Win/Win or Win/Lose (You Choose)

The debate continues over how long it should take for open source and open standards to become reconciled (and the right way to get there) with a new Berlind post over at ZDNet Blogs synthesizing (well, that's probably not the right word) my comments and Larry Rosen's.

My efforts to add some historical perspective in the debate over how long it will take for open source and open standards to become reconciled (and how it should get there) have led to a new Berlind post over at ZDNet Blogs. The latest is that David Berlind pinged Larry Rosen to get his thoughts (or vice-versa), and David stitched a blog entry together around my responses (and post title) there and here and Larry’s reaction called Larry Rosen: ‘Good Time’ not fast enough for open source/standards Part of Larry’s email quoted by David goes as follows:

This is not about convincing companies and standards organizations that open source is right or humane or a profitable business model. It is about demanding that our programmers and our customers be allowed to implement and use software standards without having to pay our friends (e.g., currently IBM) or our enemies (e.g., currently Microsoft) for the pleasure of doing so. “Open standards” is a corollary to “open source.” Ultimately we can’t have the latter without the former.

My response (“Realism is often useful”) tries to point out that it not only matters where you get, but how you get there. Open standards have a century-long history of consensus process based on the concept that everybody wins if everyone agrees. I’d rather live, I conclude, in a consensus system than a “take no prisoners” system where you try and roll the opposition.



Which is not, of course, to say that in traditional standard setting people don’t play hard, sometimes cheat, and always (if they’re smart) keep an eye on the other guys that have a reputation for pushing the envelope. But still, the system *works*, and works a lot better than a lot of other political systems (which of course it is), such as in Washington, the U.N., or most other examples you can think of. The reason? Because ultimately everyone is better off when the system works, and they know it.




So I’ll stick with a consensus system with a track record. I’m perfectly happy to allow the momentum that’s building behind open source to continue to find its manifest destiny at its own speed. People aren’t starving or dying because open source isn’t spreading more quickly (heavens knows they are for enough other reasons). I’d rather honor process values and go for a win/win that’s durable, then a win/lose that sets dangerous precedents and may be less stable.




As David quoted from my email to him:




Actually, what I was talking about in the post (although it may not have been clear) was also the people involved in setting standards, and standards strategy. First they have to believe it, then they have to learn about it, then they have to plan strategy around it, then they have to execute. I wouldn’t be surprised if 10 years from now someone is writing business case studies examining how something so radical happened so fast. Things may seem slow in the moment that, from a historical and a human nature perspective, are actually moving at warp speed. It takes a long time to turn a fleet of battleships around. In this case, many of them are making amazingly tight turns.

Or, as I concluded in my response to the Larry Rosen post (referring to an open letter that Larry had written to the other 28 OASIS letter authors, in which he rather unrealistically claimed credit for them for IBM’s announcement that it would not assert 500 patents against open source):





And yes, Larry, achieving consensus through an honorable process does take a little time. As I wrote in an email to you awhile back, there are a lot of changes taking place in the marketplace. But when big changes occur in the marketplace (like pitching patents into the common pool), it’s not because OASIS got a letter from 29 people. It’s because IBM and other companies figured they wanted to bet on open source. So ultimately, educating companies on why they should want open source is going to get you where you want to go much faster than calling boycotts. And yes, education does take time.

One has to be careful with causes and effects. What moves the world on a long-term basis isn’t threats. Its reason. Sometimes effects coincide with events — like letters — but that doesn’t make a letter a cause.



I’d like to not only get to an open source world, but I’d like to get there the right way.

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