Open Source

Ireland saved Western Civilization and Europe is saving Information Technology. In another move to strengthen development and support for open standards, about two weeks ago a european government, the Belgian, decided to use only open formats for exchanging documents. The OpenDocument Format (def.) has been accepted in draft form by the International Standards Organization.

Microsoft’s alternative proposal to ODF, Open XML, is built into Office 2007 (see overview). Open XML sounds smarter because it suggests the use of those XML technologies that are so flexible. But, do a little digging and you’ll quickly learn that ODF also is XML-based. Those marketers at Microsoft are smart, aren’t they?

Needless to say, Microsoft was rather upset when ODF was accepted as a standard before its own alternative. (see Why ODF won.) And now, the software giant is supporting ODF in the next generation of office.

But, to my point. Do you think I’m kidding about Europe saving IT? Look, the European Union has been willing to address on Microsoft’s anti-competitive actions by requiring them to debundle their Windows Media Player from the operating system. The EU has closely monitored Microsoft’s approach to Internet Explorer and other things as well.

The United States? Nada, except for that highly-publicized monopoly trial during during which Bill Gates sat on the stand and gave his testimony regarding browser bundling in the operating systems. [Ok. There were findings of fact and there was a remedy imposed. But, these were overturned by the DC Court of Appeals. And, then, the Bush Administration decided (9/6/01) tp pursue a lesser penalty.]

Not being able to rein in Mr. Softee, as Microsoft is called on Wall Street due to its ticker symbol (MSFT), or any other software giant, isn’t just the fault of Republicans. The blame falls much more broadly upon the system and those who believe that the free market is always the answer. Why can’t people learn?

Think about the historical battles to break up Standard Oil. Oil was king then, as it is now, and, at its height, John D. Rockefeller’s Standard Oil owned the upstream and the downstream. Unsurprisingly, competition was squeezed, and, often, stamped out. Hard.

Software now is nearly as important as oil. We don’t run transportation on it, but most cars wouldn’t run without software. And there isn’t an industry in the world that isn’t touched by software in some way or another. (Okay, perhaps bartering bat guano hasn’t changed much since the advent of software.)

For the success and even existence of complex software, which requires lengthy and expensive development process, support for the end product has to be present. (Actually, there’s an analog to this situation in the entertainment industry.*) Governments have an interest in keeping documentation in an open format.

And, governments have an interest in fostering competitive marketplaces. Admittedly, governments that are not host to a monopolistic company may be more interested in maintaining competitiveness in that marketplace than the country that is host. But fair competition, and decent money, serve to spark innovation, hard-work, creativity and a Gemeinschaft culture [that has nothing to do with smoking or lack thereof].

In America, there is typically better money to be made for start-up firms than in most european countries. But an open and fair marketplace that allows for that money to be made, is very critical to the success of any company.

Contrary to its oft-stated credo, the United States government hasn’t been exactly the biggest proponent of an open and fair marketplace in software development. (And here’s Ralph Nader saying as much.) And, as a result, other countries, municipalities, and states have had to pick up the slack. For example, look at just the Linux initiatives in the Netherlands, Switzerland, Munich, Finland, Linux in Spain, and Italian Linux Day. And, returning to ODF, Massachussetts has required ODF.  (btw, John Carroll doesn’t think this is a good idea.)

*With Hollywood (and Bollywood?) sucking up all the entertainment air in a country, local talent (e.g., actors, screenwriters, authors, etc.,) can lose the support needed to develop the skills and experience that are required to succeed.


The International Herald Tribune has an article about the popularity of Firefox in Europe. The numbers are encouraging for Firefox supporters.

There’s an excellent introduction to the Linux user command shell from William Shotts, et. al. at

The tutorial is very useful for individuals wanting to know more about the commands in Linux — the curious, novice, or even intermediate Linux user.

Couple it with command line reference at and you’ve got a powerful toolbox.

In another move to strengthen development and support for open standards, a european government, the Belgians, has decided to use only open formats for exchanging documents. The OpenDocument format (def.) has been accepted in draft form by the International Standards Organization.