If you're reading this blog entry, you've probably been following the battle between ODF and OOXML. If so, you may be thinking of that conflict as a classic standards war, but in fact, it goes much deeper than that label would suggest. What is happening between the proponents of ODF and OOXML is only a skirmish in a bigger battle that involves a fundamental reordering of forces, ideologies, stakeholders, and economics at the interface of society and information technology.
Today, open source software is challenging proprietary models, hundreds of millions of people in emerging societies are choosing their first computer platforms from a range of alternatives, major vendors are converting from product to service strategies, and software as a service is finally coming into its own - to mention only a few of the many forces that are transforming the realities that ruled the IT marketplace for decades. When the dust settles, the alignments and identities of the Great Powers of the IT world will be as different as were the Great Powers of the world at the end of the First World War.
It is in this light that the ODF vs. OOXML struggle should really be seen, and for this reason I've dedicated the latest issue of Standards Today to exploring these added dimensions on the eve of the OOXML Ballot Resolution Meeting that will begin on February 25 in Geneva, Switzerland.
In the Feature Article to this issue, I make the deepest dive, reviewing how the marketplace found a single-vendor controlled "standard platform" to be an acceptable tradeoff during the early days of the desktop, and also the cost/benefit ratio has now reversed, as more alternatives, more sophisticated end-users, more effective open standards, and the spread of open source. The article ends with this summary:
The unexpected success of ODF in the marketplace is a symptom of fundamental shifts in a maturing IT ecosystem, characterized by increasingly sophisticated and demanding end users, resurgent competition, new enabling technologies, and other forces that are largely beyond Microsoft’s control.
History teaches that monopolies in the marketplace, like empires in the broader world, are rarely sustainable over long periods of time, and ultimately fall victim to both external attack and internal weaknesses. The degree to which Microsoft’s competitors have embraced, and many Microsoft customers and national governments alike have resonated, with ODF are strong indications that the foundations upon which Microsoft’s historical dominance has been based may at last be weakening.
ODF is not in itself likely to topple Microsoft from its enviable throne. But the very public example of ODF, as played out in public view, has brought new attention to the value that true competition in the marketplace can offer, as well as to the fact that life without a single "de facto" standard might be not only conceivable, but desirable. When conjoined with the equally forceful currents of open source software and SaaS, Microsoft will be likely to face increasingly frequent challenges in the future from ever more determined competitors, similar to that posed by ODF.
The ODF experience therefore offers not only a successful model upon which Microsoft’s competitors will likely base other strategic initiatives in the future, but also a business case that will be studied in business schools, and by economists, for many years to come.
How that conflict plays out will determine who will be the Great Powers of the IT industry for the next twenty years.
ABOUT THIS ISSUE: ON THE ROAD TO GENEVA
On February 25, 120 delegates from 40 countries will arrive in Geneva, Switzerland to review the proposed resolution of 3,522 comments on OOXML. What a long, strange trip it’s been.
EDITORIAL: THE OVERWHELMING OF ISO/IEC JTC1
At the end of March, the 6,000 page OOXML specification will complete its "Fast Track" course through ISO/IEC JTC1. Whatever the result, its clear that a process designed to review non-controversial 20 page specifications outside of public view is in need of a serious overhaul if it is to remain useful and relevant to the ITC industry. How that conflict plays out will determine who will be the Great Powers of the IT industry for the next twenty years.
FEATURE ARTICLE: ODF VS. OOXML AND THE FUTURE OF THE GREAT POWERS OF IT
Superficially, the conflict between ODF and OOXML would seem to be a classic, if more than usually hard-fought standards war. In fact, it’s simply a skirmish in a far broader conflict being played out across an IT landscape that is undergoing fundamental change.
STANDARDS BLOG: WAR OF THE WORDS: AN EBOOK IN PROCESS
The progress of ODF in the marketplace has all the prerequisites for a great book: billions of dollars at stake, global maneuvering by some of the world’s most powerful companies, legions of lobbyists, and more. You can find the first chapter of that book in this issue, and more at the Standards Blog.
CONSIDER THIS: HOW TO CHALLENGE A VIRTUAL BRONTOSAURUS
The Internet and the Web hit the bricks and mortar world like a meteor, annihilating some existing business models and allowing new ones to furiously evolve to take their place. Today, all of the ecological business niches seem to be populated by new dominant species with names like eBay, eTrade and, of course, that Tyrannosaurus Rex of the Internet: Google. Or perhaps not. T. Rex, it seems, is hatching a challenger to that Brontosaurus of the Virtual world, the Wikipedia.
NEW AT CONSORTIUMINFO.ORG: A NEW LOOK FOR THE STANDARDS METALIBRARY
In February of 2005, ConsortiumInfo.org launched the Standards MetaLibrary, describing it as " the only on-line research resource focusing exclusively on standards and standard setting." Now, the MetaLibrary has been completely redesigned, and new material is being added aggressively.
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