July 25, 2002

The Open Group calls for more support of open standards

Author: JT Smith

- by Jack Bryar -

Do you agree with Tim Berners-Lee? Is it time for proprietary software developers
to join forces with the Open Source community? Is it time for both
Open Source and proprietary software developers to formally "out" big vendors
who declare proprietary "standards" that they own and control? Is it time
for the software community to quit hiding behind "intellectual property rights?"
Is it time for software developers to commit to meaningful open standards
that guarantee interoperability? Is it time for a "Constitutional Convention"
of software developers and a pledge to sacrifice some individual vendor independence
for the common good?
According to attendees at the "All-User" Web Services Conference in Boston this week, it is well past time. Without a change in behavior and a commitment to common standards, the few new initiatives exciting anyone
about high tech are at risk of stalling out, or being hijacked by you-know-who. These initiatives include the next generation of Web services and mobile
computing offerings.

That has been the theme of the conference, sponsored by The Open Group, a
consortium of equipment and software vendors who own the UNIX trademark (and who have been involved in some UNIX domain name disputes recently). Berners-Lee spoke before the group earlier this week. He and other speakers said that vendors need to refocus least some of their development efforts to create a royalty-free commons of software standards that don't trap developers with unnecessary patent claims, licensing fees and other intellectual property burdens. According to Berners-Lee, the future of the Web and Web services
depend on Web standards that can be implemented without fee mongering and
other attempts to control or subvert open standards.

The Open Group's president, Allen Brown agreed, saying, "The approach to
IPR [Intellectual Property Rights] that vendors and consortia take is probably
going to make or break Web services."

Andrew Updegrove, an attorney with Lucash, Gesmer & Updegrove, took up
the theme. If patent licenses and royalty claims "creep into standards development, they profoundly affect the cost of implementation and how widespread vital standards can become," he said. "All of us involved in the creation of Web services standards have a duty at this stage to treat IPR as an enabler, not a barrier, to the widespread
adoption of open, interoperable standards."

Updegrove, who operates a Web site
devoted to intellectual property issues
and standards setting, went on to suggest that developers need to understand that if developers want to stimulate a market, "patents are impediments rather than tools, royalties are unwanted encumbrances."
He said that the whole approach to licensing needs to be reversed, and that
for many vendors, the "biggest challenge ... is grasping the fact that
standards setting is about giving away rights." According to Updegrove, standards
must be owned in common in order to ensure the health of the larger market,
and the success of development businesses.

Why Web services?

If Web services are the "next big thing" in technology, they also provide
the biggest playground for companies and their lawyers to tangle up the marketplace.
In many ways Web services present one of the greatest challenges to standards
developers.

A successful Web services market requires broad hardware and system interoperability,
software compatibility, and much more. Even documents and databases generated
by the same software can contain elements such as XML and metadata. These
elements can enable sophisticated forms of data exchange, but improperly
deployed, they can frustrate effective interoperability and information flow.
That provides a big opportunity for mischief for companies who think there
is some competitive advantage in creating incompatible systems and self-serving,
proprietary "standards."

According to The Open Group, a successful Web services marketplace will "boundaryless information flow," and that means vendors have to put some boundaries around their own impulses to develop closed architecture or assert unhelpful intellectual
property claims.

The evolution of Open Group
The conference this week marked an important stage in the evolution of the
Open Group, especially under the leadership of CEO Allen Brown.

As the trademark holder for UNIX, The Open Group used to be criticized for a less-than-vigorous approach
to enforcing standards among UNIX vendors. The group had also come under
criticism for its approach to its own intellectual property claims, including
its approach to licensing the X server.

In recent years, however, The Open Group has attempted to recast itself as
a guarantor of open standards. In recent years, the group has focused on
developing an gradually evolved into a an open standards validation and testing
service. In some ways akin toInterop but with a more aggressive agenda, The Open Group has attempted to provide interoperability testing and certification services as well as training
and consulting services for businesses interested in developing or supporting
meaningful standards.

It took over EMA, the consortium focused on messaging standards, and it recently expanded its focus to WAP and
mobile computing standards
.

The Open Group is not opposed to Open Source. Several Linux developers are
consortium members. The Open Group has championed the use of Open Source
object request brokers (ORBs) to ensure interoperability in CORBA applications.
A couple of years ago it attempted to promote an Open Source implementation
of the component object model middleware developed by Microsoft. However,
the group maintains that developers can develop proprietary extensions as
long as the boundaries between what is open and what is proprietary are clear,
and that interoperability and standards development is not adversely affected.
That approach may be criticized by many in the Open Source community, but
it is likely to be the one way to get both proprietary and open systems developers
to work together for the common good.

Open Source or open standards?

Although The Open Group is "vendor, and technology neutral" and is open to
Open Source, its philosophy differs from the Open Source community in an
important way. Open Source developers have long maintained that the best
way to guarantee quality code and interoperability is to provide Open Source
code and documentation to allow users to evaluate, test, debug and even alter
software to ensure optimal performance.

The Open Group's approach assumes
that most enterprises are overwhelmed with the quantity and complexity of the
code they use across their business. It assumes that businesses are less
interested in being able to test and change open code, and far more interested
in code that someone else has tested and certified as compatible with their
other programs. As The Open Group and similar groups develop interoperability
certification programs, will business find this approach more appealing?

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