GoogleIt Mail IT Print IT PermaLinkDave Kearns of NetworkWorld Lacks Logic
10:56:14 PM
Written By : Richard SchwartzCategory : IBM And Open Data Formats
Location : Nashua, NH

Today's RSS feeds brought an article by Dave Kearns called Massachusetts Open Doc moves lack logic. Now, as a Yankee fan and New Hampshire resident, I can't say that I completely blame the urge to bash the Bay State, but Kearns' article falls way short of being a decent bashing. In fact, it fails completely. I personally think that Massachusetts is on the right track to move away from closed formats, but that their not accepting Microsoft's new XML format as an alternative to OpenDocument is taking things too far. There's plenty of grounds for attacking that aspect of the decision as lacking logic, but that's not what Kearns does. Every attack he actually does make on Massachusetts' logic lacks logic itself!

Here are his key points:

Yep, the state is moving to ban Microsoft Word, Lotus Notes, Word Perfect...

You are aware, I hope, of what 1.0 means to an "open standards" body, right? It means, essentially, that it has started the process of identifying the area in which its members think they need to create a protocol or standard.

They may even have defined a few terms. But because everything could - and probably will - change by Version 2.0, no one in his right mind will implement it.
I can only guess that because there is a freely downloadable PDF reader available, the letter of the law's published intent is satisfied.

But, wait a minute! Microsoft also allows you to download (for free) readers for it's Office documents. Wouldn't that let Microsoft qualify, too? Well, yes, it should.
In more than 20 years of specifying and buying software applications and services, I can't recall one instance where the file formats made a scintilla of difference.

Let's take this point by point, starting with the fact that Kearns has one thing right. While many in the Lotus blogging community seem to be welcoming this move by the Commonwealth, Dave is right to point out that NSF does not comply. IBM has other products that do or will comply, but not Notes. And I agree with Mike Gotta's recent assessment, that it's those other products that seem like redundant legacy these days, not Notes and Domino.

But at this point I want to briefly digress and point out that in my zeal to suggest NSFXML to IBM, I have been overlooking what Kevin Cavanaugh said about the Massachusetts decision: "We don't think anyone will deep-six a Notes environment that's been incredibly productive for them. If our customers need a straightforward way to get to the [OpenDoc] format, we'll provide support for them." Way to go, Kevin! I hope it's something along the lines of what I've been talking about :-)

Now, on to Kearns' ridiculous assertion that no one in his right mind will implement OpenDocument because it is a 1.0 standard. From the OpenDocument FAQ Dave could have learned that OpenDocument is based on an existing format that is already implemented! Dave could also have seen that companies like IBM, Corel, Boeing, and Sony are active participants in OpenDocument, and it doesn't take much more searching to find out that Novell,, Stellent, and Sun have existing implementations, or that IBM has announced that they will soon ship OpenDocument compliant software with the 2.6 version of Workplace Managed Client. But in Dave Kearns' mind, apparently none of these companies are in their right mind.

Next, let's look at Kearns' assertion that the availability of readers for Office documents should put Office's file formats on a par with the status of PDF. Here's the download page for Microsoft's free viewer for Word. It works on three platoforms! Windows 2000, Windows 2003, and Windows XP. The Adobe Reader system requirements page, on the other hand lists Windows, Mac, Linux and Solaris for the current version, and previous versions have supported OS/2, AIX, HP/UX, and there are Windows and Mac programs that can sync PDF content to a Palm device. I'm not sure if the Office readers integrate into a browser the way the PDF reader does, but if so, I wonder if it integrates with Firefox, Opera, Safari... or just Internet Explorer? Whatever the answer to that, it's clear that the free Office readers do not come anywhere close to making Office file formast as universally accessible as PDF.

And finally, as to Kearns' assertion that he can't recall a single instance where the file formats made any difference in a software application or services buying decision. Ask any Lotus salesperson or business partner who dates back to the SmartSuite era how often they heard "Look, SmartSuite is what I want to go with, but everyone we do business with is using Office, and we need to be able to send and receive files. We can't be going through conversions, and we can't risk losing anything because of incompatabilities when SmartSuite reads or saves Office files." Or ask any Mac user why he or she suffered through some really horrible versions of Office for the Mac, and the answer will likely be, "I have a Mac because I'm the graphics guy, but the rest of the company is on Windows and they use Office and they use it to send me their content so I have to have it." It's not only the case that file formats do matter. Native support for file formats matters! Microsoft leveraged the fact that it matters in order to achieve their Office monopoly in the first place!

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Comments :v

1. Kerr10/04/2005 04:40:06 AM

"You are aware, I hope, of what 1.0 means to an "open standards" body, right? It means, essentially, that it has started the process of identifying the area in which its members think they need to create a protocol or standard."

Oh yes? Like http 1.0? No one implemented that! I'd say that often version 1 of on open standard is the result of a very extended consultation period with the supporters implementing draft proposals well before the final v1.0 spec is published.

This is similar to all the v0.x open source software that is around in beta guise for years before being shipped as v1.0.

In this case, as Richard mentioned, this is not even a brand new format, so a comparison with XHTML1.0 is pretty direct. No one implemented that either, oh no.

PDF is also a published format that anyone can go and implement. There is plenty of software that can read and write PDFs that have nothing to do with Adobe. The spec is not a true open standard because it's controlled by adobe, but it is published and you can go and implement it. If Microsoft where to publish the spec for Office formats that could be implemented by other people, then that would go along way to opening up the format.

From my personal point of view, no government held information should be kept in a format that isn't fully documented and implementable, licence free, be anybody.

However I have a dilemma with how .nsf fits in with this. I have never really seen .nsf as a file format in the same since as .doc or .jpg. I've always viewed it more as a data store in the same vein as the file system representation of relational database tables.

This opens a different angle on the discussion. If you mandate that the file format for your documents must be open (to whatever degree) then do you also have to mandate that the store for the document is also open. And in that context, what is open?


2. Alan Bell10/04/2005 05:50:56 AM

perhaps more to the point than NSFXML would be NRPCXML. NRPC, the port 1352 protocol is documented to an extent I believe, but it is not something I would enjoy writing an alternative client or server to chat over. If NRPC had a documented XML based equivalent then it would be possible to have alternative clients and servers participating in a Notes network. Each one can have their own On Disk Structure, NSF, DB2 or XML. It would be better for IBM to open it up and be the market leader in a growth market, than to be a shrinking monopoly in a market that does not like monopolies.

3. Josef10/04/2005 07:59:09 AM


hope that IBM resurrects SmartSuite! Now with OpenDocument it would make sense.
I remember Lotus WordPro being one of the best wordprocessors around before it (sort of) died.

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