RIM paid out $612.5 Million to NTP to settle their patent infringement lawsuit in 2006.
RIM sees itself as a victim, but at the same time it's putting junk patents in the USPTO (example from last week), which makes it part of the problem, rather than a party which brings a solution.
It is still very much a political questions hinged on the gut feeling of a few who are being lobbied. Here is another new dismissal of EPO critics.
Brimelow’s predecessor, Alain Pompidou, turned down requests for a referral to the enlarged board last year. She appears more willing to address the issue of software patentability. While there are no concrete plans for a referral at present, Brimelow said she would not rule one out one in future. Rainer Osterwalder, the EPO’s director of communications, said after the interview that there could be a referral in the coming weeks or months but he declined to be more specific. Brimelow is bothered by the way the EPO has been portrayed as partisan on the side of patent owners in the debate over software patentability. It’s “unhelpful”, she said, and went on to demonstrate that she does see where many of the EPO’s critics are coming from.
We blogged about this just a couple of days ago. The EPO seems to be taking a stance which is “if you’re not with us, you’re against us.” There are variants of this phrase which describe an approach where one does not listen to opposition and simply dismisses it as irrelevant.
What we end up with is simply a situation where lobbyists (for wealthy companies, e.g. the BSA) have a lot of impact while small businesses and independent individuals get ignored. Later on, software is seen as patentable in the UK, with equally useless clarifications on this matter.
In his judgment, Kitchin J has now clarified the law in this area, and decided that patents should, as a result of applying the test formulated in Aerotel/Macrossan, be allowed to protect a computer program if, but only if, the program implements a patentable invention.
What remains very clear is that money speaks louder than simple logic. Just look at the global warming debate. To resolve this issue, one must look not only at arguments that are made, but also the people who are involved and the money which is at play. █
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“There won’t be anything we won’t say to people to try and convince them that our way is the way to go.”
–Bill Gates (Microsoft’s CEO at the time)
Yesterday we wrote about the European Commission's decision to investigate Microsoft’s fraudulent activities in pursuit of ISO’s rubber stamp for OOXML.
This investigation is well overdue. The EC seems slow to respond. The same goes for its investigation of Silverlight because complaints from the industry were first filed over a year ago. Why is action being taken when it’s already hard to reverse the deeds? Regardless, several of the sites which have OOXML-related activities documented seem to be preparing for regulators to dig in. Groklaw, for example, has already set up an index page and Pamela adds:
I hope they think to investigate the smear campaigns that seem to always happen to anyone on the other side from Microsoft. What happened to Peter Quinn was by no means unique.
Peter Quinn’s story, as well as others from Massachusetts, may seem shocking. We attempted to summarise the events in Massachusetts here. It is one example among many and the smears which Pamela talks about are far from new. In fact, Bob Sutor had to change his blog comments moderation policy because of abuse. That was just a few weeks ago.
Boycott Novell has about 500 posts covering improper handling of OOXML and sabotage of ODF. The other day, Dana Blakenhorn even cited us as one among two sources (the other being noooxml.org) for studying this subject. Hopefully the writings and many pointers will prove handy.
Andy Updegrove has written about this as well. Of particular interest:
But with Steve Ballmer taking over as CEO, there was supposed to be a kinder, gentler Microsoft – one that would play nicely with its competitors. When antitrust regulators in turn challenged this new Microsoft, it issued not challenges to fight to the end to prove that it had done nothing illegal, but statements promising to “cooperate fully.”
But at the same time, Microsoft is still a tough competitor. As Microsoft’s Director of Corporate Standards Jason Matusow famously warned at his blog last year:
Make no mistake; all parties are looking at the full picture to find strategies that will result in the outcome they desire. Provided – of course – that they do so within the context of the rules that apply to the process, this is exactly what one should expect to happen. It is going to be a very interesting next few months.
Indeed, the months that followed proved to be interesting indeed. Microsoft said that some of its employees became over zealous, most flagrantly in Sweden, where marketing assists were promised to several business partners as incentives to join the national standards committee and vote for OOXM.
Since Andy mentions Steve Ballmer, it is worth adding that Ballmer, much like Gates, made phonecalls to politicians in order to reverse votes. Single-handedly, such political manipulation made a big difference. We truly hope that the regulators will find what they are after, including the heaps of material evidence.
When regulators are done probing this, perhaps they should also take a look at hostile takeovers and intimidation tactics (patent FUD), which are seen as illegal in Germany. There are so many other things to look into, but as far as Microsoft goes, this is the legal analog of a DDOS attack. The company abuses quicker than the EC can handle and keep track of. █
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“To better serve customers, Microsoft needs to innovate above standard protocols. By innovating above the base protocol, we are able to deliver advanced functionality to users.”
Novell’s ‘special’ Linux, which we sometimes refer to as “Ballnux”, creates a new dangerous breed of Linuxes with Microsoft-patented add-ons. This Linux is not free. Moreover, it compromises imitations of Microsoft technologies, which are likely to be ‘extended’ without approval from peers. Documentation of the changes is far from guaranteed, which puts Ballnux is a state of great dependency on Microsoft.
This is not just a Linux problem though.
Yesterday we mentioned the news about Microsoft virtually devouring a .NET Ruby group. The following new warning talks about the dangerous implications of this.
Development of .Net compatible Ruby outside of Microsoft is very important to continue, particularly a non-Microsoft open source project. Microsoft has this funny habit of co-opting technologies and then evolving them into something very Microsoft-ish. Can you say Internet Explorer, or (sorry to do this to you) recall back to Microsoft’s Java? Microsoft loves to diverge technologies into their own direction, leaving behind and alienating communities of users and developers.
Even though IronRuby is under Microsoft’s own -Ms-PL open source license, IronRuby is too close to Microsoft and runs this same risk. I’m concerned that again we will have Ruby as most of the world knows it, and then Microsoft’s version of Ruby, shunned by those who haven’t drunk Redmond’s Kool-aid.
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Redefining open source, forgetting Free software
What’s in a licence? To a developer — almost everything. See the citation at the bottom of this post (from a KDE developer).
“Microsoft ‘Open Source’ casts a shadow on the meaning of the term because such source typically depends on the availability of a proprietary software stack which may include SQL Server, SharePoint, .NET and Windows.”Sun's embrace of MySQL is an interesting one because we are told that we should like it, but affinity very much depends on whether we care about the Linux kernel or Free software in the broader sense. And then there’s open source. Microsoft ‘Open Source’ casts a shadow on the meaning of the term because such source typically depends on the availability of a proprietary software stack which may include SQL Server, SharePoint, .NET and Windows. It is open source only at one level of abstraction (think about the ‘Java trap’) and it mainly serves the producer of the stack, not just the developer and maintainer of the source code.
I happen to know this pretty well because my MATLAB contributions, for example, despite the fact that they are free and open source, are just helping MathWorks market itself. Without MATLAB, which is expensive, the code cannot run. That is open source as a development paradigm, but sometimes it entirely misses the point of Free software.
Linus Torvalds recently spoke about this issue. Dana Blankenhorn and Ed Burnette spoke about this too and here is an interesting discussion whose focus is Sun Microsystems.
In an interview at the Linux Foundation, Linus Torvalds warned of commercial control of open source. Using Java and OpenSolaris as an example he pointed out that “Sun ends up having rights that nobody else has – even if they then act perfectly and they really behave well, just the fact that they have special rights makes people legitimately feel like they are second class citizens.”
Fellow ZDNet blogger Dana Blankenhorn refers to this situation as “proprietary open source“.
Speaking of licenses and Freedom, Avionica has just made a press release available and it indicates that the GPLv3 was chosen.
Avionica will be releasing the Iridium(TM) Portal technology under the GNU GPLv3 license. Under these terms, any licensee who makes improvements to the source must re-submit those improvements to the community under like terms. For more information on the Avionica Iridium(TM) Portal, please contact Raul Segredo.
The next post will briefly look into the way Microsoft fits into this picture, especially in light of recent developments. █
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“We should dedicate a cross-group team to come up with ways to leverage Windows technically more.”
–Jim Allchin, Microsoft
As time goes by, Novell and Microsoft appear to be getting closer. Several months ago we saw the press describing the Microsoft-Novell deal as an alliance and more recently we even saw Novell helping Windows Vista. Considering the fact that Novell is gradually embracing more of .NET [1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13], this is hardly surprising.
For the record, here is another sighting in the press where the relationship between this couple is described as “an alliance”. Maybe, just maybe, some day in the future we will hear about a “subsidiary” or so-called ‘GPL division’.
In the case of Novell-Microsoft alliance, the situation is one of making two platforms work together.
Somebody ought to tell Microsoft to work with Novell on ODF support in Microsoft Office, rather than have Novell become the slave of OOXML as its contract requires. █
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