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Weblog:   The Growing Politicization of Open Source
Subject:   Benefits of Open File Formats
Date:   2002-08-16 13:24:40
From:   alderete
> From my perspective, I would think the Open Source
> community would be much better served if it took
> the moral high ground and called for Openness in
> Software Procurement. If you feel you have to coerce
> people, it would be better to force them to increase
> their disclosure. Require officials to document
> their acquisition critieria, require companies to
> publish their licensing policies, insist on use of
> open file formats for publicly accessible documents.


Your correspondent has hit the nail on the head, in the last phrase here, though I think (s)he's placed too little emphasis on it.


The ideal thing to do here would be to create *simple* legistlation around the allowed file formats used. By mandating that software purchased by gov't must default to storing files in publicly documented, open standards-based formats, the playing field for Open Source would broaden immensely.


There's plenty of good reasons for this in the public interest, as described in the discussion of the Peruvian initiative. But the direct benefits to Open Source projects would be tremendous. Just imagine if, in order to sell Microsoft Office to the gov't, the file formats had to be fully described and totally open. Projects like Open Office could provide perfect support for MS Office documents, instead of merely pretty good support.


It would be important that the file formats must be *fully* described (no proprietary extensions allowed), and that no IP was required to support the formats. RAND terms for being able to use the "open" format must be unacceptable; it must be totally open and free.


Perhaps the quality of the published specification and compliance test suite (CTS) for the file formats should become one of the major evaluation and acquisition criteria for all gov't purchases.


Michael Alderete

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  • Benefits of Open File Formats
    2002-08-16 13:43:06  mcain6925 [View]

    I agree completely with your comments about open file formats, and where any IP regarding the format (or use thereof) lies in the hands of a single company/individual, waiving any licensing is straightforward. It is amazing how many times this might night be the case. MPEG audio and video is a good example. Technically, the IP (much of it in the form of patents) needed to implement an MPEG player is held by dozens of individuals, companies, and universities. Clearing the IP of encumberences may be difficult, if not impossible.

    Particularly for media formats, there are an enormous number of existing patents that cover any implementation of the algorithms, and many more patents are "in the pipeline." The Oog people have been building supposedly unencumbered codecs for audio and video -- whether they have been successful will take years to determine.

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