Cristi - blog

There are other ways

Here are three very telling sentences from a confidential Micro-Soft memo (dated 1991), by Joseph Krawczak (currently group program manager at the very same company), regarding a suggested attack plan against IBM's OS/2:

Individuals, businesses and even governments have problems caused by incompatibilities. Many tend to remain oblivious to the dangers posed by proprietary standards and will continue using proprietary technology, which will cost our society a great deal in efficiency and productivity.

But there are other issues that have been raised. For example, use of proprietary IM protocols (owned and controlled by a single organization through patents and "trade secrets") leads to incompatible IM networks and people being unable to contact their friends and loved ones. Incompatible standards and formats are also being used for market manipulation. They facilitate companies in charging customers massive fees simply for the right to access their own data. Closed standards are the foundation of technological monopolies.

It has been historically documented that open standards were targeted by particular vendors in order to lock clueless customers to their products and/or services. Paul Maritz calls this business tactic Embrace, Extend and Extinguish. Basically, it's the adding of proprietary extensions to standards so that rival systems become less interoperable (e.g. Kerberos).

Proprietary efforts are seeking centralization and maximization of power. This isn't in the customer's best interest. Since it doesn't benefit them a whole lot, vendors that use the proprietary model will try to break and avoid interoperability. This is why the relationship between business and technology is a mutually antagonistic one. A paradigm shift is required.

Since there was no full compatibility between MS Office documents and alternative suites, user migration between them was prevented. Needless to say that this is a very effective form of product vendor lock-in.

By adhering and implementing open and standardized file formats we can have flexibility and choice to use products from different vendors and not be locked to any one product or vendor. The published OpenDocument standard ISO/IEC 26300 for office applications comes to aid the situation. Before ODF there had been no standard method of storing office type documents and seamless exchange of data was dependent upon all parties involved using the same version of the same software.

ODF offers the guarantee that exchange and retrieval of data will be possible even if the vendor no longer exists. It is used in both free and proprietary software, but if you're sick of dealing with Microsoft and understand the importance of free software, LibreOffice is a worthy alternative. The freedom over our society's work is at stake and we can choose standards and formats that constrain us or empower us. The power is yours!

Posted 15 May 2013.

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