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Community: Open Souce, Open Standard, and the Automobile IndustryJan 04, 2006, 01:45 (2 Talkback[s])
(Other stories by John Stone)
[ Thanks to John Stone for this contribution. ]
I've been following the Massachusetts open standard mess and what's happened to Peter Quinn, and would like to propose the following analogy. (Please, feel free to make suggestions and or corrections. If this is a good anology, I release it under an open source license, so feel free to pass it along.)
We've all seen the bit between Microsoft and General Motors, where Microsoft said that if General Motors made automobiles like the computer industry made computers, we "would driving 25-dollar cars that got 1000 miles to the gallon." (Google is your friend. Search "Microsoft and General Motors")
That's true, and we've all seen the analogy between open source and closed source in the automobile industry. If Microsoft made automobiles, the hood would be welded shut, and in order to change anything on the car, we would have to take our car to a Microsoft-approved dealer to have the work done, including putting the fuzzy dice on the rear-view mirror.
Open source would be our taking the car to an independent dealer if we didn't like the work the dealer did, or even get a set of tools, parts made by a manufacturer of our choice (how many spark plug manufacturers are there?), and the Chilton's repair guide and did the work ourselves. How many of us remember the 1950s or 1960s Volkswagen Beetle, where the valves had to be adjusted every 5,000 miles or so? I was a Toyota man myself, but the work still had to be done.
If Microsoft were in charge of standards, every model year the world's roads would all have to be torn up, and redone, because the new model wouldn't be compatible with the old roads, and then, in order to use the new roadways, we would all have to get new cars.
Peter Quinn found himself in the position of being in charge of the state's roads, and saying "Hey, it's getting expensive to redo the roads every time Microsoft introduces a new car. Let's standardize the roads, so that people who drive Fords or Toyotas, can use the roads. That way, everybody who makes a car can use the roads, and anybody can use the roads. If Microsoft want to standarize their cars, they're more than welcome to do so." And, from what I read, Peter Quinn invited all the carmakers, including Microsoft, to the meetings to get input on the standards for building the roads.
The international automobile industry had already agreed to a standard and Ford and Toyota were saying "that sounds good to us. We can live with that, and it would make things easier for everybody, including the drivers and taxpayers, if the roads are standardized."
Microsoft put itself in the position of saying, "No, we can't live with that. We want to propose a new standard, one that involves building roadways around the magnetic levitation automobile. We haven't built the car yet,or even designed the magnetic levitation system, but we want to create a new standard. That way, we can continue to make sure that everybody has to buy a new car everytime we come out with a new standard." And, in order to make sure that their standard was implemented, they had some of their pet journalists start a whisper campaign about how Peter Quinn was in favor of independent automobile repair shops (open source), while he was actually talking about making sure the roads were standardized (open standards).
In the end, in order to make sure that the discussion about making the roads being standardized did not evolve into a personal discussion about him, Peter Quinn resigned and went to the private sector. Tonight, however, we saw that Massachusetts has confirmed a positive stance on OpenDocument. Which leaves one to wonder, within this analogy, who will ultimately be in charge of the roads in Massachusetts? And, who will be in charge of watching out for the taxpayer who has to foot the bill for the road construction?
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