30 April 2008
A Standards Primer
Photo by Dauvit Alexander
I have recently had several long discussions about the motivations and machinations that surround the development of technology interoperability standards. Over the past few years, I've also captured a lot of ideas and experience on the blog. I pulled it all together into one place in the following paper, "Understanding Technology Standardization Efforts" (PDF 86.2K).
For the record, I was a long term participant in the POSIX and UNIX standardization efforts. I was a working group participant, balloted many pieces of the standards and their amendments, and participated in the management of the standards effort at the IEEE as both an inaugural member of the Project Management Committee and a voting member of the Sponsor Executive Committee. I was an international participant at ISO, as document editor, and participated on behalf of three different national body delegations (Canada, U.S., UK) over a number of years. I began my participation in 1989 as a customer (working for EDS with GM and the U.S. government as their primary POSIX-interested customers), but quickly ended up as a vendor, working for MKS developing a conforming POSIX.2 implementation that formed the basis of implementations from IBM, DEC, HP, UNISYS and Sun. In 1995, I put my money where my mouth was on the importance of applications portability, standards and the coming juggernaut of NT and co-founded Softway Systems, implementing the POSIX and UNIX standards on NT to enable UNIX applications to be directly migrated to the platform. A large amount of free and open source software was incorporated into the product. Softway Systems was acquired by Microsoft in 1999, and I worked there for five years. Over the years I've been in regular contact with people standardizing C#/CLI, the Linux Standards Base, and ODF.
Several friends and colleagues from the standards world have reviewed the paper and provided excellent comments. The paper is much better for it. All mistakes obviously remain my own.
28 April 2008
Microsoft Office 2007 and Open XML: Lies, Damned Lies, and Statistics
Last week Joe Wilcox (Microsoft Watch) observed that Microsoft Office 2007 apparently doesn't conform to the Open XML standard (ISO/IEC 29500) that Microsoft has rammed through the system. Alex Brown has the full test here. No surprise. I've argued for the past year that the product must have diverged from the standard under construction. It's a normal thing in the standards world as Joe and Alex observe. They each challenge Microsoft to declare itself with respect to the standard and the future of the product.
But here's the problem: Microsoft already has declared itself. Last August Microsoft commissioned a study from IDC on the adoption of document standards. The "study" names Office Open XML as the obvious favourite. "Among the XML-based document standards, Office Open XML seems to be creating the most traction in the market." In the PR push leading up to the September 2007 votes on ISO/IEC 29500, Microsoft was already equating the standard with Microsoft Office 2007. That's what the sales field will be telling customers, with graphs culled from the "report". [srw — If you really want to read the report, follow the link from Mary Jo Foley's editorial. I still refuse to give the paid report link cred, small as it may be.]
Here's more writing on the ISO adoption and next steps:
Microsoft Claims Success with ISO and Open XML Standard
01 April 2008
Follow-up on Brad Smith Open Source Business Conference (OSBC) Keynote
It was indeed an interesting keynote. It was not as I had feared it would be. Brad Smith did an excellent job of engaging the audience, explaining the Microsoft position, and encouraging discussion. Smith focused a lot on the diversity in the market of business and licensing models, not claiming a financial high ground (which is a first), and emphasizing shared values (pride of creation of software and what we have collectively accomplished).
The panellists did a fine job, and the audience was also engaged. (It only felt like Smith was filibustering a little in the end, burning the clock, but then he'd had a long time in front of the audience at that point being on the receiving end of the Q&A.) The mini-survey off the previous blog post did correctly predict where most of the discussion was going to be on patents and Linux.
Key points for me:
- "I appreciate that respect for intellectual property is I believe a shared value across our industry." Smith made this statement midway through the panellist Q&A. This to my knowledge is the first public statement by a Microsoft executive that did not label the free and open source community as IP hostile. It is a significant public statement.
- Bottomley and Updegrove did actually catch Smith out in the Q&A. I wouldn't have thought it possible, considering Smith's background as a lawyer and public spokesperson for Microsoft. Smith claims Microsoft wants its property respected, and that patent licensing is not about the relatively small revenue. He was neatly and visibly cornered at one point (to audience chuckles) because the Linux community is willing to respect Microsoft's property and actively work on a solution that avoids it.
- Based on statements made in Sam Ramji's presentation the previous day, and in Brad's keynote and the answers to questions, Microsoft is trying to find solutions to the patent problems. This does not simply mean giving up the property from a Microsoft perspective, as enabling as this might be for the community at large. Smith is all too familiar with other large vendors chasing Microsoft for patent licensing revenues (and he used the Sun US$900M licensing settlement as an example on stage) to be able to understand why Microsoft should just roll over on the patents they allege Linux infringes. For Microsoft it seems it's difficult to take a step that does not appear to be reciprocal in nature.
- There was an interesting discussion about Cathedrals and Bazaars at one point. Smith (Microsoft) is very comfortable having discussions about Cathedrals having licensing discussions with other Cathedrals. But that analogy (historical, relevant, and useful as it has been) also limits their thinking. They seem to only think in terms of Microsoft as a cathedral that can license to other cathedrals. They believe they've enabled the Bazaar in recent licensing statements. It seems they are still trying to understand the actual ecosystem and have been perhaps using the wrong analogy as a lens. Maybe it's time to evolve the Cathedral and the Bazaar.
At one point Smith observed that what the world wants to see is deeds not words — but that words also matter because it sets the bar against which they will be judged. There was lots of interesting things said and debated over the 90 minutes. Smith has set a high very public bar against which Microsoft will be judged. I'm hoping IT Conversations gets this recording up soon so everyone can hear what was said. [My recording is noisy and missing the first few minutes.] Congratulations to Brad Smith, and the panellists (O'Grady, Updegrove, Bottomley, Shuttleworth) for an excellent session, and of course to Matt Asay for pulling it together.
Microsoft Claims Success with ISO and Open XML Standard
Copyright © 2007 by Kordite
"Another key factor is the fact that people recognize the broad use of Open XML in the market as seen by the hundreds of independent implementations of Ecma 376." [Jason Matusow, Microsoft Director of Standards]
Think of the confusion if we only partially implemented the HTML standard. Okay — bad example. What if we only partially implemented a railroad standard? The track gauge would be correct, but the rail width was incorrect, or there was only one rail? Or maybe the track stopped before reaching its destination. Microsoft continues to maintain the Rovian perspective that a standard with "support" (their language is improving to "implementations") rather than complete conformance is good news for the industry. In this particular case it even ignores the very conformance statement in their own standard. It's only good news for Microsoft. It means lots of people are encouraged to do partial things around documents produced by Microsoft Office 2008. The economics is in the vendor's favour, not the consumer's. It defeats the actual purpose of de jure standardization. [In the industry, we call it a vendor specification regardless of standards body imprimatur.]
We now enter the next phase of the dance. Customers will discover they don't get the benefits that they thought they bought. A customer of note [likely government] or a consortia will put together a conformance certification program around the standards in the space. Brands and certifications will be the rule of the day. Microsoft will discover it needs to actually ensure their own products adhere [formally] to the standards they produced. The Microsoft Office team will discover conformance testing to a specification is (i.) hard work, (ii.) different than normal product testing, and (iii) that their product is drifting off the very standard they launched. (The .NET runtime team learned this a few years ago and I'm betting there are still conformance bugs logged against the product as "won't fix".) Implementation conformance will become important.
"You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means." — Inigo Montoya, in the Princess Bride
Other writing I've done in this space:
- Office Open XML Conformance (A Lesson in Claiming Standards Conformance) [31 August 2007]
- Conformance and Certification: The ODF Standard and Microsoft's Office Open XML Specification [7 January 2007]