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July 3, 2008

Tim Bray on ISO’s ladidah-ing OOXML challenges

Tim Bray blogs about the head of ISO pooh-poohing the concerns about the way that Microsoft’s OOXML document format was strong-armed through his organization.

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June 20, 2008

Microsoft says ODF has won

From Slashdot:

“At a Red Hat retrospective panel on the ODF vs. OOXML struggle panel, a Microsoft representative, Stuart McKee, admitted that ODF had ‘clearly won.’ The Redmond company is going to add native support of ODF 1.1 with its Office 2007 service pack 2. Its yet unpublished format ISO OOXML will not be supported before the release of the next Office generation. Whether or not OOXML ever gets published is an open question after four national bodies appealed the ISO decision.”

Of course, Open Document Format winning isn’t exactly the same as OOXML — the 6,000 page standard Microsoft pushed through ISO — losing. Slashdot commentators are right to be plenty skeptical. Still, this is a good thing since it opens a practical path to document interoperability in a public, open format. [Tags: ]


April 21, 2008

What happened in Norway

Steve Pepper has started a blog, and one of his first posts explains — from his insider’s vantage point — how Standard Norway managed to approve OOXML as an ISO standard despite the overwhelming disapproval expressed by the committee members. It is not a pretty story.

The following post on Steve’s blog is about prostitution in Norway, starting with a conversation he had with a woman called Jenny. So, Steve’s blog is off to an appropriately eclectic start! [Tags: ]


April 13, 2008

The Microsoft open document format, slashdotted

ISO’s taking over of Microsoft’s 8,000 page specification of the “open” standard based on Word’s document model has been slashdotted with typical, um, vigor.

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February 21, 2008

[cyberinf] On the Edge

Session description:

By lowering or bridging barriers, cyberinfrastructure can bring different institutional, enterprise, and policy models into unaccustomed proximity. The result may be powerful complementarities – or it may be competition or conflict. Since the separation between institutional and public policy also blurs, what kind of stewardship should the academy provide for advancing knowledge infrastructure? When should it take the lead in developing standards? How should it account for industry and sector differences? How should voluntaristic and cooperative models fit with market-based models? How should universities navigate/mediate between open and controlled models of knowledge?

Kaye Husbands-Fealing (U of Minn) leads the discussion. [I’m live-blogging which means I’m being sloppy, hasty, uneven, and erroneous.]

Arti Rai (Duke) reports on her study of how U’s have patented software through the 1980s and 1990s. The percentage of sw patents have been increasing, especially since the legal decisions making it easier to patent sw. [Unfortunately, I can’t keep my blogging up with her. Lots of info, and I don’t know the jargon well enough. Sorry! Here‘s a paper by her on the topic.]

Eliot Maxwell (Committee for Economic Dev.) Think about openness in terms of access and responsiveness. Responsiveness means people can contribute, distribute, etc. In the continuum of open to closed, the appropriate degree of openness is context sensitive. E.g., you don’t want medical records to be totally open. It’s not about IT but about the ability to get contributions from very different sources. It’s not always just the experts. It’s an attitude as much as it’s an instantiation in the infrastructure. What matters is adopting an ethos of sharing and collaboration, Eliot says. Instead of being the best and the only, the U should think about collaboration as a way out of the zero sum goal. The U should change the tenure system so getting info out onto the Web counts. Maybe U’s — including small liberal arts colleges and community colleges — should study how collaboration works and doesn’t work. We need to make info available, findable, searchable, interchangeable. Also, we need an attribution system since that’s the incentive. We have a technology to doing that, but we don’t always design it into our systems. In 15 yrs, U’s won’t be as associated with a place, about 4 continuous years, or about producing paper.

Brian Kahin (U of Mich) says we’ve been discussing different parts of the cyberinfastructure. We are seeing a rapidly expanding ecology of knowledge. How do you present this to industry, to the board of trustees, to legislators, to prospective students, etc.? Are U’s aligned with their own researchers on the nature and role of knowledge? None that Brian knows, he says. Open access is a paradigm for transformational effect. I don’t see the same thing on the tech side. I see very little interaction between legal scholars on patents and the U’s administration of patents. And this brings up the question of stewardship. What credibility does the U have to speak for public policy? And, we need to think about collaboration science, Brian says. We don’t have a lot of good info. We also ought to be working on strategies for developing standards. How do we have innovation policy when we have so many different models of innovation? Finally, is collaboration the be-all and end-all? On the Net we also see complementarity; that’s part of the Internet and probably should be considered part of the ecology of the cyber infrastructure. [Sorry this is so choppy.]

Q: (Kaye) Eco-innovation looks at the well-being indices and considers how innovation affects the end-users. How can we use the cyberinfrastructure to take the pulse all the way to the end user?
Arti: Erich Von Hippel has done a lot of work on distributed innovation. Users are innovators. Feedback to the researchers would be very helpful.
Eliot: Openness is consistent with that type of feedback. On the Internet, if you make a crappy product, everyone knows it’s a dog.

Q: What is the governance procedure for sunsetting data? Who decides how much data to store?
A: As organically as possible.

Q: Do we really want all projects to be sustainable? Shouldn’t some of them just die when they’re done? And some of them need non-open control of IP
Eliot: Yes, the openness should be appropriate to the project.

Q: It’s easy when talking about data to simply say that it’s a community issue and each community will develop its own ways of sorting these things out. But re-use and recombination of data for purposes far away from their original purpose is very exciting.
Arti: Great point.
Eliot: Maybe funders can help.

Do we really want funders to decide what’s sustainable? Shouldn’t it be a Darwinian process?
Eliot: Not decide. Funders should make applicants think hard about sustainability from the beginning.

Q: We still don’t know what we mean by “cyberinfrastructure.” Are we any closer to agreeing on it? How do we show its value if we can’t agree on what it means?
Brian: We can think of it as an asset (something you’ve already invested in) or as a prospect (where things are going). Those two questions come out in different ways. The asset vision is the Internet. The prospect points to semantics and ontologies that let you do more things with knowledge.
Eliot: I’m less interested in defining what cyberinf is that in what we’re trying to get from it, i.e., to be more collaborative and open.

Q: In my view, cyberinf is not just ICT. We should think of the infrastucture as being collaborative.
Brian: Part of what you’re talking about is virtual organization.

Q: A group of research U CIOs have been meeting to talk about what they can to shape the growth of a national cyberinfrastructure.

Q: We need to be able to talk about this simply and clearly.

[Too fried to blog. Sorry.] [Tags: ]


[cyberinf] Designing for Integration and Collaboration

Linda Katehi (U of Illinois) asks how we can design an infrastructure that enables and sustain collaborative work. [Standard live-blogging disclaimer holds: hasty, error-free, subjective, unworthy.]

John Wilbanks of Science Commons talks about the cultural infrastructure that enables content to move so rapidly and easily around the Net. He’s posted his comments on his blog. [Thank you!] “We are swimming in cultural infrastructure for content, but not for knowledge.” He is going to argue against having an end goal for the Network. “The end goal is to create a world we cannot imagine.” We shouldn’t even be talking about “papers,” etc. on the Net. We should be talking about namespaces, not just ontologies. “If we can’t use the same names for things, we can’t have knowledge.” Intermediate goals: End to End. We should make it easy to get answers to difficult questions. And we need to build human capacity. We should focus on getting greater throughput so data turns into knowledge and innovation. [Read his remarks on his blog.]

Mackenzie Smith from MIT Libraries asks what a knowledge infrastructure is. Now that John has given us the why, she’s going to talk about the “what.” There are seven layers, she suggests:

1: Repositories.

2 : Data management.

3. Linking (interoperable semantics). We need namespaces and identifiers, and encoding standards (e.g., RDF), and ontologies like Object Reuse and Exchange.

4. Discovery. Finding data on the Web.

5. Delivery.

6. Social.

7. Business models. Policies.

The IT view, Mackenzie says, is what you can plug into the layers. She talks about some of the various tools available.

The organizational view: Different areas of the U are responsible for the various layers. The one layer generally no one is addressing is the business layer.

Chris Mackie (Mellon Foundation) wonders how many infrastructure “successes” are really just “steaming piles of integration.” What’s the right way to do design? Bottom up? Top down? Knowledge needs to emerge and for that it has to be bottom up and open. But that won’t get us where we need to be. We also need it to be top down; we need global optimization. How do we pull these things together?

We cannot allow our cyberinfrastructure to be so top-heavy that it flattens all other organizations, including community colleges, etc. We need the diversity of the educational ecology, Chris says.

Sara Kiesler (CMU) has been studying collaborative research projects. About a third are successful, but about a third are failures, and a third struggle. What surprised her was that the problems in collaborating were not due to differences in how different disciplines approach their work. The biggest problems were inter-institutional. The two institutions have different bureaucratic procedures, regulations and cultures. No one in the institutions watches out for the welfare of inter-institution collaborations. And they don’t like it if the budget goes to the other institution.

John: We need both top down and bottom up. The key is to make sure they use the same standards. Standardize around names and transactions. You want to make it easy to stitch them all together.

Q: This is the first time the full range of institutions has been brought up, probably because the attendees come from major research institutions. So, good to have acknowledged there are other types of educational institutions.

Q: Physicists are used to collaborating. And the funding agencies drove the senior scientists to collaborate. Don’t underestimate the role of the funding agencies.

In the context of U’s, are there any warnings the panel has for us?
Chris: The challenges to collaboration are getting more real all the time. E.g., IP issues prevent some collaborations.
A: There’s the centralize-everything clique, the decentralize clique. Any preferences?
Linda: The totally centralized one doesn’t work in the US.
John: You can’t order people to innovate. You have to build systems that enable explosive innovation, based on standards. Making control the default doesn’t work. Harvard’s Open Access policy switches the default to sharing, with an opt-out. I think that’s the right way, but we don’t have the evidence yet.
Mackenzie: The decentralized model is a little more maintainable.

Sara: The collaborations that succeed tend to be the ones that have some practice doing it.

Q: Collaborative technology is still bad. And IP gets in the way. Also, U-industry collaboration seems to work best when the academic wants to have an effect in the real world.
John: The standard contracts for the life sciences depends on your tax status. Every collaboration with a commercial entity, even at a very early stage, gets complex very quickly. A simple design decision has made this hard.

Q: How do you align interests for collaboration?
Sara: Interdependence.

Q: The right question isn’t decentralized or centralized. It’s what you’re going to do that’s between those two, because neither of those will work.
Mackenzie: Dropping a governance onto a project at the beginning can kill it. There are many approaches.

[I’ve begun to fade — didn’t get much sleep last night, and live-blogging is really tiring… [Tags: ]


February 18, 2008

Tim Bray on the history of XML

Tim Bray has a terrific piece on the development of XML, now in its tenth year as an official standard. He focuses on the people, not on the technicalities of the standard.

It’s worth it just to re-read Tim’s words about Yuri Rubinsky, an SGML advocate of enormous energy and passion, without a mean bone in his body. Tim puts it better. Yuri died way too young, and I miss him.

It’s also worth it to learn the off-the-mainstage history of XML, of course.

* * *

Tim is a terrific writer. And I’m happy to say that we’ve been friends for a long time (which is somewhere between disclosure and bragging). But, the one thing that put me off in his piece was his providing physical descriptions. I assume they’re accurate, and he writes them with flair, but they struck me as irrelevant. Why does it help me to know that someone is burly and someone else is buxom?

And yet, it does seem to help.

But maybe it shouldn’t. Maybe it only seems to help.

As you can tell, I’m torn by this. I’ve occasionally briefly described people in things I’ve written. But I don’t feel quite right about it

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