CyberTech Rambler

May 12, 2008

Catch 22??

Filed under: Uncategorized — ctrambler @ 11:58 am

Blender guys had just confirmed that they were approached by Microsoft on file format issues. Specifically, Microsoft asked about which Microsoft file formats Blenders users use frequently and which file formats they have problems with. Understandably, the open source community at large are wary about it. PJ kinda dismiss it but this is what I would expect from her.

To me, the most important information I extract from the snippet of email from Microsoft is that (1)they claim it is part of their “open standard” effort and (2)while they ask for information, they did not offer any help at all. The two is significant partly because Microsoft’s definition of  “open standard” completely subvert the meaning of “open”, as PJ pointed out. The “no commercial use” fall significantly short not only for open source software, but for competitors as well. Moreover, there is no promise of help or not to use the information you provide against you, i.e., making sure that you, the competitor, will have to forever be in Microsoft’s mercy. This is important since we do not want the information to be a one-way street. Giving them the information might be seen as agreeing with them about their “openness” definition.

The previous paragraph outline a strong case not to give Microsoft the information they want. So where is the catch-22? If you don’t provide the information, proprietary software vendors, including Microsoft but NOT limited to it, will call you a hypocrite when one discuss about “openness”, nevermind the fact that their definition of openness is skewed badly against you. That piece of information is going to be conveniently forgotten by their huge PR machine. The second,  it is a weapon that Microsoft can use against you in the next antitrust case. They will go to the authority and say “we tried but the other party is simply not interested”. Here’s the catch: the authority might buy the argument and don’t come back to ask you about it. This is perhaps more worrying aspect, since open source are generally more dependent on authorities to right any wrongs

My move? Do nothing extraordinary simply because it is Microsoft, i.e., give them what they want, no more, no less. They want to know which file format is used most, give them them, but only offer to tell them how. They want to know which is suboptimal, tell they which one but only give them an offer to tell they why. If they are genuine, they will come back to you and ask the questions how and why. In essence, make sure it is a dialog is not a monolog from you to them. There is no way for me to tell where the dialog is going, it can be confirming that the evil empire is really doing evil thing, or it has changed. Why I would go for a dialog? I need to decide my next move, i.e., collaborate or withdrawal. With a dialog my decision will be based on evidence rather than bias. This evidence gathering is also important since it is something an independent adjudicator (antitrust authority) can use to evaluate the situation, if need be.

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