I was comforted to see that California is considering adopting open document file formats. This follows similar announcements by Oregon, Texas, Minnesota and Massachusetts.
Why “comforted”? Well, I live approximately eight miles from the epicenter of this. After the quake, local radio and television communications were sporadic. And, at that time, cell phones were rare and public use of the internet almost unknown. For several days, many of us were untethered from government services and emergency information. It was frightening not being able to communicate with family and friends or to understand what actions you needed to take.
A little more than 15 years later, the residents of New Orleans experienced this same sense of isolation. But this time, it wasn’t because of a lack of communication infrastructure or technology. In fact, internet access was widely available in the aftermath of Katrina. The issue was that many citizens could not access government services because the software applications they used contained file formats that were incompatible with what the government was using. This same issue impeded the Thai government’s efforts to provide relief to citizens after the tsunami.
To remedy this problem, many companies and governments are adopting something called “ODF” or “Open Document Format”. (To be honest, it’s not a great name, but more about that later.) ODF is an open standard that enables applications from different vendors to share data (for example, documents, presentations and spreadsheets). ODF has been approved by both the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) and International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC). The ODF Alliance, which was launched to drive ODF support, currently has over 340 member companies and governments in over 47 countries.
If governments adopt ODF, then citizens are assured that during the next emergency their access to government services will not be limited by the fact that they are using OpenOffice or Firefox or Safari.
So why do I dislike the name? Let’s face it, “Open Document Format” isn’t exactly riveting. To make things worse, in the technology world we do love our acronyms and use “ODF” when speaking about this topic. The name also focuses on documents. Instead, it should include all forms of media. With the advent of companies like Sharkle, Twango and YouTube, it’s just a matter of time until governments provide video based services like real time traffic information, instruction on how to complete your tax returns (note to self – it’s due in a few hours!) or tutorials on preparing for an emergency. All of which is to say that it’s disappointing that the name isn’t more captivating and reflective of the importance of ODF to every person who interacts with a government organization via the internet.
After over a year of work, the Free Software Foundation has released the revised draft of GPLv3. When finalized, it will be the first new version of the GNU Public License in 15 years. Among the proposed changes, the draft license includes:
A restriction on the use of DRM technology for licensed programs. (Section 3)
A requirement that manufacturers of consumer products provide source code and installation information for the code. (Section 6)
A grant of patent rights for any redistribution of licensed programs. (Section 11)
Provisions addressing the recent agreement between Microsoft and Novell. (Section 11)
The draft can be found here. The FSF is accepting public comment on the draft until the end of May.
Recently, I joined a meeting of San Francisco bay area legal bloggers. Attendees included law students, sole-practitioners, in-house counsel and members of several bay area firms. It was a very interesting session, which Prof. Goldman has recapped here (March 29th post).