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Tuesday, April 25 2017 @ 11:56 AM CDT

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Gutierrez on the Record: A Good Man in a Storm

OpenDocument and OOXML

Late last week, Louis Gutierrez gave his first interview since becoming Massachusetts State CIO.  The lengthy list of questions was posed by Computerworld's Carol Sliwa, and represents the first status report on the implementation of OpenDocument Format (ODF) since the resignation of Peter Quinn at the end of last year.  In the interview, Gutierrez expands on the themes that he introduced in his first public presentation, given on March 15 at a meeting of the Massachusetts Government Information Systems Association (MGISA) at which I moderated and also presented.  Those themes include patience, deliberation, a refusal to engage in turf battles, a focus on getting the job done, and a refreshing inclination for straight talk.

It may be no surprise that the new CIO would bring a careful and non-confrontational style to the current challenge.  He was, after all, the first CIO of the state's Information Technology Division (ITD), and returns to that post from another state appointment - as CIO of the executive office of Health and Human Services, where he implemented significant IT initiatives.  Unlike his predecessor, he therefore brings a preexisting and extensive knowledge of how things are done (and best not done) on Beacon Hill.  He's not looking to fight any battles other than those that must be fought, and has no intention of butting heads to no purpose.

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OpenSPARC or Power.org: Which One has it Right?

Open Source/Open Standards

Last summer, IBM set up Power,org, to promote its PowerPC chip as what it called "open hardware." This year, Sun launched the OpenSPARC.net open source project around the source code for its Niagera microprocessor. But what does "open" mean in the context of hardware? In the case of Power.org, Juan-Antonio Carballo said, "It includes but is not limited to open source, where specifications or source code are freely available and can be modified by a community of users. It could also mean that the hardware details can be viewed, but not modified. And it does not necessarily mean that open hardware, or designs that contain it, are free of charge."

True to that statement, you have to pay to participate meaningfully in Power.org, as well as pay royalties to implement - it's built on a traditional RAND consortium model. To use the Sun code, though, its just download the code under an open source license, and you're good to go to use anything except the SPARC name. All of which leads to the questions: "What does "open" mean in hardware, and which approach will work?"

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UWB Standards MADness

Wireless

Lately I've been writing quite a bit about "standards wars," frequently using the wireless space as an apt example of behavior that sometimes smacks of the Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD) strategies of the Cold War.  A few days ago, the example got even apter with the announcement by Motorola spinoff and silicon vendor Freescale that it was splintering off of the splinter group that it had splintered off of the IEEE working group that then failed to set a UWB standard.  Got that?  If not, don't worry - it doesn't really make much sense anyway.

The underlying facts are as follows: one of the many wireless working groups within the IEEE was trying to develop a high speed, short range, low frequency standard to cut down on domestic cable clutter that otherwise collects around products such as your PC.  As with many other standards, the differences between alternative ways of solving that problem make a lot of difference to vendors, but not much to consumers, who just want things to work when they come home and plug them in.

But this is the wonderful world of wireless, where little happens easily these days.  And in this case, things are working even worse than usual.

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The Minnesota Open Formats Bill: Bandwagon or Babel?

OpenDocument and OOXML

It is perhaps no surprise that Minnesota, a blue state like Massachusetts and heir to the political traditions of the Prairie Populists, should be the situs of a bill to require "open data formats."    In spirit, this is a good thing, as it indicates a broadening appeal for open document format standards that, if missing, would be worrisome. But is the bill as submitted an encouraging signal that a bandwagon effect is taking hold, or a step towards standards Babel, and a leap backwards? The question is a serious one for a variety of reasons, and cuts to the heart of why standards exist.

Clearly, the definition of an "open standard" contained in the Minnesota bill includes many of the attributes that make a standard useful, such as requirements intended to prevent "lock-in" by a single proprietary vendor. But inherent in the concept of a standard is wide acceptance - and if everyone comes up with their own definition of what an "open standard" means, then there is no "standard" for what a "standard" is. If that happens, then the whole economic basis for standardization collapses, because the incentive for a vendor to support a standard is to reach and sell to a large potential customer base with a single, uniform product. Unless each customer specifies the same standards requirements, then the vendor can expect no return on its investment. Moreover, the citizenry suffers as well, because the software that someone needs to exchange a document with her state congressman in St. Paul may not be what's required to communicate with her senator in Washington.

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Update: Massachusetts ODF Milestones, Due Dates and Schedule

OpenDocument and OOXML

On January 25 of this year, I wrote a blog entry called The State of Play on ODF in Massachusetts: Milestones, Due Dates and Status. In that entry, I identified six milestones to watch for to determine whether adoption of OpenDocument Format (ODF) was on track in Massachusetts. Since then there has been progress in each of these areas, meaning that it's about time for an update. At the same time, new milestones to watch for have emerged, which I will identify at the end of this entry.

So here we go, with the indented portions below comprising excerpts from the earlier blog entry.

1. Morrissey Amendment: On November 2, 2005, word reached the public that amendment an to an economic stimulus bill had been introduced by Senator Michael Morrissey in the Massachusetts Senate that would radically shift policy making power away from the ITD to a political task force. The text of that amendment was later modified somewhat, but the bill was not enacted into law before the legislature adjourned for the holidays….
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Bill Introduced in Minnesota to Require Use of "Open Data Formats"

OpenDocument and OOXML

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.

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Case Study II: A National Archive Moves to ODF

OpenDocument and OOXMLLast 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.
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We Are Not Alone: Bristol City Council Converts 5,500 desktops to StarOffice

OpenDocument and OOXML

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.

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Standards Wars: Situations, Strategies and Outcomes

General News

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.

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That was Then and This is Now: SPARC International and OpenSPARC.net

General News

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 OpenSPARC.net.  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.