Wednesday, 29 October 2008


I did not post a new blog entry for quite a while. Main reason is that I was attending a conference last week and had some further meetings that kept me quite busy.

The conference was the annual European meeting of the Open Application Group (OAGi) - usually held in autumn. It was hosted by SAP in Walldorf (so just around the corner for me, which was nice since no big travelling was required) and I had the pleasure to represent IBM in the meeting. It was a very good meeting with very interesting topics covered - please see the agenda. The presentations will be avaiable shortly - please check the OAGi homepage. I gave a short update on the IBM standards policy which was perceived with great interest and which triggered some good discussion at the closing panel session on the second day.

This week I am enjoying a week of vacation. It is school holidays in the part of Germany where I live - Baden Wuerttemberg. So I decided to take a couple of days off and enjoy with the children. Unfortunately someone imported some ugly bug into our house and all of us are heavily sneezing and coughing with a strong cold. Tendency upwards, though.

So it's definitely autumn now. The leaves are falling, it has been raining a lot since beginning of the week and they say that it might even come to some very cold nights with frost - and with snow down to about 500m. That would mean that we might see the first snow in the hills around Heidelberg. But by the next weekend it's supposed to getting warmer again.

Sunday, 19 October 2008

Tough days for Eintracht Frankfurt

Eintracht Frankfurt lost again. Only 3 points so far in the new tournament. This is very disappointing after last year where they were fairly good and on the way up. And its getting frightening. As the fan-choirs in the stadium already sing the coach, Friedhelm Funkel, ought to be fired, every fan is beginning to wonder whether Funkel still has got the proper recipes and the trust of the team to turn it round.

Funkel is experienced and it was him who put the team together. There might be tensions, for sure, at the current situation. But Funkel should be experienced enough to manage the situation. And many other coaches "on the market" are not really better.

Anyway, I don't expect that Funkel will fired within the next two or three days. That's not the style of the current team management. Frankfurt will have the next chance to turn things round middle of the week in a match agains Karlsruhe (which had to be cancelled a couple of weeks ago because the stadium in Frankfurt was destroyed after a Madonna concert). If Frankfurt win against Karlsruhe and make some points next weekend against Cotbus thinks could be looking better. I won't give up hope...

Thursday, 16 October 2008

Transatlantic Destiny?

The current financial crisis gives rise to a lot of interesting thoughts. This might actually be part of the chances that come with each crisis.

Commentators and would-be augurs these days are heavily trying to predict where the economy will go in the next weeks and months. Some say that a huge recession is ahead of us. Others say that recession will only hit America and perhaps Britain but that Germany, for instance, might get away with stagnation. Others predict that the consumer market will benefit from the financial crisis because as we are approaching Christmas people will be more likely to spend a bit of money on nice things and gadgets rather than keeping all the money in the bank - these days...

Whatever, there are many who say that if the American economy is going down and facing a recession, European economy will collapse, as well. And both commentators and business people are so keen on taking up this argument that it almost looks like becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Ok, globalisation has turned companies into globally integrated and interwoven enterprises. So if there is a recession in some part of the world auch a global enterprise will certainly be affected. And well, I really don't have the deep economic insights to give a qualified opinion. Yet, I wonder whether its really justified to draw the conclusion that every crisis in North America will materialise as a crisis in Europe - and across the world - as well. I wonder whether we are not about to talk ourselves into a crisis, into a recession, sort of under a fatalistic impulse. How strong are the economic dependencies between North America and Europe? Is Europe really destined to always get affected from what happens across the Atlantic?

In other words, I wonder how strong is the influence of negative, fatalistic thinking on what eventually is going to happen. Could we manage better with another mind set?

As I was saying above, I certainly lack to expertise to give a proper, economically and scientifically founded response. However, fatalism, I believe, is never a good companion anyway. Whatever the situation is all that people can do in such times is try their best to overcome the problems and get going again. Stay focussed.

And we should find a way to overcome any transatlantic destiny. Both North America and Europe are two very strong economies. They are interwoven and interconnected, but they still can exist on their own and have their own strengths. A well-working global economy, in my view, should aim at developing (or, perhaps, *only* strengthening) structures which enable one regional economy to "help" the other in times of crisis. I believe that globalisation has the potential to make this possible. Yet, again, it's not globalisation as such but globalisation done in the right way.

Call me a dreamer but I strongly wish that this will be one chance stemming from the current crisis to think about better ways to leverage a global balance of strengths - economical, scientific, societal, etc. - for the benefit of the people and for more economic stability and less vulnarability on a global scale.

Friday, 10 October 2008

The Importance of Open Standards – Part II: On Defining and Definition(s)

(For part I of this series of reflections on the importance of Open Standards please see my previous blog entry of Sep 11, 2008.)

Those who don't like Openness and Open Standards often claim that there was no precise definition of an Open Standard, that the term created nothing but confusion and was, therefore, not good to be used. As a proof I have often heard people referring to the Open Standards entry in Wikipedia which lists about a dozen specific definitions.

Indeed, after the rise of the concept of Open Standards, many organisations as well as governments using the term and adopting the concept developed their definition. But this is pretty much the normal process with new concepts and terms, isn't it. And how much do the definitions actually differ?

If we take a closer look and try to boil down these different definitions in order to distill the common ground between them it becomes pretty clear that there are two major issues around a standard which are addressed in the definitions:

1. The development process of the standard;
2. The terms and conditions for availability and implementation of the standard.

This is, in fact, what makes the concept of open standards so important and valuable: that it addresses both development aspects and business aspects. And that it makes sure that openness is not, can't be and must not be limited to either of these aspects but needs to cover both of them.

As far as (1) the standards development process is concerned, there is a good deal of commonality across all definitions. Openness and transparency, balance and consensus are key elements of the process definition. Similarly, the notion that the development process of a standard must not be controlled by a single vendor of group of vendors, but that the procedures must be fair to all, is widely acknowledged and included in the definitions. To sum up: there is a solid consensus around what constitutes an open standards development process; this does, however, not say that this is always appropriately implemented in standards organisations, nor that the processes are always appropriately practiced.

Regarding (2) the terms and conditions for availability and implementation of the standard, this is where the controversy is located. Looking at the availability, there is agreement that an Open Standard should be available for free or for a nominal, low sum. But there is strong dissonance on the terms and conditions for implementation. While some require royalty-free licensing of intellectual property (mostly patents) contained in Open Standards, others claim that (F)RAND ((Fair)Reasonable and Non-Discriminatory) conditions are what characterises and Open Standard. Some definitions, e.g. the ITU-T definition, acknowledges both options and says that “IPRs essential to implement the standard [are] to be licensed to all applicants on a worldwide, non-discriminatory basis, either (1) for free and under other reasonable terms and conditions or (2) on reasonable terms and conditions (which may include monetary compensation). But also the “other reasonable terms and conditions” quoted above are a matter of dispute since they might contain constraints which make it impossible for an Open Source community to implement a standard even though it is licensed royalty-free.

In our recent announcement of IBM's new IT standards policy, we, of course, cover the issue of what makes a proper process and what makes a proper standard, as well. This announcement is all about Open Standards, its a commitment on IBM's side to Open Standards. Two of the IBM principles for IT standardisation touch on the issues of the standards process and of the availability of the standard for implementation, respectively:

  • Advance governance rules within standards bodies that ensure technology decisions, votes, and dispute resolutions are made fairly by independent participants, protected from undue influence.

  • Collaborate with standards bodies and developer communities to ensure that open software interoperability standards are freely available and implementable.

Coming back to the definition of Open Standards, openness is a spectrum rather than an absolute criterion. And it depends on the specific requirements, e.g. For a specific application, to define the exact level of openness required. As Bob Sutor outlined in his blog a while ago,

I’ve also put forth the idea that we should consider “closed” and “open” as two ends of the spectrum. Here “closed” means “it’s mine, you can’t have it” and “open” means “here take it, do whatever you want with it.” Most standards fall somewhere in between, with very few things being all the way at one end or the other.

Defining the term Open Standard, or more precisely: referring to the concept of Open Standards will be most effective by taking the actual objectives into consideration. This means to take into account that openness is a spectrum, as well, and that in some cases some concessions might be acceptable.

Clearly, in my view, some elements of what makes an open standard are non-negotiable. This concerns foremost the process. Openness, transparency, a fair processes that is free from undue influence are a must for an Open Standard.

Likewise, the fact that open software interoperability standards ought to be available royalty-free and ought to allow for Open Source communities to implement them without restrictions is essential. However, there might be other areas than software interoperability where more restrictive terms and conditions could still be acceptable.

But one thing is also clear: where the pendulum points too much towards closed on the spectrum it is no more an Open Standard.

The argument that there was no precise definition for Open Standards does not quite hold. In fact, the term Open Standards is a lot more precise and clear than, for instance, the terms 'standard' or 'specification'. 'Open Standard' always points at two dimensions: the process of standards development and the conditions of standards availability. And openness marks the line of demarcation and indicates what is still acceptable as and Open Standard and what is not.

The point that the term Open Standard was not clear enough is in reality very often a dummy argument used by those who want to avoid taking a position on the issue of license terms and conditions associated with a standard. The concept of Open Standards, however, does not allow that this aspect is being neglected or ignored. Because the aspect is highly relevant for openness and for the new paradigm of open computing which includes Open Source and Open Innovation as further cornerstones alongside Open Standards.

In other words: as the concept of Open Standards increasingly gains momentum. Open Standards meet the requirements in today's market place. The issue of a single, ever-valid definition is, in the end, a non-issue. After all, Open Standards meet important needs both in the first, second and third sector.

Sunday, 5 October 2008

Loyalty and sports

You probably know the situation: There is on the one hand the football/soccer team you supported since childhood; and perhaps - as it often happens - this is the team in the region where you grew up. And there is on the other hand the local team in the region where you live now. Which one do you support?

I might be old fashioned but I have always shown loyalty to "my" old team. Those who follow my blog know that it's Eintracht Frankfurt. Now, in the region where I live nowadays, there is also Hoffenheim. It's the team heavily sponsored by the former SAP boss Hopp which helped the village team to buy good players and make it into the first division.

Yesterday it was Hoffenheim against Frankfurt. Frankfurt have had a terrible start into the new round and have not yet one a single match. They also lost against Hoffenheim - 1:2. But no, no, no - I won't switch loyalties. No! In fact, I completely lack any passion for Hoffenheim. It's Frankfurt - and I really hope that they will manage to turn around and play better football/soccer than what they got going so far.