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Re: What should be open/free? (Was: Low-end Office 11 won't do

solely ours
In a message dated 13/04/2003 12:31:32 GMT Daylight Time, frank@t... writes:

On Sun, 2003-04-13 at 04:31, AndrewWatt2000@a... wrote:

> Realistically, do you do all your coding for free? Do I write or code for
> free? If we did do everything for free then, in one sense, our customers
> would ... in the short term at least ... benefit. But it isn't a sustainable
> business model, or so it seems to me.
> If Microsoft made "fully open" or "gave away the source" for MS Office or its
> XML what would the results be? In the short term? In the long term?

Andrew, that's not the point. No one is asking for the source code here.
They're all talking about the output file formats. The code is
Microsoft's intellectual property, but the data belongs to the customer.


Probably I am not making my points clearly. Quite possibly because I haven't thought this through fully. Partly also because it is, in my view at least, multi-dimensional with several subtleties involved.

Let me try again on the final point you make.

Does the data belong solely to the customer?

Now at first glance that quite possibly looks like a typical stupid Andrew Watt question. I hope to convince you that it isn't quite so straightforward. :)

Implicitly, it seems to me that by putting "our" data into a data container which belongs to Microsoft (as it happens to be in this case) we are creating what I (provocatively?) might term "jointly owned data". The data, held in Microsoft format, has more value (to us, to our customers) than raw data.

Why did we, as I assume that some of us do, choose to put our data into one of Microsoft's formats?

Likely answer, among others, is that we gain value by doing so. It is, perhaps, quicker or easier or more efficient or whatever to use MS software for purpose X.

Yes, the data points we entered were solely "ours" but after we put them into proprietary software which adds value to what we had before, does ownership remain solely ours? Or is it in some implicit but real sense shared?

The value of the data has two components. First relates to the data points themselves. Second there is added value from the structure/convenience of use provided by the proprietary vendor.

So here is the vendor-customer tension. We might want to take full ownership ... to make the data fully "ours" .... but MS is more commercially comfortable to retain "part ownership". Yes, MS will open the data more fully to customers but only, if I understand the situation correctly, to enterprise customers who pay enough by subscription to (from Microsoft's point of view) justify (on commercial grounds) being given a full share in the "jointly owned data".

Very possibly none (few?) of us actually thought through the implicit "joint ownership" of data when we, or more menial colleagues, spent countless hours typing at the keyboard.

One aspect was straightforward and up front - we paid Microsoft money to license (buy) their software and use it. A second aspect was more implicit - but likely was a crucial part of Microsoft's forward business planning - that we would continue to use Microsoft's software to manipulate that "jointly owned" data. The arrival of XML has the potential to seriously dislocate that second, implicit, assumption.

It seems, to me at least, that there is an aspect of this where the data isn't solely the preserve of the customer but also has added value arising from the proprietary format.

The vendor-customer tension is that the customer wants total control. The vendor wants to retain the implicit joint ownership.

And why is XML relevant to this evolving vendor-customer tension? Because XML makes it possible, in principle, for the customer to take a greater share in the implicitly "jointly owned" data. So the vendor-customer tension has a new, XML-generated dimension.

<grin/> OK, I will go and put my flak jacket on now. Having been roasted on list a few months back for daring to suggest that open source software is, de facto, being subsidised in part by Microsoft's competitors, I guess it is even more outrageous on this list to suggest that Microsoft implicitly "jointly owns" what we like to think of as "our" data. :)

But, hopefully, somewhere among the outrage at least a few will recognise that there is a modicum of truth in the view I am putting forward. :)

I don't recall the exact term, but wasn't it Simon who said that XML was (something like) a subversive technology?

Andrew Watt


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