Wednesday, May 27, 2009

OR09: Panel session - Insights from Leaders of Open Source Repository Organizations

Open repositories 2009, day 1, session 4.

A panel with the big three open source players (Dspace’s Michelle Kimpton and Fedora Commons’ Sandy Payette, freshly merged into Duraspace, ePrints’ Les Carr) and Lee Dirks from Microsoft. Zentity (no, not Zentity - 1.0 was officially announced at this conference) brings up lots of good questions. Unfortunately it didn’t get to an interesting exchange of ideas.

I’ll concentrate on Microsoft, as they were the elephant in the room. Warning: opinions ahead.

Microsoft is walking a thin line, their stance has been very defensive. Dirks started out quipping that “We wanted to announce Microsoft merging with ePrints, we got together yesterday, but we couldn’t agree on who was going to take over who.”

He went on stressing that this is Microsoft Research and they're not required to make a profit. Putting on a philanthropist guise, he went on that their goal is to offer an open source repository solution to organizations that already have campus licenses. “How can we help you use software that you already paid for but maybe don’t use?”. They claim they don't want to pull people away from open source solutions.

The most interesting parts were what he was *not* saying. Which open source does MS not want to pull us away from - Java? MySQL? Eclipse? Or did he only mean open source repository packages?
Yeah right… getting visual studio, IIS, SQL server and the most dangerous of all, Sharepoint a foot in the door.

An audience question that nailed the central issue: "The question will be lock-in. commitment in other parts of the lifecycle are therefore more important. Zentity hooks you up everywhere in the MS stack."
Dirks responded with "Everything we’ve done, is built on open API’s, be it Sharepoint or Office or whatever. You could reconstruct it all yourself."

Well with all respect to the Mono and Wine efforts, I wouldn't call Sharepoint and Office API's you could easily replace. The data will still be in a black box. Especially if you want to make any use of the collaboration facilities. Having open API's on the outside is fine and dandy, but one thing we're learned so far with repositories is that it is hard to create an exchange (metadata)format that is neither too limited nor so complicated it hinders adoption.

On an audience question his stance on data preservation, Dirks initially replied that ODF would solve this, including provenance metadata. No mention of the controversy around this file format - what use is an xml format that cannot be understood? - or on filetypes outside the Office Universe.

When this debate stranded, Sandy Payette turned the mood around by mentioning that MS has contributed much to interoperability issues. It is indeed good to keep in mind that MS is not just big and bad - they aren't. A company that employs Accordionguy can't be all that bad. The trouble is, you have to stay aware and awake, for they aren't all that good, either. Imagine an Office-style lock-in for collaboratories.

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