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Software interoperability




To echo this a bit further 
--it's interesting to re-visit the question of
 interoperability in the world of electronic information 
and the ludicrous nature of the current day situation that
darkside users put up with after 
considering the following (fortunately non-existent as yet)
universe for a few minutes.

              Welcome To Fancy Paper Universe

The fancy paper universe is characterized by humans
exchanging ideas by using fancy pieces of colored paper to
intermediate information interchange.  These colored pieces
of paper are marked with various types of florescent ink to
make them glow in curiously satisfying ways depending on the
lighting conditions that prevail.

Companies operating in the fancy paper universe have
exploited the available physical properties of this universe
to create proprietory solutions for information interchagne
that are "differentiated" and "feature rich" as compared to
their competitors solutions.

In doing so these companies are motivated by capturing
increasing market share by locking in users to a particular
solution. They therefore hit upon the marvellous idea of
selling "custom spectacles" that when used to peruse their
proprietory pieces of paper deliver *maximum* reader
satisfaction.

These companies succeeded beyond the wildest dreams of the
marketing executives who dreamt up the idea of the fancy
spectacles.
These same executives then decide to link their fancy
glasses ink and paper combination to the light fixtures 
that are commonly installed; 
this leads to a thriving self-supporting monopoly 
--to read the most commonly used form of paper, you need the
glasses; you also need to install the right brand of
lighting if you want to read anything.
And if you want to read anything in the light you are likely
to find most often, you had better use the right kind of
paper or else ...

 Life for the inhabitants of the fancy paper universe as can
be guessed is now quite complicated; everyone has at least
two desk drawers full of fancy custom glasses each
supposedly optimized for viewing a particular genre of
colored paper.  Not only does one need to have different
brands of glasses; it's also important to never throw away
an old paper --since all too often, a new pair of glasses
from a specific vendor may not always be able to view older
pieces of paper produced for that same vendor's older
glasses.
Worse, people are finding themselves 
increasingly forced to install a particularly obnoxious and
fail-prone form of lighting in their homes and offices.

In fact things have gotten so bad that when people want to
interchange ideas, they first put them down on their
favorite colored piece of paper (which they absolutely swear
by and believe to be the best of breed solution) and then
pick up the phone to ask the recipiant if she has an
appropriate pair of glasses to view their great creation.
Often, not owning the exact pair of spectacles can cause the
recipiant to be able to see part or none of the information
being conveyed.
A serious mismatch in glasses can cause the reader to curl
up and die in agony.

A few renegades in this fancy paper universe rebel against
this tyranny by using plain blue ink on white paper --they
are condemned by the rest of their friends as "friends of
flat ASCII who will never be able to express themselves."
In the meantime, the renegades have rediscovered an ancient
art --that of marking up their information in a manner that
can be processed by machines; such "marked up" forms can be
automatically "projected" to the various forms of colored
paper floating around.

Proponents of colored paper fight back initially by saying
"but those angle brackets look like something that came out
of a hardware store" --they will never be as pretty as our
beautiful colored pieces of paper!  But the proponents of
those ugly angle brackets persist --they weave a fancy web
around their creation.

One major proponent of colored paper who has pretty much won
the battle over specialized glasses and lighting by shoving their own
particular pair of horn-rimmed abominations down everyones
nose sees the writing on the wall (paper?)  and decides to
subvert the budding markup threat by claiming "dont worry
--our colored paper can hold angle brackets too" --the
subversion will come when users later (when it is too late)
discover that the angle brackets on the colored paper though
mostly standard do have a particular proprietory shade that
causes it to curl up and die in a blue screen of death if
one attempts to be so bold as to attempt to interoperate
with renegades and other non-conforming folks.

Exercise for the student:

If you have read this far,
it's left as an exercise to map the fancy paper, glasses and
specialized lighting to today's (or fortunately yesterday's)
world of PC-based electronic information.

--




>>>>> "Jason" == Jason White <jasonw@ariel.ucs.unimelb.edu.au> writes:

    Jason> Gary raises an important point which T.V. Raman
    Jason> has emphasized previously: what matters is not
    Jason> whether one uses the same tools as one's
    Jason> colleagues, but whether there is a common data
    Jason> format that can be manipulated comparably using
    Jason> the different software solutions. To give a brief
    Jason> example, I use Emacspeak to prepare documents in
    Jason> LaTeX, which can then be supplied in HTML (which
    Jason> most people can edit), or as PDF files for
    Jason> printing, or, in the most primitive case, as
    Jason> ASCII text. There are command line tools
    Jason> available which can readily convert proprietary
    Jason> formats such as MS-Word and RTF into HTML. I am
    Jason> encouraged by the widespread move toward XML and
    Jason> its associated standards. SQL is often used as a
    Jason> standard, and common, data base format, of which
    Jason> relatively good, free implementations are
    Jason> available (please note that I haven't used SQL
    Jason> personally, but I do keep track of what free
    Jason> software is available). Thus I think there are
    Jason> existing solutions in most areas, and fortunately
    Jason> the move toward open, interoperable formats will
    Jason> make it easier for people to choose their own
    Jason> preferred software tools with greater freedom.


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-- 
Best Regards,
--raman

      
Email:  raman@cs.cornell.edu
WWW:    http://cs.cornell.edu/home/raman/             
PGP:    http://cs.cornell.edu/home/raman/raman.asc 

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