I had an interesting experience the other day. A colleague from some other organisation proposed to me to use some collaboration space they set up. For sure I agreed – great, I believe in collaboration and think that collaborative and open development of documents and sharing information makes our life easier and drives innovation.
What I did not know when agreeing, though, was that these guys had implemented Microsoft Sharepoint. The look and feel of it is not bad, that's true, but the stuff lacks interoperability in key aspects. This means it “works best” if you use Microsoft Office, Internet Explorer etc. Or more precisely: it is designed to lock-in people into Microsoft technology.
Well, I use a Linux desktop – an open client that is not only very powerful, but also very fast and reliable and does not get slower and bigger every day I use it but stays efficient and fast. And I use Lotus Symphony as office suit – the IBM implementation of the Open Document Format (ODF) standard.
The result was that Sharepoint failed to provide the required interoperability and I could not use some of the key functions for collaboration. I could, for instance, not simply check out a document and edit it but had to save it locally first, then it automatically added some version tracking number so that the document name changed; moreover the formatting change marks and highlighting could not reliably be shared; document formatting got screwed up; etc.
When struggling with the tool the following dialogue box popped up saying "'Edit document' requires a Windows SharePoint-services compatible application and Microsoft Internet Explorer 6.0 or higher."
In other words, this is very much lock-in and far from reliable and efficient collaboration. It makes your life more complicated. It only seems to work fine if you use the full stack of proprietary software offered by one single vendor and does deprive you of flexibility and choice.
For sure, there are more cleverly designed collaboration tools around to use. Ones that allow openness and that provide interoperability to the utmost level. When I collaborate I want to be able to do so with anyone regardless of the technology they chose to use. It is like using the telephone – when I want to talk on the phone I want to be able to speak to anybody regardless of which phone provider or which hand-set supplier they chose.
To me this is yet another example of the high importance of interoperability and of using open standards for software interoperability. It is key for collaboration - and for promoting innovation.