Open standards, open source, open minds, open opportunities
Via Amy Wohl, check out the Writely word processor. It it is a web-based word processor and allows others to see your files. It doesn't yet support "OpenOffice files," meaning, I presume, OpenDocument Format, but they say they are working on it.
Update: They responded to a comment I sent and said they would have support for ODF by Thanksgiving.
Update 2: Ed Moltzen of CRN picked up this blog entry and dug up some more info on Writely. See his article "The Write Stuff, For Free".[Read More]
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As I have noted here and others have mentioned elsewhere, there is a hearing today in Boston to discuss the decision by the CIO's office that support for OASIS OpenDocument Format be required for documents that are created, modified, and saved. IBM sent our statement to Senator Pacheco, Chair of the Senate Audit and Oversight Committee, on Saturday. Here, for the record, is what we sent. For those of you who have been following this blog, what we say shouldn't be anything new. We've refined a few things and how we say them but we're basically staying on message: support of ODF is good for Massachusetts and good for other governments as well.
For the Commonwealth of Massachusetts
Senate Audit and Oversight Committee
October 28, 2005
Dr. Robert Sutor
Vice President, Standards and Open Source
Mr. Chairman and members of the Committee, IBM welcomes this opportunity to submit written testimony for the public record on our views of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts publication of its Enterprise Technical Reference Model v.3.5, which identifies the OASIS OpenDocument Format for Office Applications to be the standard for all official records the Commonwealth creates and saves.
IBM appreciates the leadership of your Committee in examining this issue and the efforts of the CIO's office to have an inclusive process for arriving at this decision: engaging stakeholders, holding forums, posting draft technical references and soliciting comments. IBM, with its nearly 5,000 employees in Massachusetts, was pleased to participate in some of these discussions and looks forward to continuing to support the efforts of this Committee and the work of the Commonwealth.
This decision of the CIO's office, similar to that of many public and private institutions across the globe, recognizes the value---personal and economic---of choice with information technology. IBM supports the recent publication as it guarantees citizens and governments access to and control of their own data. I will lay out four key reasons why IBM believes this decision is the right decision for Massachusetts. I will conclude with IBM's call to action to governments across the globe on this issue. But first, let me set the context.
This decision to insist on open document formats for office applications is the right critical decision at the right critical time. In technology, life sciences, healthcare, and other areas, there is a strong trend toward "openness." With the creation of the Internet and the World Wide Web, both based on open standards, the value of open standards for interoperability and innovation became readily apparent. This openness is continuing to shift control of information and technology choices from vendors to individuals, businesses and government. OpenDocument Format (ODF) which, as you know, is a new open standard from OASIS (with headquarters in Billerica) based on literally decades of industry experience, enables this openness and shift of control. With ODF, governments gain greater control of their information and the technology that supports it. Governments get increased efficiency, more flexibility and options in technology choices, and enhanced capability to communicate with and serve the public.
Let me elaborate on these ideas along four key dimensions: accessibility; cost; freedom of action and control, including archiving and preservation; and innovation, competition, and economic opportunities for companies large and small.
First, I will address IBM's position on accessibility. IBM is committed to, and is a leader in, providing and ensuring accessible products. We have been working closely with the accessibility community for a number of years and have engaged with them on this specific issue. We have also engaged with the OASIS ODF technical committee to form a sub-committee on accessibility to review the specification in order to enhance, as needed, accessibility compatibility. IBM is committed to working with the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, the accessibility community, and other vendors, including those on the technical committee of OASIS, to create a marketplace of ODF-compliant and fully accessible products, such as our Lotus Workplace managed client, a product developed in Massachusetts.
Second, when measuring costs, there are two main financial considerations: the cost of migrating to open standards-based products versus the cost of accepting the status quo and the attendant lack of interoperability. Obviously, the number of records in electronic form is growing every day and therefore migration costs will grow as legacy issues compound. It is likely that migration to an ODF-based product will be substantially less costly than alternatives in the long run since purchasers will have many more cost-competitive alternatives available to them and greater freedom of action in their use of their technology.
As for training costs, I want to bring to your attention a recent study by Gartner, a leading global technology analysis and research company headquartered in New England. Conversion to a new product or migration to a new product upgrade may present some technical challenges, largely in the area of training. Gartner published that "Office 12," next year's update to Microsoft Office 2003, which will use a new XML-based Microsoft proprietary document format, will differ significantly from its current form. The report concludes that migration may be rough for some users and the IT departments that support them. We believe that moving to an ODF implementation would involve the same, if not less, technical complexity, training and compatibility challenges than migrating to Office 12.
Third, let me address freedom of action in terms of future access and control, both of which should not to be underestimated. The ODF standard is maintained by an open group ensuring that the specification can not be changed by the whim of a single vendor to its own advantage. This vendor neutrality also creates a shift in control from the seller of information technology to the users. Indeed, users can actively participate in the future development of the standard, contributing both their requirements and knowledge. Further, owners of the data and documents can control how they can use them. Open document formats provide governments with options that were not previously feasible. With unnecessary vendor control points removed and a level playing field created, technology and service procurers can now be far more flexible and responsive to changes in the economy, new technological advances and citizen needs. That is, ODF is good for procurement.
It is critical to understand that this freedom of action is guaranteed by the openness of the standard and the community standards creation process. We define a document format as being open if it adheres to all four of the following elements. The definition aligns with that of many governments, including this Commonwealth CIO's office, and the Berkman Center at Harvard Law School's report on Open Ecosystems that had 13 nations participating in its definition. The elements of openness are:
With respect to the last element, careful attention needs to be paid to product and specification licenses. Some purported "open" specifications have limits in the licensing detail which preclude their use in open source applications based on the GNU General Public License. To understand the impact of this "detail," consider the fact that this GNU General Pubic License is the one used by roughly 69 percent of the 69,000 projects on sourceforge.net (the biggest repository in the world of open source projects) that use licenses approved by Open Source Initiative. What this means, for example, is that if the Commonwealth of Massachusetts relies on software covered by such a limited license, you will have lost the freedom to procure or create GPL-licensed open source software to use with your data, regardless of the cost and value of this software. That is, you will have limited your current and future options for using your own data and documents, and given control to a third party. What will be the cost of your thusly limiting your freedom?
Lastly, and most important in IBM's view, is the innovation, competition and economic opportunities that any open standard, and especially ODF, enables. The economics of an open, freely available and implementable specification enable any number of commercial and non-commercial entities to bring truly innovative functions to the market. These companies, large or small, can realistically pursue both marginal niches as well as mainstream areas of market opportunity. Because the standard provides a common foundation that many can build on, true innovation, differentiation, and competition can take place. This directly benefits users, including governments such as your own. The open, non-proprietary standard development process creates more potential to collaboratively innovate on future generations of the specification itself. Like we all saw with the development of the Internet and World Wide Web, numerous new industries and businesses of all sizes can spring up offering specialized or broad services and applications based on open standards. IBM believes that increased use of open standards will be good for Massachusetts' businesses, both the ones you have now and the ones that are still just sparks in the minds of your entrepreneurs.
OpenDocument Format, like the Internet and Web before it, will enable exchange and collaboration at a scale we have not seen before. This is needed in today's society to solve both global and local challenges from, for example, disaster management coordination to electronic health records interoperability. Innovation and collaboration through open standards is our best way to make the next giant leap. From a customer/consumer/citizen perspective, the adoption of open standards is a big win.
Before I close, let me share with you a call to action that, when adopted, could make these discussions moot. It is important to remember that all vendors can implement the OpenDocument Format specification. This is why open standards promote real choice and remove restrictions. Many vendors have announced their support and their adoption plans for ODF. If every vendor had done this instead of maintaining their preference for privately-controlled proprietary formats, then we would not be here discussing migration costs or accessibility issues. We would, instead, be discussing how best to capitalize on the exciting growth, innovation, and interoperability opportunities that this standard enables. We believe three actions are needed from users:
In conclusion, your documents---your government and cultural history, your medical records, your financial data---belong to you. They should be controlled by the Commonwealth. You should be able to do whatever you want with them, whenever you want, with whatever application software you wish. OpenDocument Format can help ensure that the Commonwealth maintains this control in the future. This can help prevent any vendor from telling you what you can and cannot do with your information.
Thank you again for the opportunity to share IBM's position. We look forward to your resolution of these issues and the on-schedule implementation of the ETRM. Your Committee's decision and the actions of the CIO's office in support of ODF can be a model to guide other states and governments in their migrations to protect their future. They are watching your actions and leadership carefully. I would be happy to submit additional testimony and appear in person before your Committee should you wish any additional information.[Read More]
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I keep losing these links and bugging my colleagues, so I'm posting them here so that I, and perhaps you, can find them again. The page on SourceForge.net that gives the stats for how many licenses are used for which projects is here. The page that itemizes the stats for all the OSI-approved licenses is here.
For example, at this moment there are 47,392 projects that use GPL out of the 68,854 total projects that use OSI-approved licenses. That is, about 69% of the roughly 69,000 projects that use OSI-approved licenses, use GPL.[Read More]
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Yesterday I took part in a two hour panel-and-townhall type discussion on OpenDocument Format at the Berkman Center for Internet & Society at Harvard Law School. It was too long for me to recount or maybe even remember everything I said, but luckily you can watch the whole thing. It is available here in Real streaming format. Here's the blurb describing what was recorded:
There was plenty of point and counterpoint and people had strong opinions. To echo a point I think I remember making yesterday, this wouldn't be an important topic if people weren't obviously so passionate about it.
Update: Tim Bray has a short blog entry on his participation on the panel.[Read More]
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Via David Berlind, here is a link to an article that discusses the future use of DRM with documents. For those of you who have been tracking the OpenDocument conversations, I think this is important. I think a lot of people have today's model of document use in mind when they think about OpenDocument vs the proprietary document formats. If DRM is in or on documents, how will this intersect with the choice of document format? How about the availability of those documents on multiple platforms? Will I be able to open my document on a platform that is not "blessed" by the DRM provider? What if that provider controls both the document format and the DRM implementation?[Read More]
On a very occasional basis, I've been looking at software that will help you write music. I use Band-in-a-Box 2005" from time to time and that product does a lot more that just let you enter notation. You can really compose with it and play your pieces. If you are just interested in notation, you might want to check out the article "At the Sounding Edge: Music Notation Software For Linux". This is the first article in the series, and eventually (I believe), the author Dave Philips will consider MusicXML in detail. The license is in the Q&A:
The MusicXML DTD is available under a royalty-free license from Recordare. This license is modeled on those from the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C). If you follow the terms of the license, you do not need to pay anyone to use MusicXML in your products or research. Recordare has no patents issued or pending for the MusicXML DTD.Interesting world we live in.[Read More]
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But wait, there's even more "open" news from IBM today.
IBM Unveils New Apache Geronimo-Based Software and SupportCheck out these articles on the release of the new WebSphere Community Edition:
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Here are a couple of tidbits regarding OpenDocument:
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More later, but see the AP/Washington Post story:
As we've talked to folks about the OpenDocument Format and what it is and isn't, a few consistent "myths" keep coming up. Here is our attempt to move some of that discussion closer to reality.
Myth #1 - Mandating ODF is about choosing technology company winners and losers.
Reality: The decision to move to ODF is about citizens and governments winning.
ODF provides freedom of action, choice, flexibility and reliability. It's your document; do with the data what you want, now and forever. You win.
Myth #2 - Mandating ODF limits choice and locks-out vendors.
Reality: ODF is the only alternative that increases choice and prevents vendor lock-out.
Published fully and freely available for anyone to implement, ODF enables increased competition. Any company wishing to implement it can do so easily. Developed and approved by OASIS (on whose board IBM, Microsoft, Sun and others sit), in an open, inclusive and transparent process, ODF has no restrictions limiting its use in any software, be it customer unique code, a vendor product or open source.
Myth #3 - Migration to ODF is technically challenging.
Reality: Nothing in particular about ODF makes it technically challenging to implement.
Conversion to any new product or migration to a new product upgrade may present some technical challenges, largely in the area of training. For example, the research company Gartner published that "Office 12," the name for next year's update to Microsoft Office 2003 (which will use a new XML-based Microsoft proprietary document format), "will differ significantly from its current form," and concludes that migration may be rough for some users and the IT departments which support them. Moving to an ODF implementation involves the same, if not less, technical complexity, training and compatibility challenges than migrating to Office 12.
Myth #4 - Migration to ODF is costly.
Reality: As with any conversion, there will be initial costs associated with migration.
It is likely, though, that migration to an ODF-based product will be substantially less costly than alternatives in the long run as purchasers will have many more cost-competitive alternatives available to them and greater freedom of action in their use of their technology.
Myth #5 - ODF is a new and an unproven specification.
Reality: Based on technology that has been around since 1972, ODF is very well proven and highly reliable and it has evolved steadily in the marketplace.
The current specification will continue to evolve, supported by a broad community of interested parties in an open forum. Earlier versions of this XML-based specification have been in use for years in various products and open source projects. Microsoft's proposed Office Open XML-based format is not well understood nor is it available in any commercial product. It will apparently only be available in product, "Office 12," from one company sometime in 2006.
Myth #6 - Citizens will not be able to access government documents based on ODF.
Reality: Today, anyone can freely download OpenOffice and read, create, modify and save documents in ODF.
Currently, IBM, Sun, Novell, Red Hat, Koffice, Abiword and others offer or are developing implementations for the marketplace. Furthermore, the stance that the Commonwealth of Massachusetts and other governments around the world are taking on this issue is promoting development investment from vendors. Citizens will have many robust, flexible and interoperable alternatives available to them.
Myth #7 - Massachusetts is alone in its support for ODF.
Reality: While it is true that Massachusetts has taken a leadership position in adopting a policy to protect its sovereign control over its documents for the long term, the desirability of open document formats is well understood and has been discussed for many years in both the public administrations and in businesses.
Governmental departments in various countries such as France, Germany and Thailand are either already using ODF or are planning migrations in the near future. Other counties such as Norway have declared comprehensive openness policies that incorporate ODF that are planned to be implemented in the next couple of years. In addition, companies including IBM are implementing ODF in their own organizations.
Myth #8 - ODF is a security risk.
Reality: There is nothing distinct about ODF that makes it any more or less vulnerable to security risks, code manipulation and content access than any other format.
Security is an imperative and should be addressed through policy decisions on information sharing regardless of document format. Security exposures caused by programmatic extensions, such as the visual basic macros that can be imbedded in Microsoft Office documents, are well known. The many engineers working to enhance the ODF specification are also developing techniques to mitigate any security risk exposures that may exist.
Myth #9 - ODF stifles innovation and cannot keep apace with technology developments.
Reality: This assertion could not be further from the truth.
The open, collaborative process for ODF management ensures it will keep apace of change. The economics of an open freely available specification mean that any number of commercial and non-commercial entities can bring truly innovative functions to the market and can realistically pursue marginal niches of market opportunity. This much broader potential for innovation at a product level, combined with the open specification development process creates more potential to collaboratively innovate the specification itself. As innovation occurs and technology develops, ODF will evolve accordingly.
Myth #10 - The new XML based document format (Office Open XML) that the next release of Microsoft Office will introduce in 2006 is "open" or at least "open enough."
Reality: Microsoft's Office Open XML does not satisfy the criteria for openness defined by various governmental bodies.
Because of its proprietary nature, its intellectual property encumbrance, its restrictive licensing which limits the variety and types of usage, and its lack of an open and transparent process to evolve the specification, the Microsoft Office Open XML specification does not meet the standard of openness that governments require. It is not based on an open standard and fails the test defined by the four elements of openness:
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I'm going to use this blog entry as a collection point for stories and commentary about our new open standards initiative for healthcare and education. I'll update it periodically over the next day or so.
Today IBM is announcing a major initiative out of our healthcare and education practices that focuses on using open standards to drive growth, interoperability, and innovation. I'm going to spend a lot of time over the next days and weeks deconstructing what we are doing and why. Today I'm going to give you an outline of what we are doing and then, in a separate entry, keep track of some of the early press and web commentary.
Of all the so-called "vertical industries," problems in healthcare and education are especially poignant in that they affect us in very personal ways. We can think of this in extreme cases such as when emergency room doctors don't have the critical patient information they need to treat people quickly and accurately or when people in remote areas get put at a severe learning or career disadvantage because they don't have the educational resources they need to succeed. Even the simpler cases are annoying, such as having to fill out a form with your medical hisotory for what seems like the millionth time. I don't know about you, but I seem to keep forgetting things to include. In any case, asking me when I'm ill is not the time to get correct data. There are many reasons why such information and services might not be available, but there is one basic thing that is required: good "plumbing" to make sure that information, both structured and unstructured, enters the system accurately and then can get moved to where it needs to be in reliable, secure, and appropriately private ways.
Does this sound familiar? Haven't we and many people been talking about web services and, more generally, Services Oriented Architecture, for some time? Haven't we all spoken about how it will improve efficiency, flexibility, and maintainability of IT systems, including those that span enterprise boundaries? How about all this discussion around the OASIS OpenDocument Format? Isn't it as ridiculous to expect everyone in a federated healthcare system to use a proprietary document format as it is to expect everyone in a branch of government to do so? Is it permissible to allow even the smallest delay in patient care because someone cannot get information that is stored in a vendor-controlled manner? I don't think so. Electronic forms is another area that I think is really about ready to break through. We need to get standardized industry forms built on truly open, vendor-independent technology. This exists today, and it's called the XForms standard from the W3C.
So here's the deal. We have chosen about 20 working groups or technical committees in 6 established healthcare and educations standards organizations. These groups were all chosen because of the quality and importance of their past work as well as their potential relevance to the sort of thing I described above. So far, very little of that work has built on web services and certainly not on the larger suite of standards like WS-Security. So what we are announcing is fundamentally forward-looking: if these designated groups build their next generation of healthcare and education standards on web services, electronic forms, and open document standards, and they do so within rules of maintaining compatibility and interoperability, then IBM will not assert any of our patents on implementers of these new healthcare and education standards.
As I mentioned at the start, there is a formal document that lays all this out in appropriately legal language. It will be one of the things that I'll dissect in future entries, but I want to first see some stories and commentary on it. I think it is pretty straightforward, but I'm happy to discuss any questions people might have about it. I just don't want to guess ahead of time what those might be.
A few things I want to make clear now: we define "web services, electronic forms, and open document standards" by explicitly listing them. The legal language implies that if you are building a next generation education standard on web services and you need security features, then you need to use WS-Security, for example. The intent is to promote the use of these core underlying standards but also to establish the collection of them as a "framework" to use together when any one of them is applicable. The "covered standards" mentioned in the initiative description are the next generation ones to which this initiative applies. There aren't any covered standards right now (that's why I called them "next generation") but they will be added to the list when they meet the criteria. We've said that we'll update that list at least once a year, but we'll do it as frequently as it makes sense. It could be that our initial list of healthcare and education working groups for these new efforts is too small. We're glad to consider enlarging it, but the whole collection has to hang together in a consistent way. Finally, this is a global initiative, it is not specific to North America.
We hope this is "positively disruptive." We hope this drives a lot of discussion and analysis. We hope others join us. We've all hoped for a lot of improvements on the IT side of healthcare and education for a long time. We believe that this concrete action will help make some of these hopes become realities.[Read More]
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See the Reuters article "IBM workers to get online access to health records".[Read More]