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Once More unto the Breach

Stephen Walli has a blog, Once More unto the Breach. He writes mainly about open standards/open source, with a solid business/legal angle. He also has hands-on experience with standards development in the IEEE and ISO with POSIX, and an interesting perspective from his broad experience in the industry, including working with standards and community development issues at Microsoft.

Since his blog’s title, like mine, is from Shakespeare, and he occasionally writes about ODF, I am doubly obliged to give a mention.

Looking at the posts tagged ODF, there is some good stuff. In Vendor-Speak: Microsoft and OOXML, he takes a close reading of some of the recent statements from Microsoft on standards and choice, a long-time confusion of terms that I had previously called a language game. Walli points out:

…Standards happen when a technology space matures to the point that customers are over-served and want choice to encourage competition. Customers complaining about price is the market signal. Competitors know they can collectively chase the incumbent vendor with a standard at this point, if they pick the right level of collective abstraction to standardize. This is how standards work in the marketplace. (I would hope the GM for standards at Microsoft knew this.)

A sympathy play isn’t going to work here. Customers WANT the standard that encourages multiple implementations. True Microsoft support for ODF in their Office product suite would have been listening to customers. Complaining that the marketplace is competitive while shoving your own product specification through a standards forum is naive at best and arrogant in the extreme at worst.

Another good post, is How Microsoft Should Have Played the ODF Standards Game:

The interesting thing is to look back on the number of times a vendor with a single implementation tried to win playing an overlapping standards game. Looking at the UNIX wars I remember three occasions off the top of my head where this was tried over a long period.

  • “tar wars” over archiving formats.
  • The GUI Wars where OSF/Motif and Sun’s GUI toolkit battled it out.
  • The sockets versus streams debate.

In each case, we ended up with two standards being forced upon us. In each case, the dominant technology that won in the marketplace was the one with the most implementations, with the other withering on the vine. Even when both specifications became required for an implementation to claim conformance to the single standard that included them, customers in the market used the specification which was most widely implemented every time.

Microsoft chose the wrong strategy here on multiple levels, betting against customers and the market in general. It may buy a bit of time, but will ultimately cost them more in the long run.

This is a theme that Walli repeats in several of his blog posts — the standard with the most implementations wins.

So a hearty recommendation for Once More unto the Breach, a blog that deserves a slot in your feed aggregator.

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