Who Am I?

Toney, Alabama, United States
Software Engineer, Systems Analyst, XML/X3D/VRML97 Designer, Consultant, Musician, Composer, Writer

Friday, October 19, 2007

Some Dogs Don't Hunt. They Bark. They Are Called Watch Dogs.

I've been reading Jason Matusow's and Bob Sutor's blogs on OOXML and ODF. Two people saying exactly the same things keep coming to opposite conclusions. One has to believe there are subtexts unspoken and of course that these are market competition and co-optition at work.

Big sigh...

We're having the same discussions in the virtual worlds market.

1. A standard exists, is open, is supported, works, has ancillary support, and is actually older than what is being discussed.

2. IBM steps up to the plate to 'lead a virtual worlds interoperability forum' yet has no products, no credentials and no experience. They brought a checkbook.

3. Because of the checkbook and the recruits, the media jumps in and says this is The Future Here Now. Most of those articles are also written by people who have built no worlds, have no credentials and no experience. The brought a blog.

4. Some companies show up with solid proposals and running code. These are the companies to watch but also to buy from. Ultimately, the vote of confidence is the sales invoice. See Forterra as an example. On their interop forum they kick it off with a page terrain system. I haven’t looked into it but it was a refreshing change to see them begin with code instead of rhetoric and promises.

I don't need to go on. The pattern of waiting for solid emergence then jumping into a market with branding efforts to sell iron has been repeated many times now. Most veterans get it. If you are a startup with real IP prospects, keep your mouths tightly shut until the patent process is complete. Then take that valuable property and go work with the consortium that works with your business model. Sometimes you really do want to trade the IP into an open IP consortium where you get the trading benefits, and other times, you really want to hang on to it until you are established. IP rots so invest wisely. If you have old IP and the market for your products is aging, open the source as much as you can afford to and push the IP toward a consortium with participation agreements that ensure you will get fresh IP back.

Here's my advice to Microsoft: with the exceptions of mandates from customers such as the Massachusetts incidents, you have to stick to the old rubric "running code and rough consensus". There will always be Spy v.s. Spy battles heavily financed with layers of indirection. These are 1980s tactics and they still work to delay market coalescence, but ultimately, sales volume prevails. This doesn't mean the best technologies won, of course, just that the customer muddles through somehow.

When I sat on the BoD of the Web3DC, I fought RF too. It wasn't to get royalties. My objection was the 3D industry was at its lowest point in the market but that this would change when the then 13 and 14 year olds entered the market. Being life long gamers, they would be very 3D savvy and demand it. At that point, the market would explode and the big companies that had abandoned it would be back. Because of the problems we had experienced with Microsoft and Intel as members over tactics and IP, I felt that when this point came, they would do anything they could to lead the industry away from any consortium with RF policies and this would lead to the extinction of VRML and X3D.

That was five years ago. Today, I get to find out if I was right.

X3D is RF. The reason is because the BoD took the W3C lead (a liaison partner) which demanded compatible conditions. As a result, anyone can implement it (given skills) and any hobbyist can use it. The questions now for the big companies just entering this market are do they need the IP-free standards to get into business and do the authors accept the risks of creating content for closed systems. A third question is have the companies currently entering into this market to sell services, servers, and systems done their IP research to discover if any of the patents existing or applied for actually have value?

ODF/OOXML is a dodo war. There are too many existing formats for the outcome of this to matter. In the virtual worlds market, it matters a great deal. So the fourth question is one of architecture. As Forterra is asking smartly, should the systems coalesce around a multi-speak client or a multi-speak server? What is obvious is that there will continue to be multiple formats in both markets so any solution that begins with the statement "there must be ONE format" is a non-starter marketwise. That ship sailed a long time ago.

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