Category Archives: OpenStandards

OSCON 2008: 10 years of Open Source, Open Web Foundation, and Microsoft joins Apache Software Foundation

OSCON2008 rang in 10 years of the Open Source Definition along with the 10th anniversary of OSCON. Open Source has come a long way in the last decade. The flag bearers of open source – Linux, Apache, MySQL, Perl, PHP, Python – have matured and are now mainstream. This wealth of open source tools, technologies, and applications was well represented in OSCON’s sessions and discussions.

Sessions I liked

There were some excellent talks highlighting the adoption of open source models and technologies in education, political campaign and voting software, media such as NPR and BBC. The sessions on education, IPR & FOSS economics and women in technology were of special interest to me.

The panel discussion on “Changing Education… Open Content, Open Hardware, Open Curricula” presented initiatives from Africa such as African Virtual Open Initiatives and Resources (AVOIR) and Chisimba. According to Derek Keats of the University of the Western Cape, Chisimba, a local open source project was specifically launched to teach communication, collaboration and coding skills necessary to participate effectively in global open source projects as well as support local requirements. I feel India’s universities could significantly succeed in their goal to produce effective contributors to FOSS, if similar models were adopted. Without having the need to support local requirements (i.e. itch to scratch), it is difficult to develop any open source software locally or produce significant contributors.

I enjoyed Pia Waugh’s talk on “Heroes: Women in FOSS” where she presented the typical stereotypes that women face in technology jobs and best practices for motivating young women early on (grades 8-12) to get into programming and science in Australia. She talked about OLPC being a great platform to get kids to learn to develop using FOSS.

The panel discussion on “Open Source, Open World” provided an unfiltered view of FOSS adoption across the world. Open standards and open source have been intertwined in the past year as the politically charged ODF / OOXML battle has pulled almost every country into the debate at ISO. Nnenna Nwakanma of FOSSFA Africa talked about how bitter the open standards battle has been in Africa with tremendous pressure from large corporations to get OOXML ratified by ISO. Rishab Ghosh of UNU Merit provided an excellent overview of the EU evaluation of open standards and adoption of open source in government. Bruno Souza of Brazil provided an update on pressures imposed on the government ministeries to influence the OOXML vote. I presented a brief report on the tremendous pressure put on committee participants and central government ministeries in India as it voted against OOXML. Another key area discussed was FOSS in education. I talked about FOSS in college curricula being critical to successfully build a sustainable open source ecosystem to create contributors and software. This panel was one of those rare discussions at OSCON that provided a global perspective on real challenges to FOSS adoption. After this panel discussion, I ran across this map showing participants at OSCON to be mostly from the US and Europe. And it seemed to reflect the reality of many lop-sided discussions that happen in technology (even in open source) with minimal representation from the rest of the world.

Tectonic shifts

A key announcement at the conference was that of the formation of the Open Web Foundation (OWF). This non-profit foundation aims to protect and help development of open, non-proprietary specifications for web technologies. David Recordon, a founder of OWF outlined the foundation’s goals in this presentation.

And to do its open source good deed of the year, Microsoft announced its platinum sponsorship of the Apache Software Foundation (ASF) by pledging to donate $100,000 every year to support Apache development. Sam Ramji, Microsoft’s Senior Director of Platform Strategy had an announcement on his blog. ASF put out the following statement on -

The Apache Software Foundation welcomes Microsoft as a Platinum Sponsor
At OSCON, Microsoft announced their sponsorship of The Apache Software Foundation, joining Google and Yahoo! at Platinum level. The generous contributions by Sponsoring organizations and individuals help offset the day-to-day operating expenses to advance the work of The ASF.”

Here is what Michael Tiemann of the OSI had to say about the announcement and on what Microsoft should can do for open source. I agree with him about what they can start with, namely:

  1. Pursue the abolition of software patents with the same zeal they showed in their (Microsoft’s) efforts to get OOXML approved as a standard.
  2. Unilaterally promise to not use the DMCA to maintain control of their Trusted Computing Platform.
  3. Transition to 100% open standards (as defined by the OSI, IETF, W3C, or the Digistan).
  4. Stop trying to maintain their monopolies by illegal, anti-competitive means [1] [2].

Actions demonstrate intent and direction. Let us see what Microsoft will do positively with the open source community in action. Let us see which way the wind blows.

Software-as-a-Service and your rights

As the Web becomes an integral part of our lives and culture, web applications are being used as online services at an unprecedented scale. Email, calendaring, social bookmarks, social news, photo sharing, video sharing, social networking, mapping are all applications that we use every day. Free and open source software is being used to build many of these new web services. But we find that most of these online applications are closed source and have turned waters murky in terms of ownership (especially when open source licensed software is used). Separation of usage and distribution of software has changed the relationships between software and users. Who owns what part of the software, who controls what part, what rights do users have and how do they protect them are just some of the questions that one has to deal with.

It’s great to see a new initiative “” launched by a group of hackers and activists who are concerned about the effects by network services on user freedom. Some of contributors in this effort include Benjamin Mako Hill (MIT/FSF), Bradley Kuhn (SFLC and Software Freedom Conservancy), James Vasile (SFLC) and Luis Villa (GNOME Foundation, OSI Legal Advisory Board). The group is supported by the FSF and intends to serve as a forum to examine issues raised by network services and establish an “informed” position on software freedom and network services.

Learn more about the Franklin Street Declaration, and the Open Software Service Definition at

OOXML victory taints ISO credibility

Microsoft’s controversial OOXML private file format was voted in as standard DIS29500 by the International Standards Organization, err… the “I Sold Out” (ISO) this weekend. Amid serious allegations of irregularities in the voting process, political manipulation, cronyism, influence trading and unfair practices employed to secure favorable votes, ISO committees stuffed with inept members representing various countries voted 75% in favor of OOXML.

All for a document format! What a shame to demolish the credibility of such a prestigious standards body. And for a format from a corporation which fiercely opposes competition, cannot tolerate open standards and cannot get over misusing its corporate reach.

The Open Malaysia blog has some interesting stats about the vote.

* 24 out of 32 P-Members (Participating Members) voted in favor of OOXML (75%). The requirement for confirmation is >= 66.66%.
* A total of 61 P-Members and O-Members (Observing and Other Members) voted in favor.
* 10 out of 71 member countries voted against (14%).
* 16 countries abstained and were not counted in the total.

According to , a lot of last minute vote switching occurred due to heavy influence brokering by Microsoft, its subsidiaries and its business partners. This carried OOXML forward to approval.
But approval at what cost? Desperate efforts to win by compromising institutional integrity can only backfire and is already leading to erosion of brand credibility for Microsoft around the world. Microsoft is its own worst enemy.

Another report discussing the problems at the Ballot Resolution Meeting (BRM) can be found at Groklaw. Ubuntu’s Mark Shuttleworth has also commented about the process in an interview.

Mozilla turns 10!

cimg3285.JPGMozilla’s 10th birthday party in SF on March 31st felt like a Netscape reunion. Hundreds of geeks and cat-herders, many with Netscape jackets, shirts, and nostalgia, gathered together to celebrate Mozilla’s phenomenal success. Mitchell Baker, Brendan Eich and the Mozilla community were all there to party, to enjoy the cake and to be merry. As the galactic chocolate birthday cake was being cut, Mitchell predicted that many opportunities and challenges lay ahead in the next 10 years and that the greatest achievements for Mozilla are yet to come.

Mozilla has millions of reasons to celebrate. After 500 million downloads, Firefox stands tall as the world’s best free and open source web browser. After 500 million downloads, Firefox has single-handedly turned the tables on IE and has prevented Microsoft from closing the Web. Mozilla is Netscape done right.

Life would be almost unimaginable without Firefox.

Way to go! Mozilla. Live long and prosper.


Support ODF on Document Freedom Day

Document Freedom DayKeep your data free. Free from vendor lock-in. Support Document Freedom Day on March 26. Activities and events will be held around the world to promote awareness of free document formats such as ODF.

It is great to see that India voted NO for OOXML yesterday. According to Venky Hariharan, 13 members voted “No”, 5 members voted “Yes” (including Microsoft India, Infosys, TCS, Wipro and NASSCOM), 1 member abstained and 3 members did not attend.

It appears that revenue partners and their special interests take precedence for India’s software export companies over preserving freedom of knowledge and rights of users to share data using open formats. Can money buy standards?

Take a stand and just say no! Support free document formats next week on March 26th. Organize awareness programs in your community, work with your favorite Linux Users Group and support Document Freedom Day.

Mystifying Open Source and Open Standards

This article by the national technology officer of MS India represents the kind of misinformation about open source and open standards being disseminated in India. This type of FUD confuses the government as well as the market. It points to the need for all stakeholders in India’s open source industry and community to rise up to this challenge.

Standardization through Interoperability – A Seminar with BIS and Microsoft

At a Bureau of Indian Standards (BIS) seminar on Feb 21st in New Delhi on “IT Standardization”, Mr. Craig Mundie, Chief Research and Strategy officer of Microsoft delivered the inaugural keynote.

Curiously, no industry representative besides Microsoft was allowed to be part of the formal presentations. The BIS leadership — Alka Sirohi (Director General), Rakesh Verma (Addl. Director General), Sukhbir Singh (Deputy Director General) along with the Secretary of Consumer Affairs Mr. Bhave — were all present, deeply worshipful of and indebted to their chief sponsor.Craig Mundie at BIS seminar

Mr. Mundie zealously discussed the need for standardization through interoperability. In the digital world, standardization should no longer be thought of in terms of uniformity but rather in terms of translatability and interoperability. Mr. Mundie explained that interoperability achieved through meta description languages like XML is key to practical standardization. Single solutions that emphasize uniformity of standards are not the answer. If Microsoft really followed Mr. Mundie’s advice, perhaps we’d all live in a less contentious digital world.

However, other Microsoft sponsored presentations lionized the need for IPR protection as the basis for healthy standardization — proposing a so-called “virtuous cycle” of digital products: R&D developed IPR flows into products which then flow into the consumer market and then, through market results, back into R&D. But, somehow without the guiding hand of industry and protection of its IPR, the virtuous cycle short circuits and no innovation is possible.

Now, if I had been invited onto the dias, to keynote alongside Mr. Mundie, my presentation would have included the following. I would have congratulated Mr. Mundie on his vision for redefining standardization in the digital age. I would then have taken the opportunity to inform him of all the wonderful FOSS products, like ODF and OpenOffice, that his company could support on the road to full interoperability.

But I would have been less generous toward the IPR proponents: How can all innovation only come from absolute IP control. Today, India is at a deadly disadvantage in the IT IP regime game. India cannot be regarded as a serious contender at all. Innovation in India should be allowed from anywhere and everywhere. FOSS can provide a level playing field that allows innovation and creativity to grow from within. So why play this one-sided “Innovation = IP” game? Why lock ourselves out of the game with the rules of the leaders before we’re even ready to play.

Perhaps my turn on the dias at a future BIS Seminar will come. I look forward to being their next chief guest!