Wikipedia changes its license

(via David A. Wheeler) The proposed change that the copyright licensing terms on the wikis operated by the WMF – including Wikipedia, be changed to include the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike (CC-BY-SA) license in addition to the current GNU Free Documentation License (GFDL) has been approved. From the official results:

If “no opinion” votes are not included, the Yes/No percentage becomes 87.9%/12.1% (15071 votes).

This impacts us at LQ due to its implications to the LQ Wiki. We recognized the desire to license content CC-BY-SA some time ago and added that as an additional option as a result. With this Wikipedia change it’s likely we’ll do the research needed to offer the same dual licensing option that the WMF now offers. Stay tuned.

–jeremy

ISO puts standard for Microsoft's OOXML document formats on hold

From Heise:

After member states filed four complaints against the standardisation of Microsoft’s Office Open XML (OOXML) document format, the International Standards Organisation (ISO) and the International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC) in Geneva have responded by postponing publication of the revised specification. As the ISO announced, the planned ISO/IEC DIS 29500 cannot be published until these complaints have been heard. Procedure requires that they be dealt with by the end of June, when the ISO and IEC have to hand over their comments on the complaints to two management committees for a final decision.

Brazil, India, South Africa, and Venezuela have officially filed complaints against the controversial certification of OOXML in expedited proceedings in Geneva. These emerging nations are concerned that no consensus was reached about which changes need to be made to the specification, which is more than 6000 pages long, during consultation on the numerous comments submitted at the end of February, after the first attempt to adopt OOXML as a standard failed in 2007. Specifically, they complained that concrete technical objections were not individually discussed .

The official press release:

Four national standards body members of ISO and IEC – Brazil, India, South Africa and Venezuela – have submitted appeals against the recent approval of ISO/IEC DIS 29500, Information technology – Office Open XML formats, as an ISO/IEC International Standard.

In accordance with the ISO/IEC rules governing the work of their joint technical committee ISO/IEC JTC 1, Information technology, the appeals are currently being considered by the ISO Secretary-General and the IEC General Secretary who, within a period of 30 days (to the end of June), and following whatever consultations they judge appropriate, are required to submit the appeals, with their comments, to the ISO Technical Management Board and the IEC Standardization Management Board.

The two management boards will then decide whether the appeals should be further processed or not. If they decide in favour of proceeding, the chairmen of the two boards are required to establish a conciliation panel which will attempt to resolve the appeals. The process could take several months.

According to the ISO/IEC rules, a document which is the subject of an appeal cannot be published as an ISO/IEC International Standard while the appeal is going on. Therefore, the decision to publish or not ISO/IEC DIS 29500 as an ISO/IEC International Standard cannot be taken until the outcome of the appeals is known.

It should be noted that this is not a directional change for the ISO. Their rules dictate that they have to postpone publishing the standard if any official appeals are made. Considering many of the countries originally filed comments that weren’t addressed, it’s very possible the ISO will decide not to process the appeals.

–jeremy

As the ODF-OOXML world turns

I’m a bit behind on this, but it’s a topic I’ve been covering for a while now so I wanted to follow up. First, from the the 451 group:

Oh the drama. Most of us knew ISO approval of Microsoft’s OOXML format was not the end, but more of a beginning in the ongoing fight for the future’s file format. Any doubts of that were put to rest this week with a flurry of activity around OOXML’s approval, ODF adoption, Microsoft’s support and the stance of U.S. states and other governments.

Much of it started with Microsoft’s announcement that it would expand its Office 2007 format support, including ODF. The move, which means Office 2007 users will be able to set ODF as their default file format, is further evidence of changes at Microsoft and the need to support multiple formats and interoperability. However, it still drew criticism from a number of ODF proponents/OOXML opponents, whose concerns include the typical Microsoft skepticism, but also center on the software giant’s OOXML approval campaign and previous statements downplaying the market for ODF.

We also saw further objection to ISO’s OOXML approval, primarily an appeal from South Africa. As format expert and saga watcher Andy Updegrove points out here, the appeal centers on the approval process and also on the ‘business basis’ for OOXML’s fast-track approval. Despite that relatively rapid approval, Updegrove points out that, ironically, Microsoft Office users will not have the opportunity to use the file format until Microsoft’s coming Office 14, expected in 2010 at the earliest.

Microsoft credited customer and government demand for its new found ODF love, but we also saw indications it may also involve difficulties in backward compatibility with OOXML. As ZDNet’s Tom Espiner points out, ‘The company now says OOXML support would require substantially more work.’ This comes as no surprise to many open source software users who have come to the same conclusion over the years. In fact, the inability of Microsoft to support different versions of its own Office and format software has fueled many OpenOffice.org downloads over the last few years, including my own.

Still, customer demand as the reasoning behind Microsoft’s ODF support was reinforced by yet another development in the ongoing format saga: findings from the State of New York. While the state’s officials indicated it would be a mistake to name ODF or OOXML as the standard of choice, New York’s format wonks did indicate that openness is the path to the future. That does not necessarily mean ODF, but it certainly makes it more likely given the controversy, uncertainty and drama still surrounding OOXML.

Since that post, Brazil and India have also decided to appeal. The deadline to appeal has now passed. The India post by Andy contains some good “what comes next” information for those that are interested. The appeals all have some items in common, but each also has points made only by that country. It’s clear that Microsoft did some very shady things during this process. It’s a sad indication that the company is still not willing to compete on the merits of its products on the one hand. On the other hand, they recently announced that Office 2007 would support ODF but not OOXML:

Microsoft today announced that it would update Office 2007 to natively support ODF 1.1, but not to implement its own OOXML format. Moreover, it would also join both the OASIS working group as well as the ISO/IEC JTC1 working group that has control of the ISO/IEC version of ODF. Implementation of DIS 29500, the ISO/IEC JTC 1 version of OOXML that has still not been publicly released will await the release of Office 14, the ship date of which remains unannounced.

So they fast track an office format while a competing one already exists, push it through the approval process using tactics that are questionable at best and then decide to only implement the competing standard in the current shipping product. You couldn’t make this stuff up. It’s clear that the internal battle within Microsoft is still raging. Part of the company really want to change, but part of it really doesn’t. It remains to be seen which side will prevail, but it’s not difficult to see why many in the Open Source community remain wary.

–jeremy

Microsoft Makes Strategic Changes in Technology and Business Practices to Expand Interoperability

A little late on this, but better late than never. By now, you’ve probably heard about the Microsoft press release regarding “New interoperability principles and actions”:

Microsoft Corp. today announced a set of broad-reaching changes to its technology and business practices to increase the openness of its products and drive greater interoperability, opportunity and choice for developers, partners, customers and competitors.

Specifically, Microsoft is implementing four new interoperability principles and corresponding actions across its high-volume business products: (1) ensuring open connections; (2) promoting data portability; (3) enhancing support for industry standards; and (4) fostering more open engagement with customers and the industry, including open source communities.

“These steps represent an important step and significant change in how we share information about our products and technologies,” said Microsoft chief executive officer Steve Ballmer. “For the past 33 years, we have shared a lot of information with hundreds of thousands of partners around the world and helped build the industry, but today’s announcement represents a significant expansion toward even greater transparency. Our goal is to promote greater interoperability, opportunity and choice for customers and developers throughout the industry by making our products more open and by sharing even more information about our technologies.”

As you may have guessed, the blogosphere was abuzz with activity shortly after the announcement. First, let’s start with the basics. The products covered in this announcement are: Windows Vista (including the .NET Framework), Windows Server 2008, SQL Server 2008, Office 2007, Exchange Server 2007, and Office SharePoint Server 2007, and future versions of all these products. The key promises are: “Ensuring open connections to Microsoft’s high-volume products”, “Documenting how Microsoft supports industry standards and extensions”, “Enhancing Office 2007 to provide greater flexibility of document formats”, “Launching the Open Source Interoperability Initiative” and “Expanding industry outreach and dialogue”. While I see the word Open Source being used quite a bit in conjunction with this release, I see very little reason why. This is about API and protocol access for the most part. This will certainly help Open Source developers, but it isn’t Microsoft actually opening any code (or even changing their stance on Open Source from what I can tell).

Let me say that this could be the beginning of a fairly major shift for Microsoft, a change that most feel is long overdue. As usual though, the devil is in the details. Is this announcement fluff or substance? The first major hole I see is that the “covenant not to sue open source developers”, along with some other pieces, only pertain to “non-commercial” distribution/implementation. This makes room for a lot of gray area on how you define commercial use. Also, from what I can tell, the patent provision terms discussed in the announcement are not compatible with most Open Source licenses. That being said, it’s also a far cry from Microsoft calling Linux a cancer, so it’s certainly a step in the right direction. The real driver here, however, is almost certainly customer demand and a landscape that is shifting underneath the feet of Microsoft. I think the 451 group puts it well:

“Nudged by the European Union’s Court of First Instance, but more likely the result of a hard look at market dynamics and the competition, Microsoft has opened up its APIs and pledged to work more openly with the rest of the industry, including the open source community, on interoperability and standards issues. It’s an acknowledgment that in today’s world, many more flowers bloom when platform companies make their APIs completely open for developers to write to, a la Google and MSFT’s recent investee, Facebook. This is yet another thing Google has taught the largest software company in the world. It appears on the face of it that Microsoft now intends to live by the merit of its products, rather than rely on lock-in.

“As a result, developers should gain the potential to tie applications more closely into Microsoft’s Windows, SQL Server, Office and Exchange Server products with greater flexibility and innovation, perhaps through self-sustaining developer communities. SharePoint could also benefit from a platform approach, becoming a de facto central application for large segments of the market. And Microsoft is aiming to make open source applications run as well on Windows as they do on Linux, enabling it to continue competing against Linux while at the same time accepting and working to support open source projects.”

As it stands, whether this is a major announcement or a marketing fluff piece will become apparent in the coming months (and years). As real news comes forth, I’ll certainly be following it and will post updates. In the meantime, here is some additional reading:

Mary Jo Foley
Response from Red Hat
Groklaw
Bill Hilf
Andy Updegrove

One final note. I think one thing is absolutely clear. If this is to be the beginning of real change for MSFT, Ballmer has to go. I’ve said that before and I stand by it. It will not be possible for them to change with him in charge. Don’t think so? During all the talk of openness from Microsoft during this announcement, I leave you with his words from the press conference:

BRAD SMITH: With respect to other (commercial) distributors, and users, the clear message is that patent licenses will be freely available.

STEVE BALLMER: Patents will be, not freely, will be available.

BRAD SMITH: Readily available.

STEVE BALLMER: Readily available for the right fee.

–jeremy

OOXML Payback Time as Global Standards Work in SC 34 "Grinds to a Halt"

A couple weeks ago, Andy posted about the current problems the SC 34 was having as a result of the sudden surge in “P” members. From the post:

One of the more egregious behaviors observed in the recent vote on OOXML was the sudden and last minute surge to join not only various National Bodies just before they voted on OOXML, but also the relevant committee of ISO/IEC for the same purpose. At the latter level, not one but two unusual membership changes occurred. During the voting period, more and more countries joined SC 34, the committee within ISO/IEC’s Joint Technical Committee 1 (JTC1) that addresses document formats, at the Observer (O) level. Then, in the final weeks and days before the voting closed, many of these new members as well as many longer term members suddenly upgraded their status to Principal ((P) membership, thereby gaining greater influence in the final vote under the complex rules under which the committee operates (those rules are described in detail here).

SC 34 is one of the more important and active committees in JTC1, and has a constant stream of standards under active consideration and balloting. In anticipation of the OOXML vote, its membership surged – with 23 new National Body members, and the number of P members spiking by 11. When almost all of the new members voted for adoption (most of those countries that were long term members voted against adoption, with comments), many felt that the standard setting process had been abused.

But unfortunately, the damage has not stopped there: since the OOXML ballot closed on September 2, not a single ballot has received enough votes to count in this important committee. Why? Because the last minute arrivals to SC 34 are not bothering to vote.

The resulting gridlock of this committee was as predictable as it is unfortunate. The extraordinarily large number of upgrades in the final months, and particularly in the final days, therefore seemed attributable not to an abiding investment and interest in the work of SC 34, but in the outcome of a single standards vote. That conclusion is now certain, given the voting performance of the upgraded members since they cast their votes on OOXML.

The end result of this is that things have “ground to a halt.”, in the words of the Secretariat Manager. A couple days ago, Andy took a closer look at the numbers:

The problem with SC 34, then, isn’t whether those that voted against OOXML (old and new) are failing to vote as much as those (old and new) that voted for it, but whether the new P upgrades are voting at all. It’s also instructive to look at how those same upgrades voted on OOXML. As you’d expect, what you see is not that long-term P members have suddenly quit voting, but that the influx of a large number of new, non-voting P members simply changes the math.

When we look at the data from this perspective, we see a very different picture. Here’s how the eleven countries that upgraded from O to P membership in the months (and often just days) before the OOXML voting period closed on OOXML, and also whether or not they voted in the more recent ballot (all data is from Rick’s analysis of the voting record):

Upgrades that voted to adopt OOXML and didn’t vote later: 7
(Côte d’Ivoire, Cyprus, Lebanon, Malta, Pakistan, Turkey, Venezuela)

Upgrades that abstained on OOXML and didn’t vote later: 1
(Trinidad and Tobago)

Upgrades that voted against OOXML and didn’t vote later: 0

[Rick doesn't mention the other three upgrades, so I assume that they did in fact vote on the ballot he examined. They, and their votes on OOXML, were as follows: Ecuador (disapprove), Jamaica (approve) and Uruguay (approve, with comments)]

That tells a rather different tale, doesn’t it? In fact, 7 out of 8 upgrades that voted “yes” without comments didn’t vote, while the only upgrade that voted against OOXML apparently did participate in the ballot Rick selected for examination. An abstention, by the way, is a next best thing to an approval vote under the complex ISO/IEC rules.

It’s a bit disconcerting, although as Andy mentions entirely predictable, that this kind of thing can happen. The fact that companies play these games when they have little chance of hiding the repercussions show you how out of hand some things have gotten. In this case, there may be a remedy though. From the ISO rules:

1.7.4
A technical committee or subcommittee secretariat shall notify the Chief Executive Officer if a P-member of that technical committee or subcommittee
• has been persistently inactive and has failed to make a contribution to 2 consecutive
meetings, either by direct participation or by correspondence,
• or has failed to vote on questions submitted for voting within the technical committee or
subcommittee (such as new work item proposals).
Upon receipt of such a notification, the Chief Executive Officer shall remind the national body of its obligation to take an active part in the work of the technical committee or subcommittee. In the absence of a satisfactory response to this reminder, the national body shall automatically have its status changed to that of O-member. A national body having its status so changed may, after a period of 12 months, indicate to the Chief Executive Officer that it wishes to regain P-membership of the committee, in which case this shall be granted.

1.7.5 If a P-member of a technical committee or subcommittee fails to vote on an enquiry draft or final draft International Standard prepared by the respective committee, the Chief Executive Officer shall remind the national body of its obligation to vote. In the absence of a satisfactory response to this reminder, the national body shall automatically have its status changed to that of O-member. A national body having its status so changed may, after a period of twelve months, indicate to the Chief Executive Officer that it wishes to regain P-membership of the committee, in which case this shall be granted.

If I read that right, it could mean that the countries that upgraded to P-member status simply to vote for OOXML could be moved back to O-members if they continue their non-participation. If that were to happen, they would have to remain O-members for at least 12 months. If the final vote for OOXML fell within that time, none of them would be able to pull the same shenanigans. Whether I am reading that correctly and/or that’s how things will play out or not, I’ll leave to someone who understand the morass of these standards comities.

–jeremy

Yahoo Acquires Zimbra For $350 million in Cash II

A quick follow up on the Zimbra acquisition. While I’m extremely happy for Yahoo! on picking up a great company, I agree with Jack that it would have been a great fit for Red Hat. Had they made the pickup 6-12 months ago they surely could have gotten a more reasonable multiple. Not only that, but it fits in very nicely with their Enterprise business model. Like the JBoss acquisition, it would have gotten their foot in the door to places previously not using RHEL. Sure, it would have put them in more direct competition with Microsoft, but JBoss shows they aren’t scared to lock horns with a behemoth. Hindsight is usually 20/20, but with the ever present Microsoft/Yahoo! merger rumors, I’d sure feel better with what is a huge opportunity being in the hands of a pure Open Source player. It just seems like it may have been a better fit. That all being said, I wish both Zimbra and Yahoo! (who doesn’t get enough credit for the Open Source things they do) the best.

–jeremy

IBM joins the OpenOffice.org

To the collective cheer of “It’s about time”, IBM is now officially supporting the OpenOffice.org project. From the press release:

The OpenOffice.org community today announced that IBM will be joining the community to collaborate on the development of OpenOffice.org software. IBM will be making initial code contributions that it has been developing as part of its Lotus Notes product, including accessibility enhancements, and will be making ongoing contributions to the feature richness and code quality of OpenOffice.org. Besides working with the community on the free productivity suite’s software, IBM will also leverage OpenOffice.org technology in its products.

“In the seven years since Sun founded the project, OpenOffice.org has fueled and filled the need for document data and productivity tools that are open and free. Open source software and ODF are having a profound impact around the world, with numerous communities and organizations coming together to support these initiatives and governments, and corporations and schools standardizing on the software. We look forward to working with IBM and the other members of OpenOffice.org to ensure that this momentum continues. We invite others to join us in the community and participate in building the future as OpenOffice.org and ODF continue to gain popularity across the planet,” said Rich Green, Executive Vice President, Software at Sun Microsystems, Inc.

The accessibility gains here are huge for OpenOffice.org, as it means a foot in the door to some Government procurements that were not previously possible or would have previously run into issues. Stephe also points out the significance of Redflag Chinese 2000 Software’s participation in the press release, along with the potential ODF and UOF harmonization that may occur.

IBM almost certainly would have done this much sooner if Sun wasn’t the primary OO.o backer, but it needed to happen. Andy points out that the recent OOXML setback did impact the IBM decision to do this now. The question is, is this too late. I don’t think so. While it would have been great for ODF adoption if this would have happened earlier, I think we are still at a crossroads right now. OOXML approval is an uncertainty and the market is more open than it has been in a long time. Microsoft has overshot from a functionality standpoint and the emphasis is moving toward other items like Open Standards anyway. An opportunity this large only comes around once in a generation, as John McCreesh, the OpenOffice Marketing Project Lead, sums up well in the press release:

“This is great news for the tens of millions of users of OpenOffice.org and the thousands of individual members of the project”, said John McCreesh, OpenOffice.org Marketing Project Lead. “We welcome IBM’s contributions to further enhancing the OpenOffice.org product. But equally important is IBM’s future commitment to package and distribute new works that leverage OpenOffice.org technology supporting the ISO ODF standard. ODF is a once in a generation opportunity for the IT industry to unify round a standard, and deliver lasting benefit to users of desktop technology.”

For the record, that opportunity is about $15B annually. It’s easy to see why IBM and SUN were able to put their differences aside on this one. Carpe diem!

–jeremy

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