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Mandatory Open Formats

electricitylikesmeelectricitylikesme Registered User regular
edited January 2008 in Debate and/or Discourse
This thread was inspired by the EU anti-trust thread, which has focussed somewhat on Microsoft's market dominance in the Office productivity application suite.

So hear I am wondering about what I see as the wider issue there - should data file formats be legally enforced as having to be fully documented in the public domain?

Digital information interchange is pretty much the name of the game these days - a good deal of working with anything on a computer is simply converting data from one format to another. A huge part of the XML format standard is simply that it's inherently "open" and so interpreting the structure of the file format is easy.

What does the rest of D&D think? Would there be advantage in enforcing full disclosure of file formats? Potential problems in maintaining market competition?

electricitylikesme on
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    Rhan9Rhan9 Registered User regular
    edited January 2008
    Personally I'd prefer file formats to be open, as that'd make moving files between different software setups easier. I hate nothing more than having to convert files just because the computer I made the original with isn't compatible with the one I need to transfer the file to. With text files, the formatting usually goes to hell, so it's extra work just to get the file to work. The end result might still not be identical.

    Rhan9 on
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    kildykildy Registered User regular
    edited January 2008
    Opening certain file formats would likely break short term market advantages (think compression, database storage, whatnot), but creating some form of Certified Interoperable sticker to put on boxed software would be a good thing for those companies who do open their formats.

    Conversion between one software suite and a new one is the biggest IT headache ever, right up there with long term storage and licenses for software we never use anymore, just so we can open an 8 year old document that was written in it if anyone ever sues.

    I can't see it mandatory, though.

    kildy on
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    ZoolanderZoolander Registered User regular
    edited January 2008
    Aren't the new MS formats pretty open? Like anyone can make/edit documents in the formats, without paying MS anything and such?

    Zoolander on
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    electricitylikesmeelectricitylikesme Registered User regular
    edited January 2008
    XML pretty fundamentally means all your formatting is human readable and tagged so it's easy to get an idea of how it works (AFAIK)

    electricitylikesme on
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    kildykildy Registered User regular
    edited January 2008
    They're Open, but practically undocumented (it's a 6,000 page document that's flat out Wrong in a number of places)

    As of yet, nobody's been able to use said documentation to produce a working read/write docx conversion.

    kildy on
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    AldoAldo Hippo Hooray Registered User regular
    edited January 2008
    I'm already all over the EU suing discussion, so I'll keep it short here...

    If there were more open formats it would be so much easier, faster and cheaper for anyone ever making anything on a computer, it would surely lead to some benefits for, amongst others, Microsoft as well. In my opinion it's a win/win situation in the long run.

    Emphasis: in the long run. Which is, I suppose, the reason why the big fish are reluctant.

    Aldo on
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    shrykeshryke Member of the Beast Registered User regular
    edited January 2008
    I think it's in the interest of people and the economy as a whole for standard formats to be open. So I see no problem with the government enforcing this.

    shryke on
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    ege02ege02 __BANNED USERS regular
    edited January 2008
    It will inevitably get there.

    Forcing it is pointless and expensive.

    ege02 on
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    shrykeshryke Member of the Beast Registered User regular
    edited January 2008
    ege02 wrote: »
    It will inevitably get there.

    Forcing it is pointless and expensive.

    Will it now?

    shryke on
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    MKRMKR Registered User regular
    edited January 2008
    Maybe in another 20 years. Seriously, hasn't the problem been around for about two decades?

    MKR on
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    ege02ege02 __BANNED USERS regular
    edited January 2008
    shryke wrote: »
    ege02 wrote: »
    It will inevitably get there.

    Forcing it is pointless and expensive.

    Will it now?

    Yeah.

    ege02 on
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    MKRMKR Registered User regular
    edited January 2008
    ege02 wrote: »
    shryke wrote: »
    ege02 wrote: »
    It will inevitably get there.

    Forcing it is pointless and expensive.

    Will it now?

    Yeah.

    How do you propose this long-desired format revolution will occur?

    MKR on
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    ege02ege02 __BANNED USERS regular
    edited January 2008
    Developers will eventually realize that making the user experience a total pain in the ass is not in their company's best interest.

    In the old days you could get away with it, but nowadays there is too much competition. Entrenching your formats and making them incompatible is a big negative.

    ege02 on
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    MKRMKR Registered User regular
    edited January 2008
    But there's less competition than before. Now there are maybe 2 competitors, fighting against Juggersoft and its 99% market "share."

    MKR on
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    saggiosaggio Registered User regular
    edited January 2008
    Things will become much easier when .odt finally becomes an ISO standard. When that happens, it will be that much easier to convince governments and businesses to implement it, and that much more pressure will be on Microsoft to support it.

    OOXML is a terrible standard and generally inferior in a number of significant ways to ODT/ODF. The only way it will ever gain any traction is if it manages to usurp the position of ODT at the ISO itself. The format itself was only ever created to prevent an end to the dominance of Microsoft in regards to format control - if ODT never existed (and wasn't supported by IBM, Sun, Novell, Apple) we'd all still be forced to use multiple incompatible versions of .doc.

    saggio on
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    zeenyzeeny Registered User regular
    edited January 2008
    ege02 wrote: »
    Developers will eventually realize that making the user experience a total pain in the ass is not in their company's best interest.

    In the old days you could get away with it, but nowadays there is too much competition. Entrenching your formats and making them incompatible is a big negative.

    There is too much competition in a market where a company has had a monopoly position for about 15 years now? Also, why is it not in the company's best interest to maintain a closed file format and sell a licence for additional platforms? Seriously. What are you even saying?

    zeeny on
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    ElJeffeElJeffe Moderator, ClubPA mod
    edited January 2008
    I think some formats are pretty much open enough as-is. I mean, if you have Windows, you can pretty much open a Word doc. You just need to have Word if you want to edit it, or if it has a bunch of fancy formatting or pics.

    I think moving to towards a PDF model would work well, where anyone could read any file, you just couldn't make them without purchasing certain software. While I can see some benefits to open formats, I see none that justify compelling people to make it so.

    ElJeffe on
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    Satan.Satan. __BANNED USERS regular
    edited January 2008
    ege02 wrote: »
    It will inevitably get there.

    Forcing it is pointless and expensive.
    My god I agree with ege.

    Satan. on
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    DocDoc Registered User, ClubPA regular
    edited January 2008
    So hear I am wondering about what I see as the wider issue there - should data file formats be legally enforced as having to be fully documented in the public domain?

    Not legally enforced, no. If I write a game or something, I should be able to write the save files however I damn well please.

    That said, I think it would be an excellent requirement for all software that the government is looking to buy. It's a public institution and closed data formats allow for easier lock-in.

    Doc on
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    zeenyzeeny Registered User regular
    edited January 2008
    ElJeffe wrote: »
    I think some formats are pretty much open enough as-is. I mean, if you have Windows, you can pretty much open a Word doc. You just need to have Word if you want to edit it, or if it has a bunch of fancy formatting or pics.

    I think moving to towards a PDF model would work well, where anyone could read any file, you just couldn't make them without purchasing certain software.

    The thing is, with a fully open format odds are you won't need to "purchase" anything as long as it's for personal use.
    While I can see some benefits to open formats, I see none that justify compelling people to make it so.

    I'm with you as I don't want to see anybody getting compelled to use/publish a format. However, we have a de facto monopoly in the industry and the introduction of open formats would facilitate introducing users to alternative software. So, yeah, I'm with you, but my heart is crying.

    zeeny on
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    ege02ege02 __BANNED USERS regular
    edited January 2008
    zeeny wrote: »
    ege02 wrote: »
    Developers will eventually realize that making the user experience a total pain in the ass is not in their company's best interest.

    In the old days you could get away with it, but nowadays there is too much competition. Entrenching your formats and making them incompatible is a big negative.

    There is too much competition in a market where a company has had a monopoly position for about 15 years now? Also, why is it not in the company's best interest to maintain a closed file format and sell a licence for additional platforms? Seriously. What are you even saying?

    Because monopolies don't last forever.

    Sooner or later someone will come up with a product that is superior enough to Office products to be able to overthrow Microsoft's monopoly status.

    Maybe a new algorithm, or even a completely new and revolutionary way of thinking about and doing word-processing. Suddenly .doc is a legacy format and Microsoft has no choice but to make the format open so that people can justify sticking with Word.

    I mean sure, Microsoft is in a very powerful position right now, but their monopoly doesn't make them invulnerable to competition.

    ege02 on
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    AcosmistAcosmist Registered User regular
    edited January 2008
    I am opposed to a Takings Clause violation, if that's the question (it is).

    Acosmist on
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    zeenyzeeny Registered User regular
    edited January 2008
    ege02 wrote: »
    zeeny wrote: »
    ege02 wrote: »
    Developers will eventually realize that making the user experience a total pain in the ass is not in their company's best interest.

    In the old days you could get away with it, but nowadays there is too much competition. Entrenching your formats and making them incompatible is a big negative.

    There is too much competition in a market where a company has had a monopoly position for about 15 years now? Also, why is it not in the company's best interest to maintain a closed file format and sell a licence for additional platforms? Seriously. What are you even saying?

    Because monopolies don't last forever.

    Sooner or later someone will come up with a product that is superior enough to Office products to be able to overthrow Microsoft's monopoly status.

    Maybe a new algorithm, or even a completely new and revolutionary way of thinking about and doing word-processing. Suddenly .doc is a legacy format and Microsoft has no choice but to make the format open so that people can justify sticking with Word.

    I mean sure, Microsoft is in a very powerful position right now, but their monopoly doesn't make them invulnerable to competition.

    You're seriously the most optimistic economically person on that board. Let's put it that way. IF* that piece of software comes, corporate users would have two choices: Migrate or stay. If you have 10 zillion files that you won't be able to read the moment you move, no matter what the cost is, you'd stay. If the files were in an open format, competitors would be able to provide you with the opportunity to convert your current data. In the first case, no matter how brilliant the software is, it would die a slow death because of difficulties on adoption.

    *and there is no reason to believe it will. Software changes have become incremental and the idea for a from scratch software being able to cause such steer is not serious.

    zeeny on
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    kildykildy Registered User regular
    edited January 2008
    ege02 wrote: »
    Developers will eventually realize that making the user experience a total pain in the ass is not in their company's best interest.

    In the old days you could get away with it, but nowadays there is too much competition. Entrenching your formats and making them incompatible is a big negative.

    Didn't you, just in the other thread, say there wasn't any good competition to Office?

    I'm CONFUSED. Though I agree that forcing it's not a good idea, nor viable. I do want it to be made obvious who has what compatibility through a standards body. Like, you know, people actually funding the ISO properly.

    edit: Just to point out why people want open formats.

    Suppose I work in an industry that's legally required to keep all documents for seven years. So a new product comes out to make Better documents. With a closed file format, I have to either stay on my old software Forever in order to stay legally compliant, or run Both (which in our current yearly license heavy corporate purchasing environment, means I have to keep paying for something I no longer use daily), since conversion is not an option.

    This makes it very hard to switch software even if the new stuff is Nicer. Think of it as if you bought a new video card. Now in order to play any game you purchased prior to that new video card, you had to use the old card. That's kind of a bitch, ain't it?

    kildy on
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    AcosmistAcosmist Registered User regular
    edited January 2008
    I am glad you all agree that violating the Takings Clause by forcing this to be open-source is good.

    Acosmist on
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    MKRMKR Registered User regular
    edited January 2008
    Acosmist wrote: »
    I am glad you all agree that violating the Takings Clause by forcing this to be open-source is good.

    Since when are file formats considered private property? Or for that matter, since when were they property?

    Edit: And what of our files? Should we not be able to do as we wish with them, and fight against those who would attempt to control that property by designing incompatibilities in to the formats in which the property is stored?

    MKR on
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    kildykildy Registered User regular
    edited January 2008
    Acosmist wrote: »
    I am glad you all agree that violating the Takings Clause by forcing this to be open-source is good.

    TCP/IP is not Open Source.

    It is a Standard.

    Creating a Standard does not require you to disclose your code to do so, it requires you to document what all the stored bits do. There's a monumental difference.

    kildy on
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    ege02ege02 __BANNED USERS regular
    edited January 2008
    kildy wrote: »
    ege02 wrote: »
    Developers will eventually realize that making the user experience a total pain in the ass is not in their company's best interest.

    In the old days you could get away with it, but nowadays there is too much competition. Entrenching your formats and making them incompatible is a big negative.

    Didn't you, just in the other thread, say there wasn't any good competition to Office?

    There isn't any good competition to Office right now.

    This doesn't mean there won't be any good competition to Office five years down the line. Or even next month.
    You're seriously the most optimistic economically person on that board. Let's put it that way. IF* that piece of software comes, corporate users would have two choices: Migrate or stay. If you have 10 zillion files that you won't be able to read the moment you move, no matter what the cost is, you'd stay. If the files were in an open format, competitors would be able to provide you with the opportunity to convert your current data. In the first case, no matter how brilliant the software is, it would die a slow death because of difficulties on adoption.

    *and there is no reason to believe it will. Software changes have become incremental and the idea for a from scratch software being able to cause such steer is not serious.

    Obviously the benefits of the new software would have to outweigh the cost of migration. This means the product has to be pretty remarkable, or maybe revolutionary.

    ege02 on
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    AcosmistAcosmist Registered User regular
    edited January 2008
    MKR wrote: »
    Acosmist wrote: »
    I am glad you all agree that violating the Takings Clause by forcing this to be open-source is good.

    Since when are file formats considered private property? Or for that matter, since when were they property?

    Edit: And what of our files? Should we not be able to do as we wish with them, and fight against those who would attempt to control that property by designing incompatibilities in to the formats in which the property is stored?

    Oh, they're already open-source? Then this thread seems weird.

    Acosmist on
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    kildykildy Registered User regular
    edited January 2008
    Acosmist wrote: »
    MKR wrote: »
    Acosmist wrote: »
    I am glad you all agree that violating the Takings Clause by forcing this to be open-source is good.

    Since when are file formats considered private property? Or for that matter, since when were they property?

    Edit: And what of our files? Should we not be able to do as we wish with them, and fight against those who would attempt to control that property by designing incompatibilities in to the formats in which the property is stored?

    Oh, they're already open-source? Then this thread seems weird.

    Please stop misusing that word.
    Open Source: You give me your entire uncompiled Office code.
    Open Format: You tell me what line 3, character 17 in .docx means for tabbing.

    kildy on
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    MKRMKR Registered User regular
    edited January 2008
    Acosmist wrote: »
    MKR wrote: »
    Acosmist wrote: »
    I am glad you all agree that violating the Takings Clause by forcing this to be open-source is good.

    Since when are file formats considered private property? Or for that matter, since when were they property?

    Edit: And what of our files? Should we not be able to do as we wish with them, and fight against those who would attempt to control that property by designing incompatibilities in to the formats in which the property is stored?

    Oh, they're already open-source? Then this thread seems weird.

    The hell? Where did you get that from?

    MKR on
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    DocDoc Registered User, ClubPA regular
    edited January 2008
    Acosmist wrote: »
    MKR wrote: »
    Acosmist wrote: »
    I am glad you all agree that violating the Takings Clause by forcing this to be open-source is good.

    Since when are file formats considered private property? Or for that matter, since when were they property?

    Edit: And what of our files? Should we not be able to do as we wish with them, and fight against those who would attempt to control that property by designing incompatibilities in to the formats in which the property is stored?

    Oh, they're already open-source? Then this thread seems weird.

    "Open source" code isn't the same as "open format" files. The purpose of closed source code is (usually) to protect intellectual property and copyrights. The purpose of closed format files is (usually) to promote lock-in to a specific product.

    I'm against the government being locked in to specific products, so I advocate only open file formats for government use. Private companies and individuals can do whatever they want.

    Doc on
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    AcosmistAcosmist Registered User regular
    edited January 2008
    What's a proprietary file format?

    Acosmist on
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    MKRMKR Registered User regular
    edited January 2008
    Acosmist wrote: »
    What's a proprietary file format?

    In this context, it means any format that is not open. That includes formats that are ostensibly documented, but whose documentation is so awful that the point is defeated.

    MKR on
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    kildykildy Registered User regular
    edited January 2008
    Acosmist wrote: »
    What's a proprietary file format?

    One in which only the creator (of the format) knows in what order or what meaning the bits have.

    In document storage, it's figuring out which pieces are text, which are display formatting, etc.

    Proprietary Formats are only readable/writable by the vendor and anyone they give the documentation to. Open Formats have published documentation that allows anyone to make software that will read/write those files.

    kildy on
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    japanjapan Registered User regular
    edited January 2008
    Acosmist wrote: »
    What's a proprietary file format?

    A file format with an undocumented specification, so that only the people who wrote the software that creates them are capable of deciphering their content.

    .doc is a proprietary file format. There is no publically available specification that would enable someone to write a piece of software capable of opening, editing, and saving .doc files, other than the information gained by tedious reverse engineering by the teams behind OO.org et al.

    This is a problem because it means that if you run a business, and all your archived files from,say,the last five years are .doc files, you are now "locked in" to that format because there's no realistic way a large organisation can migrate to using software other than MS Office. Thus, you have to keep buying it year after year whether you want to or not.

    japan on
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    AcosmistAcosmist Registered User regular
    edited January 2008
    This is why I asked: intellectual property includes copyrights, patents, trademarks, and trade secrets. If the specification is not publicly known, it would seem to be at least a trade secret. Forcing a person to give up his property interest in a trade secret by legislation is a taking of property. If I'm wrong, and file formats are copyrighted, the same argument goes, but probably with even more strength (while avoiding the awful jurisdictional issues involved in trade secrets).

    Acosmist on
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    kildykildy Registered User regular
    edited January 2008
    It only qualifies under Trade Secret laws if it is intended to give an advantage over competitors. File formats Rarely qualify for this, because it's just a data storage method. Hence why it's perfectly legal to reverse engineer most document formats, but the whole DeCSS thing was a mess.

    kildy on
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    DocDoc Registered User, ClubPA regular
    edited January 2008
    Acosmist wrote: »
    This is why I asked: intellectual property includes copyrights, patents, trademarks, and trade secrets. If the specification is not publicly known, it would seem to be at least a trade secret. Forcing a person to give up his property interest in a trade secret by legislation is a taking of property. If I'm wrong, and file formats are copyrighted, the same argument goes, but probably with even more strength (while avoiding the awful jurisdictional issues involved in trade secrets).

    Yeah, this is why I shy from advocating a law that mandates open file formats for everyone.

    I just think it would be really sane to require the use of open file formats in order to sell the software to public institutions.

    Doc on
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    AcosmistAcosmist Registered User regular
    edited January 2008
    kildy wrote: »
    It only qualifies under Trade Secret laws if it is intended to give an advantage over competitors. File formats Rarely qualify for this, because it's just a data storage method. Hence why it's perfectly legal to reverse engineer most document formats, but the whole DeCSS thing was a mess.

    Actually, it's perfect legal to reverse engineer something that is the subject matter of a trade secret anyway, as long as misappropriation is not involved. Example: I buy a product, reverse engineer it, and discover that it contains a certain chemical that no other products of this type contain. As long as putting that into it wasn't patented, I've just destroyed the trade secret in a perfectly legal way.

    Further, does it provide any advantage for the file format owner to know the specifications? If that would help him do something (if not everything) better than a competitor, it can still be a trade secret.
    Doc wrote: »
    Acosmist wrote: »
    This is why I asked: intellectual property includes copyrights, patents, trademarks, and trade secrets. If the specification is not publicly known, it would seem to be at least a trade secret. Forcing a person to give up his property interest in a trade secret by legislation is a taking of property. If I'm wrong, and file formats are copyrighted, the same argument goes, but probably with even more strength (while avoiding the awful jurisdictional issues involved in trade secrets).

    Yeah, this is why I shy from advocating a law that mandates open file formats for everyone.

    I just think it would be really sane to require the use of open file formats in order to sell the software to public institutions.

    You might be able to mandate "compatibility" or some such thing, but mandating a surrender of property is not going to go over well.

    Acosmist on
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