May 10, 2003

The Initial Manifesto

This is the initial article about ODFI [1/29/02] that appeared on January 29, 2002 (UPDATE: seems to be down right now: you can get the story from its parent site NewsFactor Network, or the original from Google's cache). The goal is to "encourage" all software companies to document any data formats they use to store user data. This does not mean that companies will have to adopt any standard format, just document the ones they use. This article was discussed at InfoAnarchy [2/1/02] and LinuxToday [1/29/02].

The article discussed a three-part plan:

  1. Convince software companies to release data format documentation.
  2. Design a standard way to describe data formats and a program to validate data files against the description.
  3. Work to pass laws that governments can only store user data in "ODFI-compliant" data files.

At the time, I felt that the laws should be the third step and that "ODFI compliance" would involve using the description and tools from the second step. My first discussions with politicians made it seem that I would need some technical heft behind the idea before it would ever be considered as a legal requirement.

However, in the time since I wrote the article several states and countries have had laws proposed to force governments to use only open source software. I would much prefer that they pass open data format laws instead. As a result, I am starting this site to start discussion about open data format laws (and open source laws), and hope to have an open data format law ready to be submitted to a state legislature in 2004.

About myself: my name is Adam Barr, and I worked as a developer at Microsoft for ten years, mostly on the NT kernel, before leaving in April 2000. I wrote a book about my experiences there titled Proudly Serving My Corporate Masters. Although I worked there and often defend Microsoft in discussions, I do not consider myself to be on Microsoft's "side". Opening up Microsoft's data formats is one of the goals of ODFI, and given Microsoft's response to open source laws, I suspect the company will also oppose open data format laws.

Posted by Adam Barr at May 10, 2003 10:42 PM