Subject: Re: Mass. Bill to Block OpenDocument Format Standard
From: "Stephen J. Turnbull" <stephen@xemacs.org>
Date: Wed, 09 Nov 2005 10:37:39 +0900

>>>>> "g" == DV Henkel-Wallace <gumby@henkel-wallace.org> writes:

    g> C'mon.  Once you've decided to use these office packages, you
    g> almost always get a significant benefit from using the dominant
    g> standard: file interchange, lower training cost and opportunity
    g> for third-party integration.

Sure.  Who denied that?  MS Office is _way_ better than nothing, but
its "killer feature" is Warhollian[1]---it's popular because, well,
because it's popular.  In my own shop, any proposal to move away from
Office apps is shouted down because of the network externalities, but
the same shouters regularly ask _me_ how to accomplish some task that
Office sucks at.  (It used to be daily but after 10 years of saying "I
don't do Windows" people seem to be getting the point.)  Nobody here
_likes_ Office, and they're all looking for better ways to do a few
tasks that matter to them.  But they know that moving away from Office
as a whole will produce a University-sized "Alka-Seltzer moment".

But hey, who are these third parties?  We want them to be _us_!  One
answer is to make it possible to integrate apps that do a few things
_well_.  The point is to drive a hole through the dike.  I don't expect
the whales to come swimming through immediately, but the hole will get
bigger as the water flows through.  And a sufficiently agile minnow
may be able to make a nice living.

    g> Essentially second sourcing matters in a monopsony (or
    g> small-number-of-buyers) situation.  On an engineering basis,
    g> second sourcing from time immemorial only mattered to the OEMs
    g> and sometimes governments.  It is of little interest for the
    g> end user, and never really has been.

But we _are_ talking about a government, here!

    g> OK, we do have a big customer saying that interoperation
    g> matters, but if and when MS fails in ejecting the OpenDocument
    g> requirement, their next fallback is to support
    g> OpenDocument...and then all the MA offices will buy Word and
    g> will "accidentally" keep exchanging .DOC and .XLS files.

Good for them!  Internal documents are internal documents, and I want
my tax dollars used effectively.  If that means internal documents are
processed in Word, Amen, brothers! process them in Word.

But they'll get "administrative reprimands" if the documents facing
the Web aren't OpenDocument.  They'll get very bad press if the
OpenDocument doc that Word produce takes 20 minutes to download on a
cellphone because it brings 5MB of xmlns:com.microsoft.crap with it.
Self-interested office chiefs will request, and sometimes get, extra
budget for IT staff to convert .doc-encrypted data into useful (well,
conformant) documents.  Office politicians will undermine their rivals
with "the presentation was late because she didn't send the docs in
OpenDocument."  All that gives the minnows a shot at a narrowly
focused "app-that-gets-your-users-laid-(or-at-least-reduces-tax-bite)"
without the expense of offering a full-featured office suite.

Sure, maybe it won't work out so neatly.  Yes, we do need to come up
with those GYUL apps.  My point is that a reasonable open standard
provides points of contact for _many small_ GYUL apps.  (And if that
doesn't work, somebody can take Ted Kennedy out to lunch.)

What does this do for Red Hat and SuSE?  Not all that much, directly.
However, they can take advantage of the minnows' work at least as
easily as Microsoft can, and they can place much smaller bets.  We
really want to get out of a world where Bill Gates can say: "I see
your applet, and raise ... your company."  "Excuse me, Mr. Gates, but
you're not allowed to bet more than $10 million at this table." :-)

    g> Also, many of these systems have an estimated life of 3 years
    g> or less so as long as they don't have to make a discontinuous
    g> shift companies don't fear lock in as much as we might like to
    g> think.

I'm an economist by religion: I don't want to think they fear lock-in
at all.  I believe they plan for it (or they end up in no position to
make any plans at all. RIP)

    g> So clunkiness or whatever _just don't matter to most people_.

Hey!  That's my line!


Footnotes: 
[1]  Andy Warhol once remarked that a celebrity is a person who is
famous for being famous.

-- 
School of Systems and Information Engineering http://turnbull.sk.tsukuba.ac.jp
University of Tsukuba                    Tennodai 1-1-1 Tsukuba 305-8573 JAPAN
               Ask not how you can "do" free software business;
              ask what your business can "do for" free software.