25 February 2008

Get a Life? - Get a Clue

I came across the following at the weekend:

Speaking at a Microsoft-hosted event, analyst David Mitchell revealed he used to lecture police on riot control, before eventually becoming the senior vice president of IT research at Ovum. "I thought I would never come back to talking about riot control until I got into the Open XML debate," he claimed.

Mitchell said that people involved in riots fell into two camps: "decent orderly protestors and nutters", and claims that both are participating in the OOXML process. "There are a number of comments that are decent technical debate," he said. "There's also a fair amount of radical activists who are protesting just to cause disruption."

"I feel like getting hold of people and saying 'get a life'," he adds. "It's only a document format. It's just got too silly."

Only a document format?!? How can someone who's supposed to be an analyst be unaware of the larger issues? Document formats are the offline equivalent of HTML, and openness is just as critical off as on the Web. To say that "it's only a document format" misses the point entirely.

Having boiled up a nice vat of invective, I was going to lay into this wrong-headed thinking at some length, when I came across this post by Andy Updegrove, which is not only one of his best, but I would venture that it is also one of his most important. It says more less exactly what I was going to say, only rather better:

It should not go unmentioned that the stakes for society are even higher than I have thus far suggested, because the questions raised above extend beyond the field of ITC [information technology and communications]. Standards of equal importance are urgently needed in other areas as well. These will have as profound an impact on commerce and the human condition in areas such as global warming, and will tell us what we can and cannot do except at our peril, how we will determine whether we are winning or losing that battle, and how we can police ourselves from subjecting ourselves to further environmental degradation.

So it is we see that what happens in Geneva this week is about far more than whether Microsoft wins and IBM and its allies lose or vis-versa, even if that will be the superficial result. It is about fundamental human rights, about not only seizing but also securing the opportunities of the future for the benefit of all. Only by thinking clearly and deeply about these larger issues will we be able to adapt the practices of the past to meet the challenges of a future that has already arrived, whether we realize it or not.

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