Open Formats more important than Open Source?

Users complain about bloated software (…”but the consumer wants to do more!“, protests the software vendor) and feature-creep continues unabated. CIO’s and procurement managers complain about this never-ending upgrade cycle of software to ensure that — when their people receive files from others — they can be opened.

When we think about open source software, the word “free” comes to mind. But it’s so much more than that. What most don’t consider is how important it is to have heretofore proprietary file formats be open file formats.

You may be aware of some of the moves happening with Open Source software in Munich and the controversy surrounding the Commonwealth of Massachusetts dictate well over a year ago that Agencies will integrate open standards compliance language in all IT bids and solicitations. But they compromised (and there is no word yet on why they did so…though my dog could probably guess why). Massachusetts has now moved away from an emphasis on Open Source software and toward Open Formats.

According to an article in Information Week, Secretary Eric Kriss of the Massachusetts Office of Administration and Finance (AOF) said the Commonwealth could have locked out suppliers using proprietary software from companies like Microsoft. A new policy–described as an “extension” of the previous policy–has been discussed by AOF’s chief as: “specifications for data file formats that are based on an underlying open standard, developed by an open community, and affirmed by a standards body; or, de facto format standards controlled by other entities that are fully documented and available for public use under perpetual, royalty-free, and nondiscriminatory terms.”

Open formats are a good thing. As I’d mentioned in a post on December 31st, I’m cautiously concerned about how quickly media formats die and what that means to future generations’ ability to view that media. To me, open formats mean that (spec’ed correctly) will be upwardly compatible with future software and thus able to be opened. It also allows software vendors and the open source community to write to the spec and innovative around and on top of it.

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About Steve Borsch

Strategist. Learner. Idea Guy. Salesman. Connector of Dots. Friend. Husband & Dad. CEO. Janitor. More here.

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