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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

Letter to the Editor: Open standards: the bedrock of technical innovation

Published: December 2, 2005
Section: Opinions

To the Editor:
Kevin Montgomerys recent column about open standards was right on the money. Open standards are the bedrock of technical innovation. I remember a time when having an AOL account meant you could only email other people who were using AOL. Of course now we send email to anyone anywhere, confident that they will receive it and be able to read it using any email program they choose.

We also drive on roads that are of a standard size, so that they can accomodate any car. Stop lights are standardized on red for stop and green for go. We use standard labels for nutritional information on food. Keyboards use a standard layout, so if you learn to type on one you can sit down at another. Phones use standard protocols so that someone on Verizon can call someone on Sprint without any trouble.

Open standards are more than a good idea, they are essential for real innovation! There is no downside herewith a level playing field, more companies can innovate, and consumers are offered more choice at a lower price.

It is with this in mind that I find the letter concerning the issue last week puzzling. As a librarian, the author knows how complicated it is becoming to save information. The fact is that the program you used to write your papers in middle school may very well no longer exist today. Does anyone remember WordPerfect?

Open standards mean that anyone, anywhere, anytime can create a new program to read documents that conform to the format. They can charge for these programs or give them away, they can abandon them and someone else can pick up the slack. People can think of new and creative ways to use the formats without having to ask Microsoft or anyone else for permission. I would think the librarian, and as a web developer who works every day with the open standards that make the web possible, would be 100% behind this idea. I know I am.

Thus I applaud Massacusettss recent decision to require all new documents to be created in programs that use the OpenDocument standard.

Government agencies can continue to use Microsoft Office if they wish, but only if Microsoft or another vendor updates Office to work with OpenDocument. And in ten years, or fifty, we will still be able to read the documents created by our government agencies today. And that, I would say, is a win for everyone, especially librarians.

Danny Silverman, 05
Editors Note: Danny Silverman is a founder of The Hoot.