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A Report from LinuxForum 2006 - Updated 2Xs
Friday, March 03 2006 @ 11:05 PM EST

LinuxForum began today in Copenhagen at The Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts, School of Architecture, and Groklaw's elhaard was there to be our eyes and ears. He took photographs for us, too.

The day included a panel, OpenOffice.org vs. Microsoft - the battle for document standards of the future. Who will control the choice of office software in the future - Microsoft or a common open document standard?

The panel consisted of the following:

* Simon Phipps, Chief Open Source Officer, Sun Microsystems
* Louis Suarez-Potts, Project Manager, OpenOffice.org
* Anders Nørskov, Director of politics and strategy, Microsoft Denmark
* Anne Grete Holmsgaard, Member of The Danish Parliament
* Søren Thing Pedersen, Project Manager, OpenOffice.org Denmark

The panel discussion was moderated by Rolf Ask Clausen, editor-in-chief of the Danish weekly paper, Ingeniøren. More details here. There was an audio tape made, but I need to seek permission first to share it with you. Check back here tomorrow. I will if I can. Meanwhile, I did listen to it.

UPDATE: Here you go. Enjoy!

Elhaard remarks that the representative from Microsoft was outdebated, and he feels that perhaps Microsoft sent the wrong person, just like in Massachusetts. I disagree. The man did very well with what he had to work with. The problem isn't that Microsoft keeps sending the wrong guy. The problem is they are in an untenable position. They are refusing to support the only standard currently, ODF, and he had the unhappy task of telling the crowd that competing standards are a good thing. That isn't the case, as you know perfectly well if you've ever tried to bring an electric appliance to Europe from the US or vice versa.

The whole point of having a standard is so that everyone can use it. The goal is interoperability. That's what the world would like. It isn't Microsoft's goal, however, judging from its pig-headed determination not to join the rest of the world in supporting ODF. Microsoft seems always to be trying to beat the competition down, and by insisting on their own extendable standard, if it ever gets to be one, we see them still in the compete-on-standards road, and that is mighty hard to make sound quite right at a conference.

2d UPDATE: Video can now be found here or here.

**********************

A Report from LinuxForum 2006
~by elhaard

Today was the first day of LinuxForum 2006 in Copenhagen, Denmark. LinuxForum is far from the biggest Linux venue in the world, but they do attract some very interesting speakers. Of special interest to me this year is Simon Phipps from Sun, Wietse Venema (author of the Postfix mail server and many security-related tools) and Alan Cox, one of the most famous Linux kernel maintainers besides Linus. Of special interest to you, today's program also featured a discussion session about office document format standards -- with participants from both Sun, OpenOffice.org and Microsoft.

LinuxForum runs over two days: Friday (today) is more business-minded and Saturday is for the geeks... er... I mean... the more technically minded. Thus, today's program was definitely of more interest to the wider Groklaw audience. Tomorrow will be exciting too, but only for some Groklawians. Also, it will be harder to report, so you will have to make do with my report from today.

Louis Suarez-Potts, OpenOffice.org, on Migration to OO.o --

Today began beautifully with a nice, snowy weather outside, and Louis Suarez-Potts (Community Manager for OpenOffice.org) speaking on "Migration to OpenOffice.org" on the inside. His presentation did not bring much news for the informed Groklawian, but he did make some interesting points, and that in a very straightforward way.

Image of LSP
Louis Suarez-Potts

First of all, he stated that ODF will create wealth and will ensure that the intellectual riches of a nation are not lost, a point, he said, that Pamela Jones and Peter Quinn have already made. In Louis Suarez-Potts' opinion, all digital documents will be lost if written with "Microsoft ink". Because of that, we need open standards like ODF that makes your content yours -- and we need Free Open Source Software (FOSS) whose licenses "eliminates nasty EULAs". Not that open standards means that we have to use FOSS, but it gives us the option.

He also spoke about the main obstacles for adoption of OpenOffice.org by government organizations and big corporations. Often, they fear that they have to enter a new form of support and licensing -- they have simply gotten used to dealing with Microsoft and others with the same business model. But nowadays, he said, there are many companies that offers similar support on similar terms for FOSS. And for governments there is yet another reason to migrate to OpenOffice.org or other FOSS: money spent on support will be spent with local companies that pay taxes in the country they live in, as opposed to the world of proprietary software, where your money end up going abroad, to Redmond [or Ireland, I guess].

But the world is changing. Now it is not only left to FOSS to ensure interoperability with Microsoft products. Now it is also Microsoft that needs to change their ways to ensure interoperability if they want to compete in the European market. Also, local governments now have a global interest: What if you have to use ODF when communicating with, say, the EU?

After his presentation, Louis Suarez-Potts was asked from the audience what the future might bring for OpenOffice.org. He answered that there are plans for improvements to Calc, for better localisation support, and perhaps a mail client, since many Microsoft Office users ask about that when considering migration to OpenOffice.org.

Simon Phipps, Sun, on Open Source Philosophy

The next speaker was Simon Phipps, Chief Open Source Officer for Sun Microsystems. He spoke on "The Zen of Free -- The Virtous Cycle of Open Source". This was truly the highlight of the day. He was funny, well-spoken and brought several pieces of good news, most notable that Sun is planning to open source all their software in approximately two years!

Image of SP
Simon Phipps

He said that much has changed over the last decade; we have gone from the Information Age with uni-directional information into the Participation Age with blogging and many other ways of multi-directional information and collaboration. Realizing that, he started blogs.sun.com, because Sun's greatest assets are smart people. And he has worked internally in Sun to get them to open up. One of his arguments as been that closed room development (where you put a bunch of smart people in a room with pizza until they have come up with something) does not work anymore because everyone else is collaborating. That means that it is no longer you against some other company; it is you against the world. Smart people are often working at the same thing as you. And they are faster than you, because they are more, and because they are not hindered by marketing, legalese and so on.

Then, he spoke on the virtous circle of open source. The idea is simply that everyone gains with open source. An author who gives his software to the commons gains by having others improving on it. Anyone improving on it and giving the improvements to the commons gains not only the original code but also further improvements. Anyone just using the software obviously gains the use of the software. The only one who does not gain is the one who does a fork and does not give back to the commons. For that person, the fork will mean greater maintenance costs, and thus no benefit.

What matters is not so much which license is chosen for a project as the project governance, Simon Phipps said, especially how easy it is for people to participate. When evaluating open source efforts in Sun, he always asks: "How long before anyone outside Sun is involved?".

His next topic was software patents. According to him, software patents are a huge threat, mainly because they mean that everybody needs lawyers in order to do anything. Even small Open Source projects need lawyers. He described the software patent situation in the US as "an arms race": All have to play the patent game so that they can use patents defensively. And software patents do not help innovation -- they are rather a shadow of innovation. Patent applications never contain sample code, at most a simplified flow chart made by a lawyer. That means that even if you read a patent description, you will have no idea on how to implement it. He strongly hoped that software patents will not make it into EU legislation. If they do (or in countries where they have), the main weapons against them should be non-assert covenants, especially regarding standards, and compulsory licensing.

At the end of his presentation, he said Sun is "the only complete, enterprise-class, open alternative to Microsoft". Then, he announced the ODF Alliance (which I guess you have heard about by now) and invited everyone to join: "We need a posse".

After his presentation, he took questions from the audience, and I asked him why they invented the CDDL. He said that it was mainly due to the fact that they could not completely open source Solaris, because they did not own it all, even if they had licenses to use it. Evidently, it took five years of research to find out who owned all the different code lines. And still, not all core things are free. Amongst others, a certain video chip manufacturer (whose name he could not mention) refused them to Open Source some code. When they reviewed different licenses, they skipped BSD-style licenses because they did not want people to freeload. And GPL was out because they did not own all the code. Then they looked at the Mozilla License, but discovered that it contained company names and jurisdictions. They already had their own "vanity license" (the Sun Public License) made from the Mozilla License by replacing company names and jurisdictions , but they wanted a more general, once-and-for-all Mozilla License with the "bugs fixed", as he put it. That became the CDDL. He felt that the CDDL was only blown up to a big issue because it was Sun who wrote it. Anyway, they are not against GPL when they own all the code - e.g. Glassfish (their Open Source Java project) will be released under the GPL.

Overall, Simon Phipps' presentation left me with an altogether more positive view on Sun. I like to think it is because I now understand a little bit more of what they are trying to do -- on the other hand I might just have been lulled into happiness by a gifted speaker. But assuming that Sun means what Simon Phipps was saying, it actually seems that Sun is more of a good guy than IBM. As I reported November 9th Bob Sutor said that IBM was not entirely against software patents. Also, I guess it will be more than two years before IBM open sources all their software :-)

Discussion on the Future Document Format Standards

The last session I attended today was the one I had looked forward to the most, but it turned out to be the least interesting of them all. It was the panel discussion titled "OpenOffice.org vs. Microsoft - the Battle for Document Standards of the Future". I can best describe it as an unbalanced fight. The outcome was less than surprising.

Image of the panel
The Panel

On the ODF side we had Simon Phipps from Sun and Louis Suarez-Potts from OpenOffice.org as well as Søren Thing Pedersen from OpenOffice.org in Denmark. On the other side was Director of Politics and Strategy, Anders Nørskov, from Microsoft Denmark. And in between, or rather outside that, we had Member of The Danish Parliament, Anne Grete Holmsgaard.

The latter is a member of the Socialistisk Folkeparti, which is very much against multinational capitalist corporations. So of course she is against Microsoft and supports ODF, but since her party is not anywhere near running the government, she really does not have much power to push it through alone. On the other hand, she is a clever politician and might actually succeed in getting politicians from other parties on her side in this. She is clearly not into the technical details but gets the freedom bit right on.

As for the unfair fight: It was three (and an audience) against one, it was two highly skilled and knowing international leaders against a local salesman, and it was an accepted, implemented standard against a distrusted work-in-progress. And then there was the language barrier. Simon Phipps and Louis Suarez-Potts spoke their mother tongue while Anders Nørskov was struggling with his English. There was no way for the Microsoft man to win this discussion.

During most of the discussion, Simon Phipps asked why Microsoft did not join the ODF work, and Anders Nørskov said it was because of backwards compability issues. All the ODF guys pointed out that XMLRS was not a standard yet, and even though ECMA is likely to rubberstamp it, ISO is not. And since Microsoft is at least 18 months behind with the standardization procedure, they might even end up with a Microsoft implementation that does not follow the might-not-even-be future ISO standard based on XMLRS. Anders Nørskov had no reply to this.

I kept the feeling that like in Massachusetts, Microsoft had sent the wrong guy. Anders Nørskov was simply no match for Simon Phipps and Louis Suarez-Potts. As I said, the outcome was obvious.


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