Mark Kellner's Log

Tuesday, February 05, 2002

Mr. Berlind raises an interesting point, but I believe it's only valid in part. Standards are good, but standards alone aren't enough. You need products and services that meet consumer/user needs, and you need them to do what a majority of consumers want, consistently. That's why, for example, Microsoft Office and Microsoft FrontPage dominate their fields. I had to do some quick revisions to my Web site yesterday (Monday) afternoon. I struggled with several options until I fired up FrontPage, imported the existing site, made my changes and republished it to the Web.

Now, is FrontPage perfect? No, it's not. Could there be things improved? Yes, I believe so. But rather than merely embracing standards (which any HTML editor should do, theoretically), FrontPage goes beyond to make using those standards easier. When and if I find something better, I'll use that.

So it's not just standards that are enough -- it's "standards plus." I would submit that the same applies to larger-scale applications, such as the Oracle application server Mr. Berlind describes, or a large accounting system or whatever. Being based on standards can make data available to other apps, but it's the implementation and enhancement of those standards that will win in the marketplace.

In any event, I'm glad that Mr. Berlind is not willing to hide behind the skirts of Congress when fighting it out in the marketplace. Would that more Americans felt that way!

What do you think? Click here to send me an e-mail.


In an e-mail sent to David Coursey and me this morning, Mr. Berlind clarifies his position:

I am not for legislation. I just said that if people think that's the answer, they should write their congressperson... and maybe we can intermediate ourselves in the process (to get some eyeballs). Congress is hopeless. I don't see it as a viable option though. Better to deploy standards-based technologies (a standard to me is something that many products conform to, creating the "comply with standards, compete on implementation" market paradigm). That way, it puts the buyer in control and the buyer can vote with their dollars. The money will always gravitate towards the best solution, as long as you're free to move to it (which you're not if you entrench yourself in proprietary technology).

[Oracle Chairman Larry] Ellison made this point in his keynote at Oracle Open World when he admitted being late to the game with a J2EE application server. Talking about how IBM and BEA were leading the market, he said he knew he was late, and had to come up with something faster, more reliable, more secure, and cheaper. So that's what he asked his engineers to do, and then they delivered 9iAS. In his words.... I knew I had to be better. If I wasn't, then you would just take me out and replace me with BEA or IBM. That's what standards enable you to do.

Monday, February 04, 2002
Check out my weekly WASHINGTON TIMES COLUMN here, but be warned: the link may only be active for seven days!

StarOffice 6.0 due in spring, for free

Do we NEED Congress looking out for software users? I don't think so!

On Monday, February 4, 2002, I was a guest on David Coursey's C-Net Radio show, and discussed the view by David Berlind of ZDNet that the government should legislate better software production -- or at least provide useful ways to sue for damages when a program harms our business. I disagreed, and here are some additional comments I sent both Davids (Course and Berlind) after the show:

Thanks for having me on today; it was fun. Let me reiterate: I share David Berlind’s enthusiasm for better software, fewer bugs and even – metaphysically, at least – some way to “get back” at those who force cruddy programs on us.

HOWEVER, I am rather adamant that using legislation to do this is not the best solution. The process takes too long, is too susceptible to undue influence (will ZDNet hire a lobbyist to go toe-to-toe with Microsoft’s people? Or Oracle's?), and then sets up a tort system that could take years (or decades) to resolve a given case.

Moreoever (and, David Coursey, you may remember this), the legislators themselves are overly dependent upon their staffs and as such can make horrific screw-ups in drafting legislation. I’ll never forget the Senate Commerce subcommittee hearing on Open Network Architecture that was held years ago on the Hill; I covered it for MISWeek.

Fritz Hollings showed up for an initial statement and left as if he were being chased through the Carolina hills by a revenuer who saw moonshine in his car. That left one Senator, Daniel Inouye of Hawaii, to listen to the eye-glazing testimony of Eli Noam from Columbia U., Irv Sidenberg of Nynex (now Verizon) and some others.

Finally, Inouye, no slouch as a legislator or as an American (he lost an arm fighting for the U.S. during the Second World War), drew himself up and addressed the assembled telecom experts: “Gentlemen, you need to get together and work this out yourselves,” he said. “Because if you don’t, we’ll have to step in, AND WE HAVE NO IDEA OF WHAT WE’RE DOING.”

This was a rare moment of candor, to be sure, but it underlines a truth: why do we (particularly we journalists who’ve seen tons of government screw-ups) expect government to solve really tough problems such as software design and manufacture?