Re: Why Aren't Open Source Tools Being Considered?

Subject: Re: Why Aren't Open Source Tools Being Considered?
From: Lou Quillio <public -at- quillio -dot- com>
To: "TECHWR-L" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- techwr-l -dot- com>
Date: Sun, 21 Aug 2005 14:00:48 -0400

_File: <>_

**[Susan W. Gallagher][1] [wrote][2]:**

> I think that part of the problem that the open source
> community has is the lack of uniformity in the quality of
> the software and the lack of uniformity in the quality of
> the user experience.

I think perceived lack of uniformity (or maybe _seriousness_) is a
bigger problem, but only because enterprises don't ask themselves
the right questions.

To me, the primary concern should be file formats.

In a perfect world, our data should be stored in rich, [open
formats][3], for which there are good-quality manipulation tools,
with scripting as a fall-back. If we insist on open file formats,
then all contending tools -- free, open-source, commercial -- are in
the same meritocracy, plus we can move amongst them as business
needs dictate.

Such open formats haven't always existed, or didn't anticipate all
of our needs. We were compelled to use proprietary formats to get
our work done, or at least thought so.

What's changed the most is there are robust, open formats for any
kind of data you can imagine. Beyond that there's the über-format,
XML, a meta-framework for rolling our own data structures. Beyond
that there's the ubiquity of database servers. All sorts of folks
don't need an expert to create data structures any more.

Add to this the fact that office apps are fully mature. We've
pretty much scoped-out everything you'd want a document or
spreadsheet or presentation to do. Once, we all said "I really wish
this popular program would do X and Y and especially Z," and
everybody agreed. That missing functionality's in place now, across
products. Very little new stuff is needed. Many would prefer
_fewer_ features.

Storing our data in MS Word or Frame, then, was always a calculated,
necessary evil, or should have been. The ramifications of
revisiting that decision, now that its bases are unfounded, are what
have everybody's panties in a bunch.

Today, finally, decision makers can ask the right questions -- and
they know what they are:

* Does it use an open file format?

* If not, why not, and what will it cost us to
get our data out? Because one day we'll want

* How truly essential are the proprietary
features? Could be work differently?

* (How parochial is your recommendation?
Do I need an outside opinion?)

If our file formats are open, we abstract tool decisions from core
business needs, and we abstract the tool talent market to a layer
above that one.

When they're closed, we flatten these into one: If your data's in
Frame (1) you must use the FrameMaker toolchain (2), and you must
hire folks with specialized tool knowledge (3). The initial choice
to source around Frame, while justified back in the day, is
unnecessarily inflating your costs on several planes (tool cost and
talent cost) and sapping business flexibility -- which at modern
business speeds has costs of its own, sometimes big ones.

I'm picking on Frame, but the same could be said of MS Office, etc.

What business wants but can't quite articulate is the ability to
select from amongst free, open and commercial tools without
threatening its data, a circumstance that only open file formats can

Only when your data's no longer under [proprietary threat][4] can
you evaluate the (possible) shortcomings of a FOSS tool against the
support vectors and (perceived) accountability of commercial ones.
As a force of nature, that's where business wants to be. And I
don't blame it.


- - -
_Plaintext-to-XHTML transformation courtesy of [PHP Markdown][5] and
PHP Smarty. Props to [John Gruber][6] and [Michel Fortin][7], and
[Aaron Swartz][8]._

_Date: 2005-08-21_



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Re: Re: Why Aren't Open Source Tools Being Considered?: From: Susan W . Gallagher

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