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A Twisty Path to Chrome in the Enterprise

Why Business IT Shouldn’t Shrug Off Chrome OS

Despite the title of Andrew Conry-Murray’s article in InformationWeek — “Why Business IT Shouldn’t Shrug Off Chrome OS” — it’s on balance quite negative about the prospects for enterprises adopting Google’s upcoming operating system. Andrew argues that enterprises are going to want hybrid systems, Microsoft is already moving into the Cloud, Windows 7 will have been out for a year before Chrome is available, and it’d take a rock larger than the moon to move enterprises off their legacy applications. All good points. (The next article in the issue, by John Foley is more positive about Chrome overall.)

A couple of days I heard a speech by Federal CTO Aneesh Chopra at the Open Government Innovations conference (#ogi to your Twitter buffs). It was fabulous. Aneesh — and he’s an informal enough speaker that I feel ok first-naming him — loves the Net and loves it for the right reasons. (”Right” of course means I agree with him.) The very first item on his list of priorities might be moon-sized when it comes to enterprise IT: Support open standards.

So, suppose the government requires contractors and employees to use applications that save content in open standards. In the document world, that means ODF. Now, ISO also approved a standard favored by (= written by) Microsoft, OOXML, that is far more complex and is highly controversial. There is an open source plug-in for Word that converts Word documents to those formats (apparently Microsoft aided in its development), but that’s not quite native support. So, imagine the following scenario (which I am totally making up): The federal government not only requires that the docs it deals with are in open standard formats, it switches to open source desktop apps in order to save money on license fees. (Vivek Kundra switched tens of thousands of DC employees to open source apps for this reason.) OOXML captures more of the details of a Word document, but ODF is a more workable standard, and it’s the format of the leading open source office apps. If the federal government were to do this, ODF stands a chance of becoming the safe choice for interchanging documents; it’s the one that will always work. And in that case, enterprises might find Word to be over-featured and insufficiently ODF-native.

Now, all of this is pure pretend. And even if ODF were to become the dominant document standard, Microsoft could support it robustly, although that might mean that some of Word’s formatting niceties wouldn’t make the transition. Would business be ok with that? For creators, probably yes; it’d be good to be relieved of the expectation that you will be a document designer. For readers, no. We’ll continue to want highly formatted documents. But, then ODF + formatting specifications can produce quite respectably formatted docs, and that capability will only get better.

So, how likely is my scenario — the feds demand ODF, driving some of the value out of Word, giving enterprises a reason to install free, lower-featured word processors, depriving Windows of one of its main claims on the enterprise’s heart and wallet? Small. But way higher than before we elected President Obama.
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David is the author of JOHO the blog (www.hyperorg.com/blogger). He is an independent marketing consultant and a frequent speaker at various conferences. "All I can promise is that I will be honest with you and never write something I don't believe in because someone is paying me as part of a relationship you don't know about. Put differently: All I'll hide are the irrelevancies."