Imagine you live on a sleepy street in a coastal town, say Rio de Janeiro. And a hurricane or tsunami hits your shores. And the government agency responsible for telling you how and where to get relief, for provisioning aid and emergency services, sends out a curious message: if you can’t afford a copy of Microsoft Windows, we’re sorry, we can’t help you.
That’s exactly what happened in New Orleans a few months back. Which led many folks to see the convergence of telecommunications, technology and media in a very personal, and dissatisfying way – while demonstrating the vanishing distinction between web services, social services and emergency services. The network is all about moving data around, whether purchase orders, tax forms or storm paths.
Last weekend, I had a similar personal experience. I was on my way to show my kids what snow looked like, taking them to Lake Tahoe, in the Sierra mountains. If you know Northern California, you know that means crossing Donner Pass. A place that makes me think of that great Andy Grove quote, “only the paranoid survive.” During winter storms, you don’t drive through that area lightly – there are even police at checkpoints to make sure you’re well equipped – with chains for your tires, or a four wheel drive vehicle. City-folks like me even pack water, food and blankets. Just in case.
Before leaving, I checked the weather. A winter storm was approaching, and knowing the State of California places web cameras in key locations to help monitor traffic, I went off to a search engine, and typed “California highway video” to get a real time view of road conditions.
And what did I see?
A California State Agency web site that required Windows Media 9. I happened to be running my Solaris laptop at the time. So I couldn’t receive the video. As a tax paying citizen of the state, my government was inadvertently telling me I could not receive state emergency services without buying a Microsoft product. Governor Schwarzenegger, I don’t want my or my employer’s tax dollars going to promote a monopoly in California. (Love them though I do as a business partner.)
So now you know why the Open Document Format Alliance is important – in a democratic society, agencies, corporations or individuals that serve the public’s interest should be free to do so without burdening their constituents with an obligation to purchase one company’s product. That’s what the ODF Alliance will help achieve – by creating and making freely available to anyone that wants it, a standard for representing document based information.
It seems plainly wrong for a government to suggest that citizens purchase Microsoft Word before reading a storm warning or ballot initiative. Or that they abandon their Macintosh to run Internet Explorer before applying for disaster relief. Or that they buy a Windows Mobile phone before requesting 911. Or that they have Solaris installed to pay their taxes.
And rather than sit by and complain, several of us – competitors and partners alike, along with a broad cross section of global industry and library associations – are all banded together to promote a standard for the free interchange of document based information. A standard that doesn’t require any one company’s technology, or a royalty check or fear of patent litigation. A standard that leverages a common interest in having a free, open and neutral standard to which any company, individual or government can subscribe.
A standard that serves the public’s interest.
And to put our money where our mouths are, the first application to fully support ODF is the world’s most popular free/open source office productivity suite, OpenOffice – which we encourage governments to distribute to their citizens. There’s no better way to serve the public’s interest than to give them freedom.