14 February 2008

What Davos Can Teach Us

The World Economic Forum is a fairly disgusting dance of power and money, but even in this context intelligent observers can learn something useful. For example, here are Brian Behlendorf's thoughts on the problems of getting people to understand and engage with true openness:

On the downside: twice, I mentioned ODF vs. OOXML in conversations with people, and each time, there was a lack of awareness of the issue. I really don't want to embarrass them so I won't name names, but they were people who really should have known; one was a leader of a business that has been around for years and has serious document management and longevity issues, the other a government official who was charged with preserving his country's culture but sadly non-technical. In both cases, the initial response was along the lines of "this is a mess that you techies have created, I expect you to clean it up", as if it was simply a matter of defects in code that a company like Microsoft would be cleaning up quickly. If it turned out that valuable company data from 1993 were in a Word file format that couldn't be properly read by Office 2008, then they'd simply hire someone or a firm to dive in and repair it by hand. I believe I brought both of them around to understanding how it's not just a matter of bugfixing or outsourcing the problem, that it is a knowlege and institutional threat, and the role they need to play as informed customers in pressuring vendors to do the right thing. But, Microsoft's judo-move with OOXML of appearing to do the "right" thing that isn't actually right in practice has more power than I think you or I would wish were true.

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