The Standards Blog


Wednesday, April 5th, 2006 @ 06:46 AM
Contributed by: Andy Updegrove
Views: 28,545

I received an email yesterday pointing me to a bill, introduced on March 27, that would require all Executive branch agencies in the state of Minnesota to "use open standards in situations where the other requirements of a project do not make it technically impossible to do this."  The text of the bill is focused specifically on "open data formats," and would amend the existing statute that establishes the authority of the Office of Enterprise Technology (OET), and the duties of the states Chief Information Officer.  While the amendment does not refer to open source software, the definition of "open standards" that it contains would be conducive to open source implementations of open standards. The text of the affected sections of Minnesota Statutes Chapter 16E, showing the amendments proposed, can be found here.

The fact that such a bill has been introduced is significant in a number of respects.  First, the debate over open formats will now be ongoing in two U.S. states rather than one.  Second, if the bill is successful, the Minnesota CIO will be required to enforce a law requiring the use of open formats, rather than be forced to justify his or her authority to do so.  Third, the size of the market share that can be won (or lost) depending upon a vendor's compliance with open standards will increase.  And finally, if two states successfully adopt and implement open data format policies, other states will be more inclined to follow.

Monday, April 3rd, 2006 @ 09:08 AM
Contributed by: Andy Updegrove
Views: 19,597

Last week I reported on the decision by the City of Bristol, England, to convert its 5,500 desktops from Microsoft Office to Sun Microsystems' StarOffice 8.0, which supports OpenDocument Format (ODF). In the process of making its decision, the City Council of Bristol performed a detailed analysis of total costs of ownership, and posted what it learned on a public Website, providing a useful case study for other govenment entities that might wish to go in the same direction. Today, I'll describe another case study in process: the decision by the National Archives of Australia (NAA) to move its digital archives program to software that supports ODF. The significance of this example is that the NAA gathers in materials from many sources, in many different formats, which will need to be converted to ODF compliance for long term archival storage. It will be instructive to follow the NAA's experience to learn how easy (or difficult) this mode of operation proves to be

Each of these case studies provides an essential dimension that was absent in the move by the Massachusetts ITD to adopt ODF. In the ITD's case, the motivation was primarily towards efficiency and document accessibility and against lock-in. As a result, to use a legal analogy, the Massachusetts example "stands for" the proposition that governments should make use of ODF a priority for long-term accessibility reasons. The Bristol example, in contrast, "stands for" the principle that a government should consider ODF compliant office productivity software for economic reasons. Unlike Massachusetts or the City of Bristol, the NAA will deal almost exclusively with documents created elsewhere. As a result, it provides a "worst possible case" to test whether operating an ODF environment in a world that uses mulitple formats (many of which do not support ODF) is practical. If successful, the NAA example would therefore "stand for" the fact that the use of ODF is reasonable and feasible regardless of the amount of document exchange the adopter must manage with the outside world.

Friday, March 31st, 2006 @ 08:43 AM
Contributed by: Andy Updegrove
Views: 18,458

The Massachusetts decision to implement OpenDocument Format (ODF) has attracted so much attention that little has been directed at other end users (governmental and otherwise) that have decided to adopt ODF.  But there are other adopters, and I read of another one just now - the City of Bristol, in England, which will switch 5,500 desktops from Office to StarOffice.  As a result of the decidion, the City expects to save 60% of the costs of using office productivity software over a five year period.  The news of such a significant cost saving is particularly significant for three reasons:  first, it involves a switch to a commercial product (StarOffice) that will require payment of licensing fees rather than conversion to one of the free open source implementations of ODF, such as OpenOffice.  Second, the switch is based upon a full analysis of all costs of purchase, installation, re-training and support.   And third, it involved a head-to-head contest between Sun and Microsoft, with MS pitching hard, but unsuccessfullyl, to avoid losing the customer.

Thursday, March 30th, 2006 @ 07:11 AM
Contributed by: Andy Updegrove
Views: 6,487

There have been more stories in the news about standards than ever before. The good news is that this raises awareness about how important standards are, particularly in areas like information and communications technology. The bad news is that a lot of this news is about "standards wars." Recent sagas include the seemingly endless HD DVD - Blu-ray Group battle to the death (taking content owners and consumers along for the ride); the head butting and accusations between proponents of WiFi, which has been adopted in most of the world, and China, whose home-grown WAPI alternative was recently voted down in ISO; the rivalry between two camps in the IEEE working group chartered to develop and adopt a UWB standard (which ultimately led to its disbanding); and, of course, the contest most often covered at this blog: OpenDocument Format vs. the Microsfoft XML Reference Schema. As a result, I've dedicated the March issue of the Consortium Standards Bulletin to examining the phenomenon of Standards Wars, as well as the lesser skirmishes and escalations that can usually (but not always) avoid full scale combat.

Sunday, March 26th, 2006 @ 08:33 PM
Contributed by: Andy Updegrove
Views: 11,512

In what must have seemed to many as a bold move, Sun Microsystems last week announced that it would released the source code for its UltraSparc T1 processor under the GPL, supported by a new organization that it calls  But to those that have been around for a while, the announcement had an eerily familiar sound to it, and that sound was the echo of an organization called SPARC International.  Formed 18 years ago to license the SPARC chip design to multiple vendors to ensure second sourcing for the hardware vendors that Sun hoped would adopt it, SPARC International seemed to be every bit as revolutionary for its time as Sun's new initiative does today.

Back then, RISC chips were brand new, and several companies opted to use the new architecture as the basis for their newest and hottest chips, including Motorola, which launched its 88000 processor as a successor to its vastly successful 68000 line (the heart of the Apple machines of that era), and an upstart chip company then called MIPS Computer Systems.  Central to the appeal of the new architectural design was the "reduced instruction set computer" concept that permitted a more simplified, faster design, and which lent its introductory initials to provide the RISC name. 

Friday, March 24th, 2006 @ 07:40 AM
Contributed by: Andy Updegrove
Views: 17,993

In the last several days there have been several stories in the news that highlight the increasing tension between ownership of intellectual property rights (IPR) and the opportunities that become available when broader, free access to those rights is made available.  The three articles that struck me as best proving this point were the announcement by Sun Microsystems that it had released the design for its new UltraSPARC processor under the GNU GPL, a speech by Tim Berners-Lee to an Oxford University audience in which he challenged the British government to make Ordinance Survey mapping data available at no cost for Web use, and reports that a Dutch court had upheld the validity of the Creative Commons license.  Each of these stories demonstrates a breach in traditional thinking about the balance of value to an IPR owner between licensing those rights for profit, or making those same rights freely and publicly available.

In the case of the Sun announcement, that breach is expansion of the open source methodology form software to silicon - a genetic leap, if you will, from one species of technology to another.  Tim Berners-Lee's challenge, on the other hand, is an example of the increasingly popular concept that "data wants to be free," and that the greatest societal benefit may result from allowing it to be so.  And the Creative Commons victory demonstrates that traditional legal concepts can be adapted to successfully accommodate such new realities.

Thursday, March 23rd, 2006 @ 02:09 PM
Contributed by: Andy Updegrove
Views: 8,925

Since I posted yesterday's blog entry about Microsoft joining the ISO voting comments reconciliation subcommittee, I've received some questions about how that process works, and how long it will take. For the answers, I turned once again to Patrick Durusau, the Chairman of the subcommittee, and the Project Editor for the OpenDocument Format submission. And once again he was kind enough to supply the answer, which I reproduce here in full (thanks, Patrick).

 I have been asked about the current status of ODF in the ISO process and the calendar for action on that submission.

ODF was submitted by OASIS to ISO JTC 1 under what is known as a PAS submission. Such submissions are governed by a specific set of rules and procedures.

It was duly balloted and notices were sent to the appropriate National Bodies.

Tuesday, March 21st, 2006 @ 02:16 PM
Contributed by: Andy Updegrove
Views: 7,397

A few days ago, I got an email from someone with news of an interesting development in the ongoing ODF saga. The essence of the tip was this: a few days ago, Microsoft joined a very small subcommittee called "V1 Text Processing: Office and Publishing Systems Interface." And it just so happens that this small subcommittee (six companies — including Microsoft) is the entity charged with reconciling the votes that are being cast in the ISO vote to adopt the OASIS OpenDocument Format.

Tuesday, March 21st, 2006 @ 10:30 AM
Contributed by: Andy Updegrove
Views: 5,393

Ever since the surprise announcement by the Massachusetts Information Technology Division last August that it planned to adopt the OpenDocument Format (ODF) and not the Microsoft XML Reference Schema (XMLRS), it's been a tennis tournament between those that support ODF and those that are fans of XMLRS.

Tuesday, March 21st, 2006 @ 09:34 AM
Contributed by: Andy Updegrove
Views: 3,484

If you follow technology news or music news (or both), you doubtless know of an amendment to a French on-line copyright bill that would make it legal to thwart the digital rights protection (DRM) software of the fabulously successful Apple iTunes/iPod system. The vote to adopt that legislation takes place in Paris today, and Apple has stated that if it passes, it may no longer offer French customers the ability to purchase music from its iTunes site.