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Why Open Standards Matter 158

Tina Gasperson over at Newsforge (Also owned by VA Software) has an interesting writeup about her experience at the Government Day sub-conference at LinuxWorld Boston. Government Day addressed some interesting issues including some of the more tangible reasons behind supporting open standards. From the article: "Speaking to the audience of government workers, Villa said, 'Maybe 2006 is not the year that Linux ends up on your desktops.' But, he encouraged them, if they begin using software that supports open standards now, such as Firefox and, then when Linux is ready it will be that much easier to make a switch. 'And maybe you'll decide not to make that switch,' Villa said. 'But at least the choice will be yours.'"
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Why Open Standards Matter

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  • why it takes time... (Score:4, Interesting)

    by joe 155 ( 937621 ) on Monday April 10, 2006 @06:33AM (#15098113) Journal
    It is always going to be hard to get people to start using linux on their home computers, people like what they know... I've been using windows since 3.1 and the change to linux is certainly taking a long time and small steps is what is on order... in a government/business sense linux would be easier to adopt... when you're at work you don't need to install things (the one thing I think windows makes so much easier than linux) as the IT dept can handle that the same is true of installing hardware... for home computers though, well, it would be easier to adopt if I had friends who also used and so we could help each other and figure things out...
  • by MichaelSmith ( 789609 ) on Monday April 10, 2006 @06:41AM (#15098129) Homepage Journal
    If you want to describe the importance to a non-techie audience, the best idea is to use the simile of describing closed formats like betamax

    Imagine if you had to go to the maker of your car for servicing no matter how old it gets, and independent mechanics could not exist.

  • Re:Starts with DRM (Score:2, Interesting)

    by babbling ( 952366 ) on Monday April 10, 2006 @07:00AM (#15098168)
    If Apple were more daring, they could sell as many iTunes songs as they could between now and the release of Vista, and then not release an iTunes client for Vista. Since there is a good chance the current version of iTunes won't work on the final version of Vista, people would be forced to either give up their library of songs from iTunes, or upgrade from WinXP to OSX rather than Vista.

    Of course, Apple won't do this because it is better for them (for the time being) to have people locked into iPods rather than risking people actually giving up their library of iTunes music by making it not supported in Vista.
  • Nope! (Score:5, Interesting)

    by babbling ( 952366 ) on Monday April 10, 2006 @07:02AM (#15098173)
    No. Ordinary people still won't care, no matter which way you explain it to them. The only example they will understand is when they get burnt by it, and even then most of them probably won't realise why things are so difficult, or that they could be easier.
  • by CRCulver ( 715279 ) <> on Monday April 10, 2006 @07:08AM (#15098182) Homepage

    I once had a standards seminar where soemone made the interresing remark that open standards only matter to companies that are behind in marketshare. Once a company is dominant they want closed standards.

    Perhaps that can be true, but I'm inclined to think that this is no longer so sure now that ESR's thoughts in The Cathedral and the Bazaar [] have spread throughout the IT world. The more a company supports "open" ideas, such as open standards and open source, the more support it will get from the open source developer community. When a company is supported by open source developers, they can get a lot of unpaid labour that can push their products ahead of the crowd. Sure, certain licenses may require that the developers' contributions be available to all, but by the time competing companies implement the ideas, the first company should already have some new advantage.

    If corporations want to profit from this community spirit, then they need to avoid pissing off their labour force, and so supporting open standards is a good idea.

  • Open Standards (Score:5, Interesting)

    by dueyfinster ( 872608 ) on Monday April 10, 2006 @07:17AM (#15098199) Homepage
    My uncle is so non-technical, he struggles to play solitare, but I managed to get Ubuntu on to his machine, and he uses it occassionly..........for solitare.......ah well Anyway moral of the story is that I explained Open Source to him using his work: "Hey Tommy I want to tell you about Open Source, Ubuntu and why Microsoft is wrong" First I told him about Mass. Debacle.......he started to lose interest...... Then I started "Think of it as fittings, what if everyone used different ones, it would be impossible to have the right tool (He is a welder/fitter)" Then he totally got it, and went on ranting about how Americans don't use the biggest standard of them all (Metric System, that is) and why Microsoft are no differet......
  • You missed one... (Score:4, Interesting)

    by PinkyDead ( 862370 ) on Monday April 10, 2006 @07:28AM (#15098221) Journal
    You're right, of course about personal usage and business usage.

    But another hugely significant factor is Government/Public Sector usage. Most Governments see themselves as in it for the long term - maybe not in the form of the current administration, or even the current socioeconomic model - however, even through major changes the survival of the information is paramount. Even to the extent of a ridiculous waste of resources.

    To this end, they will probably see (e.g.) Microsoft as a threat to their knowledge base - envisioning that their bureaucratic empires will long see off the demise of such structures (they have a point, as most bureaucracies are far older than any other organisation currently in existance). For this reason we are seeing more and more public sector organisations leaning towards open standards (the most prominent example of late being Massachusetts).

    It is worth remembering the importance of public sector contracts to the world's economies - they have a lot of influence.

  • Re:Nope! (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday April 10, 2006 @08:24AM (#15098347)
    Imho you are wrong.

    When I studied computer science in the late 1980s, as a teenager I naively *assumed* that the world ran on open standards.
    What other kind of standards are there after all? If it's not published it's not a standard. I spent many months learning the (then) relatively new OSI model, soaking up IEEE papers on how ethernet and RS232 worked. All that seemed perfectly normal to me. The very definition of a general purpose computing and communication device almost *must* be based on open published standards or nothing will interoperate. Everything seemed like it was converging towards the sensible and neccessary state of affairs - the C language had replaced having to learn multitude assembly languages and so on....

    Then cue Microsoft....

    I don't hate Microsoft because of their politics, or because of their shoddy products. I hate them because they offend
    my sensibilities as a computer scientist and programmer. In my opinion MS have set back computing a decade.
    They have implemented a deliberate policy of standards breaking, lock out/in, reinventing wheels and creating intentional obsolescence. They have broken every rule I learned as as a CS grad.

    When I talk to regular Joes about this, and explain the simple real reason why programmers hate MS, that it's nothing to do with bitterness at Bill gates or even the huge market share they have, or their political manipulations, but rather that it's because they break standards, and people understand in an instant.

    I don't think people "don't care". Most people are like I was as the naive teenager - they *expect* things to work together. After all what would be the point of creating an incompatible product?

    When you explain to people why Microsoft suck don't get drawn into the business and ethics debates. Don't mention the spyware and dubious politics, it just makes you seem like a kook. Focus on explaining how and why they deliberately break international standards.
  • by ajs318 ( 655362 ) <sd_resp2.earthshod@co@uk> on Monday April 10, 2006 @08:32AM (#15098369)
    Open Standards do not matter at all to the vast majority of people.

    Many people, and many businesses, are committing their entire lives to digital storage under a plethora of proprietary, closed standards. One by one, the suppliers who created these standards will cease to exist -- companies will go out of business, or be bought up and asset-stripped.

    What does this mean? The photos you took of your children growing up won't be viewable on modern equipment. None of the recordings of the band you played in when you were younger will be listenable. Business letters written just a few years ago won't be readable.

    But a generation from now, nobody will even remember that Open Standards ever existed. Everything will be locked up behind proprietary standards, jealously-guarded secrets. If you're allowed to program your own computer at all, you'll be severely restricted in what you can do with it.

    And nobody will care. The problem will be thought of as "just one of the unforeseen hazards of trusting electronics", and lived with. By that stage we will already have draconian DRM in documents, and in most cases it will be so badly misconfigured that there will be no cut-and-paste; an operator will end up having to use two computers and two monitors, retyping information from one screen onto the other. All this will just be thought of as the way the world naturally works.
  • by morgdx ( 688154 ) on Monday April 10, 2006 @09:04AM (#15098467) Homepage
    The more people who take that stance, the less attachments they'll receive.
  • Re:Nope! (Score:2, Interesting)

    by ajs318 ( 655362 ) <sd_resp2.earthshod@co@uk> on Monday April 10, 2006 @09:12AM (#15098493)
    People of a certain mindset expect things to work together. People of other mindsets do not.

    Mass is a property shared by all matter. But people weigh themselves in stones, their babies in pounds, loose produce by asking for pounds or ounces and getting an equivalent amount in grammes, and buy pre-packed goods weighed in [kilo]grammes. It never occurs to them to think that they could weigh everything in kilogrammes and be able to compare their own mass to their baby or a bag of cement or a tub of coleslaw or half a dozen bananas.

    So it goes with audio equipment. Up to the 1970s, almost everything with a loudspeaker in it had a 5-pin DIN socket to connect something else to use its amplifier; if it was a tape recorder, the input pins would have been wired up too, so you could record other things onto tape. By the 1980s, these connectors -- much used by a tiny minority and ignored by nearly everyone else -- were disappearing. When I modified a radio-cassette plater to connect up a portable CD player to it, people asked my why I had done it ..... my attitude was "why not?" {It was also significantly cheaper, and less wasteful, than buying a new radio/cassette/CD player. There was nothing wrong with either appliance -- apart from the radio's unwillingness to accept an external signal.}

    Big Business doesn't like interoperability. Big Business wants you to ditch all your old kit whenever something new comes along. Do you think every TV set, VCR, satellite receiver and DVD player would have a SCART socket -- an international standard -- if it wasn't mandated by law? Manufacturers are really galled by the prospect that you can keep one bit of equipment when you replace another.

    Lack of interoperability, in other words vendor lock-in, is what keeps software vendors going. And there is going to be tremendous resistance to change.
  • by RussP ( 247375 ) on Monday April 10, 2006 @09:27AM (#15098542) Homepage
    I work for the federal govt, and I recently received a notice from my organization stating that, for security reasons, only certain "standard" applications will be allowed. MS Office is one of them

    I don't have the memo handy, but if I recall, it applied only to PCs and Macs. I'm not sure if "PC" means a "Windows PC" or if it also includes Linux PCs. So that may or may not leave the door open to OpenOffice (or other ODF-based suites) for Linux at least.

    In any case, this mandate really burns me. Just when the world may be ready to start abandoning the MS monopoly, my organization is trying to reinforce it for "security" reasons.

    The other thing that gets me is that if I protest, most of my colleagues will think I just have some sort of quirky, neurotic aversion to MS because Bill Gates is "too rich" or something. You'd be amazed how many otherwise well-informed technical people out there are truly clueless about the standards war going on.
  • by mspohr ( 589790 ) on Monday April 10, 2006 @10:30AM (#15098772)
    " install things (the one thing I think windows makes so much easier than linux)"

    This is an old troll that is getting tiresome.

    Last time I had to install Windows (a few months ago when my daughter's laptop was overrun with spyware, etc.), it took more than a day to install XP, update and patch it, install firewall, virus scanner (and update them), then install MS Office (and update and patch it), plus other software that she used.

    Last time I installed Linux, it was also on a laptop (Ubuntu on an IBM) and the full install took less than an hour with the latest updates and the install included full Office suites, graphics, AV software, etc... (more software that I could ever buy for a Windows machine). Absolutey no problems recognizing and installing drivers for the laptop hardware (and my WiFi card was plug and play... it "Just Worked (TM)".

    The only excuse for not switching to Linux is just plain laziness... losing that competitive edge?

  • by ajs318 ( 655362 ) <sd_resp2.earthshod@co@uk> on Monday April 10, 2006 @12:21PM (#15099342)
    That's why nearly everyone is going to Microsoft. It's one company with lots and lots of money that will **never** go out of business (just how many $B in the bank do they have now?)
    In a No Limit Poker game, once one player has more money than all the others put together, they are -- barring extraordinarily bad play -- mathematically certain to walk away with every chip on the table. That's the position Microsoft are in now.
    So far, DRM will only lock [the ordinary user] out of some music and movies. At this point in time, this is more of a PITA than a real problem. So far, his photos, documents, and personal recordings are transportable, exportable, and not locked out (in his opinion -- he has not seen the fine print in the licenses for the formats, the restrictions, etc.).
    So far, yes. But DRM is coming to Office. It inevitably will end up affecting home users, possibly in ways you cannot imagine now.
    Only when DRM bites him in the butt will he take notice (like the new CD that he could not play on his computer or the Sony CD that caused him to take his computer to Geek Squad and pay $100 to fix it).
    And he probably will still think this is "just something that happens", as much a part of owning a computer as having to plug it into the mains. All that will come about from cases like this, if anything, is that audio discs in future will be labelled with "DO NOT INSERT THIS DISC INTO A COMPUTER" or somesuch. From Sony's point of view, it's a clear cheese-sandwich-in-the-VCR situation.
    Government is different. Their documents need to be available forever. Their documents belong to the people, not some creation called "the Government" (at least here in the US where the Government is for the people, by the people, etc.). The issue is about free and open access to those Government documents. It is about data retention and the ability to read those documents in 10 years, 100 years, 1000 years.
    I don't think even governments are bothered enough. We may pay their wages {or get carted off to prison if we don't -- but hey, at least in prison you can still light up}, but that doesn't mean much to them.

    If and when government documents become unreadable, the issue in all probabilty will just be shrugged off. Non-computer-owners are "Luddites" {or too cheap to buy a computer or too poor for a government to want to be bothered with}; computer owners who use alternatives to Windows are "Freaks" {or too cheap to buy "proper" software}.

    By the time we reach the point where the problem is impacting severely on governments' ability to serve the people, it will be too late. Government officials probably will not even realise that there is a problem, or that there might have been a better way to do things all along. And if they do, they won't dare admit to it .....
  • Re:author mistaken? (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Fanboy Troy ( 957025 ) on Monday April 10, 2006 @02:19PM (#15100030)
    You can indeed make a GPL application that will play WMV files. You can use DirectShow to access all the installed codecs in a Windows environment. The decoder is already there, you're just using it.

    Yes, if you utilize the decoder that ships with windows. The licensing cost of the decoder is integrated in the windows license. If I'm developing a windows only app, I'm ok. But what happens when I want to port the application to linux or any non microsoft OS? I'll have to make use of patented technology. Not a problem if i'm willing to pay the fee. But how is that 'open'? []

    Let alone the wmv format is popular because of it being tied with windows. That being said, it is a good format IMHO. But the lack of choice, I believe, is obvious...

Thus spake the master programmer: "Time for you to leave." -- Geoffrey James, "The Tao of Programming"