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   Re: OASIS/SAX - looking around

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  • From: "Steven R. Newcomb" <srn@techno.com>
  • To: xml-dev@xml.org
  • Date: Mon, 14 Feb 2000 05:25:48 -0600

[Don Park:]

> To be honest, I am not exactly impressed with what OASIS has
> accomplished so far. ... We need organizations that protect the
> consumers from the manufacturers.  ... Does OASIS fit this need?  I
> don't think so.  I never heard of OASIS opposing anything W3C or
> IETF did.

There are those who support OASIS in the hope that it will represent
the public interest in ways that mere vendor consortia never could.
Don, I think you're right that it would be comforting if OASIS could
be seen to do something that is both in the public interest and
politically expensive for OASIS's leadership.  Personally, I think
OASIS's survival depends on the public's perception that it does
indeed play on the side of the public interest, and that it is not

  * a weapon being used by anti-Microsoft forces against Microsoft, or

  * a vehicle for the careers of its leadership, or

  * a sink for political heat that would otherwise be borne by W3C, or

  * a marketing ploy of Sun Microsystems, or

  * some other thing less worthy of our support than a public interest
    research group would be.

It would help a lot if OASIS's Board would adopt and publicize an
explicitly pro-public-interest position.  At the moment, what passes
for its mission statement falls a bit short of this (the following
indented text is from the FAQ at the OASIS web site,

  OASIS provides an open forum where its members discuss market needs
  and directions, and recommend guidelines for product
  interoperability. ...

On what basis will these guidelines be selected?  It's not as clear as
it could be, is it?  It would be natural to assume "on the basis of
maximum commercial benefit for OASIS's funding sources".  But it would
be better for OASIS's viability if the purpose of the open forum were
explicitly "to use the power of open dialogue to reveal the courses of
action that vendors and users can take that will best serve the public
interest" (for example).  If OASIS is merely a clearinghouse for
economic power and political pressure, one can only wonder what
purpose is served by offering an "open" forum.  For me, the word
"open" is key; I'm pinning a lot of hopes on it.

  ... The consortium creates, receives, coordinates, and disseminates
  information describing methodologies, technologies and
  implementations of the standards. ...

On what basis will such creation, coordination and dissemination be
done?  Again, it would be natural to assume "on the basis of maximum
commercial benefit for OASIS's funding sources".  However, I observe
that, in practice, at least some of this work has clearly benefitted
the public, viz. Robin Cover's outstanding and constantly updated
bibliography (http://www.oasis-open.org/cover/), and, in earlier days,
the development of the SGML Open Catalog formalism.  There are more
examples of well-directed work that OASIS is undertaking.

  ... Where appropriate, OASIS recommends specific application
  strategies over others as ways in which various products can better
  provide interoperability for users. ...

This is a pretty strong statement and I like it.  However, I repeat
Don's question: Does anyone know of OASIS actually having done this in
opposition to any other strategy, when it was politically costly to do
so?  It would be good to make the definition of "appropriate"
explicit, so as to provide a decision-making basis for overcoming
OASIS's leadership's natural reluctance to alienate anyone by actually
recommending application strategies that are not favored by (as Don
mentions) W3C or IETF (for example).  "Appropriate" might be more
usefully stated as, "Whenever the public interest would be well
served".  If OASIS had such a basis for making such recommendation
decisions, we could live to see a future in which OASIS takes strong
positions on behalf of the public.  Without such an explicit basis, I
don't see that happening.  OASIS members will have to ask for such a
beefed-up mission statement, or (we can safely predict) there won't be

It's clearly in the worldwide public interest that the software and
services that are used to communicate and manage information all work
together smoothly.  From the public's perspective, that's the whole
purpose of demanding conformance to information standards.  But
there's a problem.  Here's another way of saying exactly the same
thing: "The software and services that are used to communicate and
manage information should be commodities, and the public should be
free to purchase them from the lowest bidder and/or the provider of
the best perceived value."  This latter statement flies in the face of
most of the business models used by today's vendors of
information/communications products and services.  It takes a truly
visionary vendor or investor to see that the longterm health of the
world economy, and the maximization of human productivity in general,
best serves his own interests.  Is OASIS led and/or funded by such
visionaries?  It's not yet clear, is it?  I think that when/if it
becomes clear that OASIS truly serves the public interest, OASIS will
become one of the strongest forces affecting the information
interchange marketplace.

At the end of the day, OASIS will be exactly what its members demand
and deserve.  I can tell you this for sure: OASIS is strongly
supported by at least some pro bono visionaries for whom I have the
greatest respect, and who are truly struggling to do good things.  I
applaud their efforts, and I only wish I could do more to help.  If
you're a member of OASIS, I urge you to consider carefully what you
expect from it, and then to demand exactly that.  If you're not a
member, I urge you to consider joining, while recognizing that it may
not yet be completely clear what, exactly, you are joining.  Your help
is needed to steer OASIS in meaningful and important directions, and
to do important work under the OASIS umbrella.  Many of us believe
that OASIS really does represent a stunning opportunity for good
things to happen.  Whether the opportunity will be realized depends on
each person who understands the issues, who knows what's at stake, and
who is prepared to pay the price of accomplishing things that will
benefit not only him/herself, but also everyone else.

(Please note that I'm *not* saying that OASIS is the *only* choice for
people who want to make these kinds of contributions.  I personally am
also supporting IDEAlliance (http://www.idealliance.org/), for
example, which also has done and is doing a lot of good work which
benefits the public, and which also represents a unique opportunity.)


Steven R. Newcomb, President, TechnoTeacher, Inc.
srn@techno.com  http://www.techno.com  ftp.techno.com

voice: +1 972 517 7954
fax    +1 972 517 4571

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