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  • Open Standards

    Splitting off a thread from the "new economy" thread.

    http://www.tacticalgamer.com/sandbox...ml#post1227663

    Originally posted by El_Gringo_Grande View Post
    This coming from a guy that wants the government to make things nicer for Linux!
    Sorry if I gave that impression. I have no interest in seeing any special treatment of Linux.

    What I seek is transparency, and an aspect of that is open document standards. Proprietary programs tend to encourage proprietary formats, and the Office formats are an example of that. Open source software (OSS, including free OSS or FOSS) favors open formats.

    An example of the effect: I'm currently developing Windows software (not for government consumption, and in fact portable so it will soon be compiled on a tiny Linux platform) using Microsoft's Visual Studio development environment. When I upgraded from VS 2005 to VS 2008, the system converted my project files from one proprietary format to another, overwriting the old files. No attempt was made to leave the old files in place to allow a transition period or to allow compatibility with old customers or vendors. (A clever person, like me ;), can reverse-engineer the system to get around this, but I think most people won't bother and will just eat this, or will remain trapped on the older system for far longer due to the need to remain compatible with some business partners.)

    This same forced incompatibility in version jumps affects Office. You can't open newer formats in older software. But if you go to Open Office, you can often open "damaged" MS Office documents that MS will tell you are lost. (OTOH, OOo may not properly display "correct" MS documents, because it lacks inside information on some tricky bit of the proprietary format.)
    Dude, seriously, WHAT handkerchief?

    snooggums' density principal: "The more dense a population, the more dense a population."

    Iliana: "You're a great friend but if we're ever chased by zombies I'm tripping you."

  • #2
    Re: Open Standards

    Far be it from me to defend proprietary formats, but doesn't Microsoft usually offer free tools you can download to enable older versions of its software to read files generated by newer versions of that same software? I know I've used those tools for MS-Word, for example.

    Comment


    • #3
      Re: Open Standards

      Would ridding ourselves of the DMCA fix all that is wrong here? Or at least much of it?
      A policy of freedom for the individual is the only truly progressive policy. -F.A. Hayek

      "$250,000 a year won't get me to Central Park West."

      Comment


      • #4
        Re: Open Standards

        Originally posted by ScratchMonkey View Post
        Splitting off a thread from the "new economy" thread.

        http://www.tacticalgamer.com/sandbox...ml#post1227663



        Sorry if I gave that impression. I have no interest in seeing any special treatment of Linux.

        What I seek is transparency, and an aspect of that is open document standards. Proprietary programs tend to encourage proprietary formats, and the Office formats are an example of that. Open source software (OSS, including free OSS or FOSS) favors open formats.

        An example of the effect: I'm currently developing Windows software (not for government consumption, and in fact portable so it will soon be compiled on a tiny Linux platform) using Microsoft's Visual Studio development environment. When I upgraded from VS 2005 to VS 2008, the system converted my project files from one proprietary format to another, overwriting the old files. No attempt was made to leave the old files in place to allow a transition period or to allow compatibility with old customers or vendors. (A clever person, like me ;), can reverse-engineer the system to get around this, but I think most people won't bother and will just eat this, or will remain trapped on the older system for far longer due to the need to remain compatible with some business partners.)

        This same forced incompatibility in version jumps affects Office. You can't open newer formats in older software. But if you go to Open Office, you can often open "damaged" MS Office documents that MS will tell you are lost. (OTOH, OOo may not properly display "correct" MS documents, because it lacks inside information on some tricky bit of the proprietary format.)
        You saying the government should force theses open standards? (oops, transparency)

        Or are you saying they are good and you like them so vendors should support it?
        I知 not racists, I have republican friends. Radio show host.
        - "The essence of tyranny is the denial of complexity". -Jacob Burkhardt
        - "A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds" - Emerson
        - "People should not be afraid of it's government, government should be afraid of it's People." - Line from V for Vendetta
        - If software were as unreliable as economic theory, there wouldn't be a plane made of anything other than paper that could get off the ground. Jim Fawcette
        - "Let me now state what seems to me the decisive objection to any conservatism which deserves to be called such. It is that by its very nature it cannot offer an alternative to the direction in which we are moving." -Friedrich Hayek
        - "Don't waist your time on me your already the voice inside my head." Blink 182 to my wife

        Comment


        • #5
          Re: Open Standards

          I think companies should act with integrity in the first place. Why do I need a separate application to convert file formats. Really has the file format from one version of Office changed from the next? They just keep changing the file format for what I view as no good reason.

          Government enforcement? Maybe in some extreme cases. I don't view it as too much of a problem right now. I don't like to see the consumer getting shafted, but as it stands right now, I can spend my dollar elsewhere, like with Apple which, like it or not, offer great consumer care, even outside of warranty, and don't pull such crap as incompatible file formats.

          Comment


          • #6
            Re: Open Standards

            "Enforcement" has the connotation that police will show up at your door if you use the wrong file format. All the government has to do is require the use of open standards in its procurement systems and in public documents.

            Case in point: Last year I wanted a document from a local agency. They sent it as a read-only PDF file. To use it, I'd have to print it out and feed it into a typewriter (remember those?) or use one of those primitive "pen" things. One might use "active" PDF, but after the recent debacle with Adobe taking 4 months to get a fix out for a nasty vulnerability in their Reader application, I'm no fan of active documents getting passed around.

            The ideal approach would be to give me an editable "source" document in an open format. I could then edit it in the application of my choice (one of which happens to be free) and submit the form electronically. Possibly digitally signed, or I might have to print the final edited copy to apply the conventional signature for legal purposes, and then scan it and email back the scanned copy. (Ugh.)

            Now if the agency uses MS Word format, I'm going to have to buy a copy of that to edit their document. And the format will expire with no editable support from MS in the future. And there will be no way for a 3rd party to reliably provide access to those files.
            Dude, seriously, WHAT handkerchief?

            snooggums' density principal: "The more dense a population, the more dense a population."

            Iliana: "You're a great friend but if we're ever chased by zombies I'm tripping you."

            Comment


            • #7
              Re: Open Standards

              Originally posted by Sirusblk View Post
              I think companies should act with integrity in the first place. Why do I need a separate application to convert file formats. Really has the file format from one version of Office changed from the next? They just keep changing the file format for what I view as no good reason.

              Government enforcement? Maybe in some extreme cases. I don't view it as too much of a problem right now. I don't like to see the consumer getting shafted, but as it stands right now, I can spend my dollar elsewhere, like with Apple which, like it or not, offer great consumer care, even outside of warranty, and don't pull such crap as incompatible file formats.
              Some changes are necessary to fix problems, some are needed to add features, and some are added just because they can.
              I知 not racists, I have republican friends. Radio show host.
              - "The essence of tyranny is the denial of complexity". -Jacob Burkhardt
              - "A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds" - Emerson
              - "People should not be afraid of it's government, government should be afraid of it's People." - Line from V for Vendetta
              - If software were as unreliable as economic theory, there wouldn't be a plane made of anything other than paper that could get off the ground. Jim Fawcette
              - "Let me now state what seems to me the decisive objection to any conservatism which deserves to be called such. It is that by its very nature it cannot offer an alternative to the direction in which we are moving." -Friedrich Hayek
              - "Don't waist your time on me your already the voice inside my head." Blink 182 to my wife

              Comment


              • #8
                Re: Open Standards

                Originally posted by ScratchMonkey View Post
                "Enforcement" has the connotation that police will show up at your door if you use the wrong file format. All the government has to do is require the use of open standards in its procurement systems and in public documents.

                Case in point: Last year I wanted a document from a local agency. They sent it as a read-only PDF file. To use it, I'd have to print it out and feed it into a typewriter (remember those?) or use one of those primitive "pen" things. One might use "active" PDF, but after the recent debacle with Adobe taking 4 months to get a fix out for a nasty vulnerability in their Reader application, I'm no fan of active documents getting passed around.

                The ideal approach would be to give me an editable "source" document in an open format. I could then edit it in the application of my choice (one of which happens to be free) and submit the form electronically. Possibly digitally signed, or I might have to print the final edited copy to apply the conventional signature for legal purposes, and then scan it and email back the scanned copy. (Ugh.)

                Now if the agency uses MS Word format, I'm going to have to buy a copy of that to edit their document. And the format will expire with no editable support from MS in the future. And there will be no way for a 3rd party to reliably provide access to those files.
                So you want "required transparency" for all government documents? Sounds reasonable. Word could still participate as long as it can read/output the required transparency?

                Who is the keeper of all these formats? There are slide shows, text documents, spread sheets, video, music etc.

                And open source is not the solution. Open source encourages innovation and with that innovation comes change. Who is going to be the gatekeeper of the open source projects to ensure the latest build conforms to the format required by government agencies?

                What happens when a couple of developers thinks of a way cool feature that some will absolutely love but to implement it they must diverge from the required format? Either the developers have to petition the government to adopt the new format or the government, and every single person and company dealing with the government, must now use the new versions.
                I知 not racists, I have republican friends. Radio show host.
                - "The essence of tyranny is the denial of complexity". -Jacob Burkhardt
                - "A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds" - Emerson
                - "People should not be afraid of it's government, government should be afraid of it's People." - Line from V for Vendetta
                - If software were as unreliable as economic theory, there wouldn't be a plane made of anything other than paper that could get off the ground. Jim Fawcette
                - "Let me now state what seems to me the decisive objection to any conservatism which deserves to be called such. It is that by its very nature it cannot offer an alternative to the direction in which we are moving." -Friedrich Hayek
                - "Don't waist your time on me your already the voice inside my head." Blink 182 to my wife

                Comment


                • #9
                  Re: Open Standards

                  Originally posted by El_Gringo_Grande View Post
                  Who is the keeper of all these formats? There are slide shows, text documents, spread sheets, video, music etc.

                  And open source is not the solution. Open source encourages innovation and with that innovation comes change. Who is going to be the gatekeeper of the open source projects to ensure the latest build conforms to the format required by government agencies?

                  What happens when a couple of developers thinks of a way cool feature that some will absolutely love but to implement it they must diverge from the required format? Either the developers have to petition the government to adopt the new format or the government, and every single person and company dealing with the government, must now use the new versions.
                  I think you're confusing applications, data and standards. Every government should set requirements for the data it makes available to the public. One of these requirements should be openness. Every person should be able to download official documents and write their own application to read them, if they really wanted.

                  No government website should use flash, silverlight, activeX, etc.

                  Comment


                  • #10
                    Re: Open Standards

                    Originally posted by RandomGuy View Post
                    I think you're confusing applications, data and standards. Every government should set requirements for the data it makes available to the public. One of these requirements should be openness. Every person should be able to download official documents and write their own application to read them, if they really wanted.

                    No government website should use flash, silverlight, activeX, etc.
                    At it's core data and format/standards are very intertwined when it comes to computers. Computers store 1's and 0's. They do not store pictures and words. Something has to define how the 1's and 0's are presented to the user.

                    And even with defined standards the transformed data is still worthless to most everybody without applications. Another big problem is that sometimes the application itself does the transformation. It may take the ASCII data and draw a series of dots that form a picture, or maybe a graph. No other application can produce the same graph (without reverse engineering). The ASCII data could even have been in a standard format to express a said graph but this new was of seeing it is just much better.

                    This isn't exactly what Scratch is talking about but it is a complicating factor. Because the whole point of the discussion is about being able to communicate information between anybody interested. If this new graph depiction is only available to those who know where to get the application then the communication will fail.

                    Simple case is "1.000". To me it looks like "one point zero, zero, zero". In other countries it is one thousand.

                    Internally computer systems can store that as various string formats, a float type, a integer type. And systems/platforms have different storage formats.

                    That is the simple case. Now add other types of formatting to it like in a spreadsheet or a text document.

                    And if the government can't use flash etc how can it effectively distribute the data?

                    In my early days TIFF was thought of as the defacto standard for images so the system I worked with had all images in TIFF. We tried to publish this stuff (back in 1994) to that cool new thing "the web". But many people couldn't use the stuff easily. There was great resistance to use GIF and JPEG because nobody could figure out who owned the rights to the formats and fears of those formats going away.

                    The problem was that, at the time, most browsers did not handle tiff very well, if at all. So people would have to download the files then find a application to display them.

                    So with video and audio formats you have many choices. Which is the correct choice?

                    Maybe you use H.263? Early on my wife couldn't play these video's because her computer was locked down so she couldn't install plugins/applications needed to view them. So you have a standard that not everybody can use. It requires certain applications to play.

                    What happens when H.264 (or whatever) comes out that is sooooo much better? Keep on H.263 because that is what everybody is used to?

                    Even without considering new codecs/formats you have to figure out how to distribute the stuff. Flash supports H.263, no? So why not use flash? What other thing are you going to use to stream? Something has to capture the stream and display it to the user. Why not flash or silverstream?
                    Last edited by El_Gringo_Grande; 03-10-2009, 12:00 PM.
                    I知 not racists, I have republican friends. Radio show host.
                    - "The essence of tyranny is the denial of complexity". -Jacob Burkhardt
                    - "A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds" - Emerson
                    - "People should not be afraid of it's government, government should be afraid of it's People." - Line from V for Vendetta
                    - If software were as unreliable as economic theory, there wouldn't be a plane made of anything other than paper that could get off the ground. Jim Fawcette
                    - "Let me now state what seems to me the decisive objection to any conservatism which deserves to be called such. It is that by its very nature it cannot offer an alternative to the direction in which we are moving." -Friedrich Hayek
                    - "Don't waist your time on me your already the voice inside my head." Blink 182 to my wife

                    Comment


                    • #11
                      Re: Open Standards

                      Originally posted by El_Gringo_Grande View Post
                      And if the government can't use flash etc how can it effectively distribute the data?
                      Flash is really more like a document format (controlled by adobe) than a distribution mechanism. http is the distribution method, which is open. I would expect most gov't would use http and maybe email or ftp to distribute information to the public. Maybe one day they will use a source control system with public read-only access for legislation. (One can dream, right?)

                      Originally posted by El_Gringo_Grande View Post
                      Simple case is "1.000". To me it looks like "one point zero, zero, zero". In other countries it is one thousand.

                      Internally computer systems can store that as various string formats, a float type, a integer type. And systems/platforms have different storage formats.
                      There are many well-established, open, documented standards for storing floating-point numbers, character strings, etc. But we are talking about documents here which as you say are more complicated than raw data.

                      When it comes to images, gif was historically a patent question mark. It would be wise for any gov't to replace it with png (support for png in web browsers is good). I'm pretty sure the jpeg standard has always been open so there's really no risk of the format "going away". Note that a format being patented is a different beast from it being closed or open.

                      I'll skip over video for now since I think documents are more important. (I can't offhand think of any gov't function that requires the public to watch a video.) However, there are acceptable standards for video systems as well.

                      The real problem is documents, like gov't forms. Specifically, the use of pdf and ms-word are a problem. If the gov't requires the public to view documents or forms in these formats it is forcing these corporations upon us. The argument that these are the most widely-readable formats because the applications (word and acrobat) are the most widely-installed is not acceptable for a few reasons:
                      1. There will always be someone unable to read the document for some reason no matter what the format. If the gov't decides to distribute a document that everyone must be able to read regardless of computing ability, it's going to need a whole lot of postage-paid envelopes.
                      2. One of the roles of most governments is to limit monopolies. This would be actively encouraging monopolies.
                      3. Freedom is more important than convenience and freedom comes from openness.

                      Should I have to trust a MS or adobe software engineer to translate instructions from the gov't on how to fill out my income tax return?

                      Comment


                      • #12
                        Re: Open Standards

                        Originally posted by RandomGuy View Post
                        Flash is really more like a document format (controlled by adobe) than a distribution mechanism. http is the distribution method, which is open. I would expect most gov't would use http and maybe email or ftp to distribute information to the public. Maybe one day they will use a source control system with public read-only access for legislation.
                        I think you are confused a bit. Flash apps can just stream standard codecs. All that is "flashy" about them is the start/pause/fast foward stuff.

                        HTTP is a data transfer protocol. I think you are actually talking about HTML. That is a standard and it is a markup language. It doesn't really have any way, that I know of, to display video or play music. That is left up to the browser.

                        Originally posted by RandomGuy View Post
                        There are many well-established, open, documented standards for storing floating-point numbers, character strings, etc. But we are talking about documents here which as you say are more complicated than raw data.

                        When it comes to images, gif was historically a patent question mark. It would be wise for any gov't to replace it with png (support for png in web browsers is good). I'm pretty sure the jpeg standard has always been open so there's really no risk of the format "going away". Note that a format being patented is a different beast from it being closed or open.

                        I'll skip over video for now since I think documents are more important. (I can't offhand think of any gov't function that requires the public to watch a video.) However, there are acceptable standards for video systems as well.

                        The real problem is documents, like gov't forms. Specifically, the use of pdf and ms-word are a problem. If the gov't requires the public to view documents or forms in these formats it is forcing these corporations upon us. The argument that these are the most widely-readable formats because the applications (word and acrobat) are the most widely-installed is not acceptable for a few reasons:
                        1. There will always be someone unable to read the document for some reason no matter what the format. If the gov't decides to distribute a document that everyone must be able to read regardless of computing ability, it's going to need a whole lot of postage-paid envelopes.
                        2. One of the roles of most governments is to limit monopolies. This would be actively encouraging monopolies.
                        3. Freedom is more important than convenience and freedom comes from openness.

                        Should I have to trust a MS or adobe software engineer to translate instructions from the gov't on how to fill out my income tax return?
                        I am not saying they shouldn't be pursued. I am saying that they are difficult to achieved in an industries infancy. I am also saying government has to be careful when they are the ones defining them.
                        I知 not racists, I have republican friends. Radio show host.
                        - "The essence of tyranny is the denial of complexity". -Jacob Burkhardt
                        - "A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds" - Emerson
                        - "People should not be afraid of it's government, government should be afraid of it's People." - Line from V for Vendetta
                        - If software were as unreliable as economic theory, there wouldn't be a plane made of anything other than paper that could get off the ground. Jim Fawcette
                        - "Let me now state what seems to me the decisive objection to any conservatism which deserves to be called such. It is that by its very nature it cannot offer an alternative to the direction in which we are moving." -Friedrich Hayek
                        - "Don't waist your time on me your already the voice inside my head." Blink 182 to my wife

                        Comment


                        • #13
                          Re: Open Standards

                          Flash is pure gravy in my opinion. This might be going off on a tangent a bit but basically it's really for design purposes, and not really for a standard for content. It helps supplement the material, never as a replacement for the content delivery.

                          Comment


                          • #14
                            Re: Open Standards

                            Is Flash an open standard? I haven't followed what happened when Adobe bought it.

                            PDF is open, but it's not a source format. It's a rendering format. So it's fine for print-ready material, but it's not something you can edit. Forms have been tacked on using JavaScript, but active documents are a security issue. Better to share an editable source format with a public standard. If you must distribute active documents, don't accept them without digital signatures so you have someone to sue when they infect your organization.

                            As pointed out earlier, GIF was patent-encumbered, so no one could use it legally without paying royalties to the patent holder. That eliminates it as a suitable format for government documents. There were some claims that parts of JPEG were patented, so people were real jittery to adopt it, and rightly so. RSA encryption had the exact same issue. Once the patents expired, RSA was acceptable for public use.
                            Dude, seriously, WHAT handkerchief?

                            snooggums' density principal: "The more dense a population, the more dense a population."

                            Iliana: "You're a great friend but if we're ever chased by zombies I'm tripping you."

                            Comment


                            • #15
                              Re: Open Standards

                              Originally posted by El_Gringo_Grande View Post
                              Maybe you use H.263? Early on my wife couldn't play these video's because her computer was locked down so she couldn't install plugins/applications needed to view them. So you have a standard that not everybody can use. It requires certain applications to play.

                              What happens when H.264 (or whatever) comes out that is sooooo much better? Keep on H.263 because that is what everybody is used to?
                              Depends on what you mean by "better". If it's patent-encumbered, then no amount of "wonderfulness" makes it acceptable as a public document format. (And videos count as documents.)

                              But this also illustrates the problem with software patents. Recall that patents aren't an innate right but a monopoly privilege conferred by governments to encourage innovation. Insofar as patents discourage innovation (and they arguably do as applied to software and file formats), they should be removed. Europe has started to recognize this. But there's a lot of money behind the status quo in the US, so ending all US software patents won't be an easy process.
                              Dude, seriously, WHAT handkerchief?

                              snooggums' density principal: "The more dense a population, the more dense a population."

                              Iliana: "You're a great friend but if we're ever chased by zombies I'm tripping you."

                              Comment

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