CyberTech Rambler

April 7, 2006

Does Minnesota “Open Data Format” Bill remove vendor lock-in?

Filed under: Uncategorized — ctrambler @ 2:51 pm

Andy Updegrove has a scope on a Minnesota's Bill requiring the use of "Open Data Format". It is great that the discussion on "open standard" has spreaded. However, it is my take that it does not in anyway prevent de facto vendor lock-in.

Mr Updegrove is a lawyer in the United States, so his arguement is definitely stronger than me. He believes that this bill can effective stop the use of proprietory (closed) format. Reading it from a 'non-lawyer' viewpoint, it does close a lot of avenues for the state adopting proprietory format. However, I am afraid it does not close one blatant loop hole, i.e., when there is only one vendor for an "open data format". In this case, I will argue that the format is not open at all, but a proprietory format. Nonetheless, it still satisfy the "Open" requirement of the bill.

Moreover, Microsoft's Office XML format, especially after it is accepted as a ECMA standard, actually qualify for "Open Data Format". It may allows proprietory extension, but the bill merely requires "ensures that all extensions of the data format are themselves documented and have the other characteristics of an open data format;". From an IT point-of-view, if Minnesota choose Office XML format, it can be argue that as long as the state ensure that all extensions used by the state "are themselves documented and have other characteristics of open data format", it satisfy the bill's requirement. Some may say that I am "twisting the words" the way a lawyer crook do, but the "twist" I did is perhaps the only practical way to adopt an open standard that permits extensions.

To shun "open standard" that permits extensions, but cannot guarantee that all extensions must be "open" will be like throwing away a perfectly good fruit because the manufacturer cannot guarantee that there is no sand grain anywhere on the fruit. Take the Kerberos protocol for example, it is open, but it also allow "extension". In fact, Microsoft had "extended" it to include a proprietory authentication scheme. So, should we throw Kerberos away as non-open?

As Updegrove said, it will be interesting to see how this "open standard" debate evolves.

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