Saturday, February 23, 2008

Linux Today - OOXML/ODF: Just One Battlefield in a Much Bigger War

Reading though all the material about IBM's very big push for cloud computing (and grid and utility computing before that), I did get to pondering: what if IBM's investment in Linux back in 2000 had this kind of scenario in mind? A free operating system with tremendous growth, excelled scalability (up and down)--it even came with a network-transparent GUI. Perfect for a long-term plan to get into grid/utility/cloud computing. I have always wondered why IBM didn't put just a little effort into desktop Linux development. Now, I'm not wondering so much.

It would certainly lend credence to why IBM has such a vested interest in seeing OOXML fail. A chance to shut their old enemy Microsoft out of what could be the next step in IT infrastructure? Oh, hardly a tear would be shed in Armonk, I'm sure, on that day.

If OOXML does not become an ISO standard, Microsoft would lose the format war for the cloud, and any advantages SharePoint might have in the face of similar systems like Alfresco's. There would be no reason for vendors to be forced deal with Windows or WinCE on the device end of the cloud, either.

The question is, if this mass of theory has some truth behind it, where does this leave Linux?

I think I blogged.. somewhere... gosh, quite a few years ago that the ultimate victory for Linux and Open Source software in general would look like a lot of people having no idea what operating system their home computers (if they were even still called that) were running.

If you are rooting for Linux and other FOSS software (as I do) this might seem like somewhat of a letdown. But re-think why you support FOSS in the first place. Some reasons I have:

You want commodity computing at both hardware and software level, with prices controlled by open competition, without one or two companies having a lock-in.

You want progress at the maximum rate. Don't want a brown MP3 player? You shouldn't be forced to buy one. Don't want a AV connection to your home entertainment system that only works with a specific vendors OS? Ditto.

There is (or should be) no reason Microsoft or Apple, or YOU, can't make the best hardware or software that millions of people would want to use. But all companies are drawn like magnets to a place where their past success (they feel) should guarantee them future successes as well. It is this "lock-in" which is at the heart of what turns a legal monopoly into an illegal one -- oh if we only had adequate enforcement of this! But lock-in coupled with sub-standard follow-on products has almost always gotten companies into trouble eventually. In the short run its bad for the consumer, in the long run its also bad for the industry and even the companies involved (both winners and losers). Of course, what makes it all work is that in the short run, a few individuals can rake in huge, mostly undeserved profits.

Hopefully, understanding of this dynamic will spread to the point where enough consumers will just say "NO!" to lock-in practices from the get-go, before the almost inevitable bad results materialize.

After all, if a companies such as Microsoft or Apple claim to have "the best engineers in the industry", then why shouldn't each new product be able to stand on its own merits?

Well, I think some of us know the answer don't we?

About time everyone did.

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