The W3C Fork: Coming soon to a net near you!

Posted 4 Oct 2001 at 15:58 UTC by csm Share This

Recently there has been a great deal of noise made on the Internet and the on-line press about the World Wide Web Consortium's (W3C) consideration of a program to accept patented technologies as standards. Many of the better known members of the Open Source and Free Software communities have raised their voices in opposition to this idea.

Luminaries such as Professor Eben Moglen, Richard Stallman, Bruce Perens, Tim O'Reilly and others have all written publicly that they are opposed to this move on the part of the W3C. Perens, in an interview with on-line news site the Register has openly called for a fork if the W3C goes in this direction.

In my opinion a fork should be instituted in any event, and now. A standards fork would be an excellent choice at this juncture. Here's why I think so.

For some time now the portion of Internet usage devoted to web enabled technology has been growing more and more commercial in nature. In and of itself this isn't good or bad but what is happening is a little difficult to define. In general terms I think that malaise should be used for lack of a better descriptive term. Perhaps a better explanation would include the use of the word stale, I don't know for sure. What I am sure of is that shaking things up is sometimes a very good thing and I believe a fork in standards would go a long way toward shaking things up! When was the last time something truly innovative happened with respect to web enabled technologies? Frankly I don't remember... wireless claims to be it but it's really nothing more than an extension of pre-existing technology. What else is there? Nothing, so far as I can see, and therein lies, at least a part of, the problem. Patented technology and patents themselves are causing a good bit of the problem... the exclusivity is oppressive and it is destroying what has been a wonderfully enriching tool! The World Wide Web. Look at the fights over the gif file format... look at what has been happening with the RIAA, and the MPAA as they have fought to maintain exclusive delivery rights over art. Yesterday, on Declan's Politechbot, I read a report about what the RIAA was planning to do to continue their fight against P2P technologies and then this morning I see it reported on Linux Today. Is there no end to greed? So why not shake things up? What do the Free and Open Source Software folk have to lose by forking? Let's take inventory!

Looking at our tool-set it's apparent to me that we're in pretty good shape. The web server is ours, we've got a free audio format in ogg, we've done lots of cool stuff with P2P. We have several viable browsers,

both text based and graphical. We control all the look-up technology so we can find each other (bind). We deliver almost all the email using sendmail, postfix, exim and myriad MDA's. When I look at the list of stuff we have it makes me seriously wonder who are the innovators and who are the folks riding their coat-tails, hmmmm? In my opinion we would still need a couple of things... a free video codec would be nice, as would a replacement for pdf and... well, I could go on for a while like that I guess but there's a larger issue afoot! We need to institute something new, not duplicate, or replacement technology but some brand new stuff, and then we need to slam the doors open and tear them off the hinges so the doors cannot be shut on us ever again! Some sort of constitutional provisions which permanently prevent the abuses we see now. Perhaps this constitution would prevent anyone from representing anyone other than themselves so there could be no corporate representation in the standards process.

Next I'd like to see our global community embrace grid technologies and use the grid mindset to build our new on line environment. Perhaps the www concept dies and its successor becomes known as the gg or Global Grid so that URL's (if we still use them in our new world) would become gg.whatever.who and http would become ottp or the Open Text Transport Protocol while html would become otml. The entire difference being that there would be no exclusivity, everything would be inclusive and instituted in such a way that it could be used by anyone and co-opted by no one!

These are just small, random thoughts designed to do nothing more than engender dialogue... If someone really needs to create a new on-line environment (and I think they do) that person isn't me as I know a lot of folks who are much more capable and better prepared for it than I am. I just think we need to shake things up a bit! The technology is ours... we built it and it's powerful... why don't we use it to make a change... for the better!

*Author's note: the original of this article is locate at

Good luck, posted 4 Oct 2001 at 16:31 UTC by DV » (Master)

In think it's time to start moderate Advogato main submissions.

I don't see how you are gonna do a standard body trying to rival W3C, I don't see any good to it in case you succeed. I don't want to see more fragmentation at the Web level than there is already. Threatening to leave the table and go build your own stuff in your corner is 1/ irresponsible 2/ of very little scope 3/ giving an even better lever to the people who would like that fragentation.

Think *2* seconds. What do you think would happen if the Open Source (assuming everybody would follow, already a very unlikely event) decided to develop a set of different spec and not implement W3C ones ? Well the ones with the current Monopoly would be free to lock it and expand it to the Web, while the Open source movement would be isolated and more and more irrelevant to the majority of computer users out there.

The proper attitude is to convince W3C members that developping specs requiring royalites to implement are not viable in the long term, and unfortunately all this is just the opposite of what the US Legal system has put in place for the 2 last decades.

The problem don't lies in W3C, it lies in the abuses of patents as a long term investment of (mostly) US firms who now want their money back and this is just incompatible with freely implementable future developments. Be the spec published by W3C or Foo Standard Body, the problem is *exactly* the same, the lawyers will hunt you down if you step on the technology area they purchased.

In a nutshell: GOOD LUCK !

Daniel (ex W3C Working Group chair and ex W3C employee)

Bad idea, posted 4 Oct 2001 at 16:46 UTC by RyanMuldoon » (Journeyer)

The whole point of standards is that disparate *implementations* of a standard can interoperate. In your article, you seem to focus on file formats. Really, the W3C does a pretty damn good job with file formats. XML has all kinds of uses, and really is going to be the lingua franca of a lot of protocols. SVG is starting to look pretty nice as well. What is much more important is standards for protocols.....SOAP, WSDL, HTTP - all of these, and a bunch more are going to be pretty essential in computing in just a few years. These are key architectural pieces for the future. Let's face reality for a second. Microsoft still owns like 50% or so of the server world, and 95% of the desktop world. Do you really think that we can just cut ourselves off from THAT MANY machines? Of course not. That is just not practical. Apache and Sendmail are pretty damn popular. But it is quickly getting to the point that *just* a webserver and a MDA isn't going to be enough. They are building blocks for more complex things. Free Software should look towards how we can build those bigger things. The Apache group has been doing a good job, but in other areas, we are really lacking. The only chance that we have is that we build to standards, and hopefully take part in framing them. But if we try and separate ourselves off from the rest of the world, we'll quickly fade into insignificance.

Re: Good luck, posted 4 Oct 2001 at 16:47 UTC by csm » (Journeyer)

DV said:

"In think it's time to start moderate Advogato main submissions."

Meaning what... that I do not have the right to say what I said in this or any other forum? I may be right and I may be wrong and that is clearly a subjective decision but you make my point for me right there pal... you would choose to exclude my opinion... shame on you!

The w3c has chosen this route as well... 5 grand just to have the right to participate? Who does that include? How does the dillo developer team get a voice at that price?

As to the rest I think I made it clear that it was my opinion and you clearly have one of your own. Go ahead and make your voice heard, you have every right to, but do not try and exclude mine. After all... you don't have to read it and you certainly do not have to agree with it so why limit my right to say it... what do you fear?

Not the right time., posted 4 Oct 2001 at 17:18 UTC by mslicker » (Journeyer)

I would certainly prefer a more democratic alternative to the W3C. Democratic in the open-source sense, the more time you invest, the better ideas you have, the more power your have. Its is clear the web can't be trusted in the hands of a consortium of corporations (with HP being an exception in this case).

However, reality quickly brushes aside such idealistic asperations. While it is true, free software is being embraced as a server technology. On the client side Microsoft has overwelming dominance. Free software is starting to make inroads and I believe it will eventually overtake Microsoft. Until this time I believe it is futile to try for a democratic alternative. Let our voice be heard, and hope this presure can bring the W3C in line.

Re: Good luck, posted 4 Oct 2001 at 17:39 UTC by DV » (Master)

I don't fear anything. I reacted to someone pushing a really bad idea as being a good one, apparently chasing the wrong target and possibly misleading other people, I would not have reacted on Slashdot. I did on Advogato where people usually have more seasonned postings.

I have seen all 4 main patent problems faced so far by W3C, the Intermind one supposed to affect RDF, IBM one related to SMIL2 , Apple one on CSS, and of course Sun's one for XPointer. In all cases, the patent were either a clear abuse of the Patent system, where prior art was obvious or an hidden patent not raised in due time to the awareness of the Working Group.

My conclusions from that set is that first the Patent system, as built in the US is not adressing its initial goal, it has turned into a investment system, you pay now 50,000$ to set up a patent on bullshit and in a few years you can put that toll on the way of anybody trying to use that. Second clear abuses of patenting prior art should be chased down, problem is that removing even a blatantly unfair patent may cost 1,000,000$ in US courts, nobody is gonna pay for this, W3C nor IETF can !. Third point is that when starting a standardization work participant must mention their IPR in the field before work is even started, that's one of the main goal of the W3C draft policy, this was a problem before.

This is not a technology problem, nor the problem of doing work here or there, the problem is to stop that patent crazyness, the very first step being to learn what areas to avoid. You can take SVG, put an IETF stamp on it, it won't stop lawyers !

Patents have been used as an investment tool by hords of corporate lawyers, getting them to abandon their investment is not gonna be easy. W3C policy attempt was to try to accept that state and still try to make progresses in those patented battlefields, I don't like the idea, I opposed it publicly and in previous work, but at least they tried to tackle the real problem. Trying to jump on this suggesting to build Yet Another Standard Body with a very narrowed scope doesn't solve the problem at all and weaken the forces of whoever would like to resist dealing with the problem at stake.

It's completely independant of membership fees (or not) for becoming a W3C member, you're completely mixing issues for no good reasons.


Re: Good luck, posted 4 Oct 2001 at 18:25 UTC by csm » (Journeyer)

"I don't fear anything. I reacted to someone pushing a really bad idea as being a good one, apparently chasing the wrong target and possibly misleading other people, I would not have reacted on Slashdot. I did on Advogato where people usually have more seasonned postings."

So I don't have the right to say it since *YOU* say it's a bad idea?

Bite me!

So I am misleading other people when I clearly state that what I wrote was *OPINION* and in no way did I try to represent my piece as a news story?

Bite me again!

So having the opinion that the W3C being a closed (effectively) and exclusive organization is a bad thing (and saying so) somehow means I am not qualified to write or publish and my voice should not be heard?

Frankly I don't know if you mean reasoned or seasoned (and I'm not going to pick on your grammar or spelling since I know that english is not your native tongue) but in any case I fail to see how you can claim either one... I think I was pretty open about what my purpose in writing was and, frankly, this discussion is a part of the reason... I wanted dialogue on this subject and I wasn't interested in another *pundit's* opinion... I was hoping that the discussion would bring the facts to light and involve more people in open and honest debate about a fork than we might otherwise have had!

"It's completely independant of membership fees (or not) for becoming a W3C member, you're completely mixing issues for no good reasons."

On the contrary I have very good reasons for mentioning the membership fees! I made the point in my piece that the W3C was not an inclusive body... they are an exclusive one just like the damn RAND proposal itself is! My suggestion that we ought to fork is BASED ON THE W3C's ACTIONS AND POLICIES and nothing more. How can you possibly say that this is not relevant? W3C membership is tied to cash, Daniel, and the amount of cash is ridiculous. Five thousand dollars at the bottom end? For what? To join a purported standards body who thinks its constituency is a bunch of brigands masquerading as business people?

There are two classes of membership, Full and Affiliate. The full is 50K and the affiliate is 5K. Which one are you?


As to the rest of your comments about patents and lawyers I agree and think you've expressed the problem about as well as anybody else I've heard.

Not the right time., posted 4 Oct 2001 at 18:35 UTC by mslicker » (Journeyer)

I would certainly prefer a more democratic alternative to the W3C. Democratic in the open-source sense, the more time you invest, the better ideas you have, the more power your have. Its is clear the web can't be trusted in the hands of a consortium of corporations (with HP being an exception in this case).

However, reality quickly brushes aside such idealistic asperations. While it is true, free software is being embraced as a server technology. On the client side Microsoft has overwelming dominance. Free software is starting to make inroads and I believe it will eventually overtake Microsoft. Until this time I believe it is futile to try for a democratic alternative. Let our voice be heard, and hope this presure can bring the W3C in line.

Sorry, accidental refresh, ignore the duplicate post., posted 4 Oct 2001 at 18:41 UTC by mslicker » (Journeyer)

Re: Good luck, posted 4 Oct 2001 at 19:22 UTC by DV » (Master)

Maybe I should not reply

So it's clear now that you have a strong aversion against W3C due to their membership policy. Sure you have the right to be opportunist an use their current problem to suggest departing from them. But *nothing* prevented you from trying to do similar work withing IETF realm, or other body. Go ahead ! I'm just saying it does not fix the problem. As others have pointed out IETF has some RAND troubles too. And fragmentation is precisely what standards are trying to avoid. Oh well ...

Since you're asking, I'm not a W3C member. Nor is Red Hat (the list is public). My status is "invited expert" in the XML Core WG. You can find details about this invited expert status on W3C Consortium pages, it's not the majority of the people participating in the groups but there was always a fair amount of them at least in the XML work (don't know for other areas).

A bit early for this..., posted 4 Oct 2001 at 19:56 UTC by mnot » (Journeyer)

Don't you think? The W3C has extended the comment period, and it still has to be voted on by the Members; currently, the draft only represents the PPWG, not the W3C.

And while you're at it, do you want to set up an alternative IETF as well?

Re: Good luck, posted 4 Oct 2001 at 20:49 UTC by csm » (Journeyer)

"Maybe I should not reply"

Why? I'm not asking for that, nor am I worried about a difference of opinion... life would be very, very boring without those differences. I think that what you say is important and I have relished the opportunity to listen and reply. The only part of this that has angered me is when you've said or implied that I somehow do not have the right to, or should not be, expressing my own opinions... that somehow my opinion does not deserve to be heard or it should be moderated/muzzled/deleted. That, my friend, when implied or stated completely pisses me off! If things were the other way around and I said that your postings were illiterate, irrelevant, wrong-headed and a waste of time would you take offense?

"So it's clear now that you have a strong aversion against W3C due to their membership policy."

I am about to be repeating myself but I think it's worth saying... it is not the membership policy alone that is a problem. It is the W3C's obvious preference to be an exclusive body instead of an inclusive one that I object to. Policies and procedures designed to enhance exclusivity do not do anything to help them (the W3C) or the greater internet community of which I am a small part. The very same thing that you were complaining about, patents, and the exclusive atmosphere they create is being created in the self same way by the W3C and they are, effectively alienating themselves from their own constituency with these policies. Looking at the series of events leading up to last weekend it reminds me very much of an apartment I used to have in Florida. Sometimes when I would come home at night and turn on the kitchen the roaches would scatter like the wind as the light revealed their presence. I do not mean to demean or offend any individual but the actions of the W3C which led up to last weekend remind me of those roaches doing their work in the dark and then Adam Warner turned on the lights with his posting on Linux Today! Since then there has been a lot of scurrying around trying to cover for errors of omission and comission. It appears as if the members think that they belong to some sort of elitist club with cloistered alabaster hallways and the rest of us were/are simply beneath consideration!

"Sure you have the right to be opportunist an use their current problem to suggest departing from them."

The opportunism took place from August thru the end of last week when a comment period for an important policy which should have been well advertised and literally shouted from the roof tops was swept under the rug and, for all intents and purposes, concealed from the world. This is not the same world we all lived in prior to 1998! The US Congress slipped one over on us then because we were too wrapped up in the petty events surrounding the Clinton/Lewinsky affair and we just didn't notice the EFF yelling and screaming about the DMCA! Personally, I hope that the W3C was *not* deliberately trying to conceal the consideration of their RAND proposal but to all it appearances it certainly seems they were.

"fragmentation is precisely what standards are trying to avoid"

Elitist and patronizing... what a surprise! Come on Daniel... get a grip on your tongue^H^H^H fingers! Certainly I understand this... but that does not mean that under the right circumstances it shouldn't happen! IMHO if that's what it took to create a standards body which was inclusive and responsive it would probably be worth it!

"I'm not a W3C member."

I didn't think so since I didn't see you on the list. I suspect you should be as I think you've got something to say that's worthwhile (aside from being an excellent apologist)! But... there is that little matter of exclusivity isn't there... Hey... anybody got five grand to spare? Now where did I put that damn tin cup...?

Competition is good, but standards orgs tend to fossilize, posted 5 Oct 2001 at 00:58 UTC by lilo » (Master)


I agree with you when you suggest that competition for the W3C might be a good thing. But I'd hate to see the community set up an alternate organization. We can clearly see where such an organization might go by looking at the W3C. Over time, economic interests tend to gravitate toward gatekeeper opportunities, i.e., opportunities to charge people a toll to get where they were planning on going anyway on their own steam. Standards organizations provide excellent gatekeeper opportunities.

Standards are a good way to fossilize successful implementations, but they reduce the flexibility of developer and user communities to propose ad-hoc modifications in still-evolving applications.

Let's not fork off a standards organization of our own. Rather, let's recognize the limited utility of groups such as the W3C. We can and should promulgate our own API's, file formats, frameworks, etc., in the form of reference implementation free software or open source projects, not in the form of standards. We should be doing our best to limit the damage a W3C can cause, not trying to become a better W3C than W3C....

We do need our own free standards, posted 5 Oct 2001 at 05:09 UTC by raph » (Master)

There are few, if any standards bodies out there committed to truly free standards. Even the IETF, often held up as a model for standards processes, has only a preference for unencumbered technology. I'd love to see the W3C adopt a similar preference - it's clearly in the best interest of the public.

How exactly, though, would you commit to completely unencumbered technology? Nothing is to stop companies (or individuals, for that matter) from obtaining egregiously bad patents. What is a standards body to do in such cases? One reasonable thing is to say, "An amoral corporation has claimed rights under patent law to this technology. Here is what they say, and what terms they offer in order to eliminate the risk of them suing you about it." This is basically what the W3C does, and RAND is actually fairer than completely ad-hoc licensing schemes.

It is difficult, at best, to expect a standards body to say, "This patent is bogus. Go ahead, implement it anyway, and fuck the lawyers." Even if it's obviously true, the standards body would likely be exposing themselves to legal liability.

Let us take a moment to salute true heroes like the Vorbis project. They are doing the right thing - vigorously pursuing unencumbered technology for a critically important piece of our infrastructure. We need more of this type of effort, and in more areas.

However, we (the free software community) simply don't have enough brainpower to pursue patent-free standards in all areas where they're needed. A big part of the problem is that there is little or no reward for taking on this kind of work. If, for example, I were to take on the task of designing a patent free alternative to PDF, I wouldn't want to count on much support from the free software community, much less the rest of the world.

The world is unfair that way. It sucks, but that's not the W3C's fault. If you want change, think about ways to advance the cause of free technology. Start with Vorbis, a project which has overcome the most serious hurdles, and is clearly superior to MP3 technically as well as from a freedom point of view. If this technology can't take root in the present environment, the chance for other free technologies is dismal at best.

No need to fork, but a strong need for vigilance!, posted 5 Oct 2001 at 20:45 UTC by dyork » (Master)

Let us pause for a minute and take a look at a bunch of acronyms - HTML, CSS, RDF, XHTML, XML, XSL, XSLT, XPath, XML Schema, URI, URL. These are the building blocks of both the historical World Wide Web and also the Web as it has evolved and continues to evolve. Without these standards, we would not have a Web, and much of the evolution of the Web and the Internet would not have occurred. (Or might not have happened so rapidly.

Guess what? They are all royalty-free standards of the World Wide Web Consortium.

When we were all bitten by the patent issues with the GIF file format, many of us have moved to use PNG.

Guess what? It is a royalty-free standard of the World Wide Web Consortium.

SOAP, SMIL, and SVG[1] join all the other emerging XML specifications (like XPointer, XLink, etc.) They are all standards, so far royalty-free, coming out of the W3C.

Many of us learned how to write CSS from the W3C's style pages. I used to use Amaya to test out compliance of web pages to new HTML standards. I used the HTML Validation Service of the W3C countless times. The W3C sponsors a wide variety of other activities that benefit all of us here on the Internet.

The W3C has always been very open to public participation, especially through the mailing lists (all of which are publicly archived).

The W3C has done an amazing amount of good for the Web and has historically been very strongly in support of royalty-free standards.

For that reason, I was very disappointed to read through their Patent Policy Framework and see the idea of RAND licensing. Like DV, csm, lilo and many others, I submitted comments. The W3C is listening, (How could they not? We certainly roared!) has extended the comment period, and is definitely listening to our concerns. Companies like HP taking strong stands certainly helps the matter as well.

So with all the good standards that the W3C has done, is it time to just throw it out and start over separately? I do not think so. Far better is for us to become much more vigilant in watching the standards process.

csm writes:

> Personally, I hope that the W3C was *not* deliberately trying
> to conceal the consideration of their RAND proposal but to all it
> appearances it certainly seems they were.

No, they weren't. They posted the message to the front page of their web site as they do every single other proposal that reaches some level of recommendation. You can see it clearly listed on their news page as the last item on the "Week Ending 24 August". It was also the lead item in the "W3C Weekly News" sent to the 'w3c-announce' mailing list on August 21st.

So how did we miss it? Quite frankly, we missed it because NO ONE WAS WATCHING!. Had someone from the open source community been checking the W3C's home page - or had someone simply been subscribed to the w3c-announce mailing list - we would have known about this several months ago.

Thankfully, Adam Warnock and others discovered the issue and alerted our community, but the fact of the matter is we should have known. We should have been watching.

The answer, in my opinion, is NOT to fork a new standards body, but rather to do things that monitor other existing standards organizations. Not just the W3C, we also need to be paying attention to the Internet Society (and the IETF that is under ISOC), the ITU, the European Union, and other standards bodies. All of them may be putting forward proposals that affect us. We need to be watching. Large corporations have the luxury of funding people to pay attention to these organizations and participate on behalf of the corporations. We do not have that luxury, but still, we must somehow watch.

So how do we do that? Here are some ideas:

  • Create a monitoring body - perhaps simply through a mailing list at first... but an organized group of people who will take on monitoring different entities.

  • Subscribe to mailing lists - Anyone who is a critic of the W3C (and also those who support it) should join the "www-announce" mailing list to stay up on what they are doing. We should have people subscribed to various other public mailing lists of the W3C and other standards entities.

  • Communicate with affiliated large companies that do send representatives - Bruce Perens and HP are a prime example. If we have people in our community that belong to large companies, they should find out what their company is doing with regard to standards and see if they can influence the positions those companies take. (As Bruce is doing with HP.)

And probably a good many more ideas that I cannot think of right now... These are the type of things that I believe would be far more productive to do than to talk about forking standards bodies.

The question is - who among us has the time and energy to do so?

[1] I have expressed reservations in my diary entries about SVG, but those appear to be mitigated. Kodak has publicly stated that the patents it mentioned with respect to RAND licensing have been avoided, and the SVG Committee apparently went to great lengths to avoid Apple's issues.

W3C interest group, posted 6 Oct 2001 at 15:06 UTC by chalst » (Master)

I agree with pretty much everything Daniel (DV) says, but I also think open source has much less influence in the W3C than it might do. Perhaps forming an open source interest group, either formally assocaited with the W3C or as a separate review body would be a good idea?

The US Govt sometimes suck...fork the government?, posted 7 Oct 2001 at 06:12 UTC by atai » (Journeyer)

The US Government sometimes does stupid things. How to deal with it? Fork the government? Good luck, if you are not arrested for high treason/rebellion first.

Some things are not free, unlike free software. Standard bodies are not free and cannot be forked.

Re: The US Govt sometimes suck...fork the government?, posted 7 Oct 2001 at 12:53 UTC by csm » (Journeyer)

Your metaphors don't work... try again.

Weird battle we are fighting here, posted 7 Oct 2001 at 19:02 UTC by pphaneuf » (Journeyer)

Weird, because the RAND policy actually help and is better than what was before, but is actually not enough.

In short summary, what the RAND does is this: it doesn't force the participating members to avoid patents, but forces them to disclose up front any patents involved in implementing the standard (so that open source developers do not waste time on emcumbered standards unknowingly). Patents that would not be disclosed by the members would be automatically be available royalty-free (so that it is to the companies advantage to disclose patents).

The RAND is supposed to avoid a situation like the GIF issue from happening with a W3C standard, by forcing the company to disclose up front, so that we'll be easily able to criticize, find alternate algorithms or not implement a dubitable standard.

Note that the RAND apparently is not a W3C-wide thing. Working groups are supposed to write a charter, and part of this charter is the patent policy they will have. RAND is a choice, and RF (automatic royalty free licensing of all related patents in implementing a standard) is another.

Supposedly, the W3C would recommends to working group that they use an RF policy, but a working group could choose RAND.

I am afraid that having the RAND will encourage a company-pressured to adopt a standard that requires patent licenses in the face of the community. At least, doing so will be obvious to the said community (if we can look).

There is also an interesting thing that has been pointed out to me: there is a step in the acceptation of a W3C "recommendation" (standard) that is "Implementation Feedback" or something like that. This is an essential step that cannot be side-stepped, and requires an implementation to be able to do the feedback on. Seems that open source implementations have been the driving force of this step in the past, and that without an implementation, this step stalls forever and there simply is never an actual standard.

I asked about the possibility of a resourceful corporation in creating a closed source implementation to get through this step and got no answer.


RAWLD, posted 8 Oct 2001 at 09:50 UTC by chalst » (Master)

I think, pragmatist that I am, I would not be unhappy with a RAND proposal if the name RAND was changed to something that reflects the fact that it discriminates against open source, say RAWLD (Reasonable And With Limited Discrimination). I'd like to see some other provisions:

  • Creation of an open source interest group that is (i) notified of any RAWLD proposals, and (ii) able to include a commentary in any RAWLD proposals (like the dissenting opinions that Supreme Court justices sometimes issues).
  • Limitation of the time that a patent holder may enforce royalty collection, perhaps to five years.

elitism for a reason., posted 9 Oct 2001 at 12:07 UTC by lkcl » (Master)

there is a limited amount of noise filtering that specialists, like any human, have the capacity to apply. the problem is compounded for them in that, being specialists, a single acronym - a single word - may take a paragraph of a few minutes to explain.

the human brain creates "shortcuts" in its neural-net whenever a concept or task is encountered more than once, and the more that concept or task in encountered, the stronger the "shortcut" is reinforced. this is called "training", which is something that people do a lot.

now place these two paragraphs together, and endeavour to ask a group of specialists to accept input from many sources, and to listen to them all, and for everyone in the world to participate and understand.

in the majority of cases, the specialists simply get fed up and overwhelmed, and the non-specialists get confused, feel out of place and can't understand what's going on.

now, if you are one of those kinds of people who can turn from a non-specialist into a specialist effectively overnight or overmonth, then great! however, i think that you will find that the majority of people around who may wish to "participate" with the specialists, to help themselves feel that they are making a contribution, just simply get in the way.

hence, the specialists choose to become "elitist" - to shut themselves off from non-like-minded specialists and spew forth useful stuff once they are comfortable with it. this happens the world over: academia, standards bodies, the W3C, the IEE, government working groups, government advisory groups, everywhere.

now, the W3C has decided to create its "elitist" group by requiring that you pay $ to them. i can think of several other "elitist" organisations where this occurs: for example, in academia. do you seriously expect universities to accept all-comers with no fees? i am sure that they have scholarships, and i am sure that the W3C most likely has a similar arrangement.

if you can prove to the W3C that your input is seriously, seriously worthy of their consideration, i am sure that they will waive their $.

otherwise, can i recommend that you trust these specialists to get on with their work, in the same way that we trust academics and other specialists, or to contribute usefully to their work?

also, the issue regarding vulnerability of the W3C to stupid patent wars still has not been addressed satisfactorily. i eagerly await someone's ideas regarding how to satisfy both the open source community and the W3C's requirements, and maybe the RF and RAND _do_ satisfy those requirements.

i.e. and someone please correct me if i'm wrong here: the RAND says to any participants in the W3C development that you _must_ disclose any patents that you or the company you represent knows of _in advance_ of us developing this standard, because we don't have time or money to waste, we prefer to:

RF, which says that any participants, if you have patents, they _must_ grant non-exclusive, royalty free usage, w.r.t the standards work we are about to engage in.

i think that actually sounds perfectly reasonable and it satisfies the requirements. no standards under this scheme will ever be developed that are encumbered by xxxx-wit patents, and no standards are developed that could waste the W3C's time and money.

if anyone views this differently, or sees any mistakes in this interpretation, now is the time to say so, preferably here on advogato.

invited experts, and pissing contests, posted 9 Oct 2001 at 13:47 UTC by lkcl » (Master)

hi there, okay i re-delved in to this thread, and noticed that daniel mentions that indeed, there is such a thing as "invited experts". glad to see it.

mr csm, i believe that you may not be aware quite how many man-hours are put into the W3C process, and it is this that daniel _does_ have some idea, and therefore, rather unfortunately, views with some scorn any suggestion that the W3C be replaced.

might i recommend that you consider daniel's knowledge in this light, and might i aslo recommend to daniel that you consider relaying your knowledge in such a way as to not pass detrimental judgement on those who do not have your knowledge?

like you, daniel, i would not mention this except that i don't like to see discussions on my [only] forum of choice be turned into a pissing contest.

thanks all.

Draft of letter, posted 9 Oct 2001 at 20:37 UTC by chalst » (Master)

I plan to submit the following letter to the W3C consultation process on Thursday. I'd be grateful for any feedback before then.

I am a post-doctoral researcher in computer science at the Technische Universitaet, Berlin[1]. My applied interests include especially the following:
1. Fine grained interoperability between Java and UNIX/C.
2. Distributed computing.
3. Visual programming

In each of these areas, standards developed by the W3C and technologies developed in the open source community make crucial contributions to projects in which I am involved [2]. Thus it is of practical importance to me that relevant standards developed by the W3C do not discriminate against open source developers.
I am concerned about the IP policy proposed, currently working draft "W3C Patent Policy Framework" [3], which would allow W3C standards to depend upon patents. The original proposal has been modified in respect to permitting W3C standards to depend only upon patents that are "RAND" (Reasonable And Non Discriminatory); while I agree with the reasoning that a RAND-based IP policy is clearly superior to the IP policy vacuum that exists now [4], I do not think the proposal as it stands now is acceptable, since, as demonstrated by Bruce Perens [5], RAND is incompatible with the Open Source definition, unless it is also "RF" (ie. standards may only depend upon Royalty Free patents).
I have followed with close interest the debate on this proposal, both due to my personal interests and due to the clear importance of the role that open source projects have played and continue to play in putting innovative WWW technologies into practice. Whilst my strong preference is for an RF-based IP policy, I understand that this alternative will face difficult challenges in finding acceptance. I think, however, even the discriminatory effects of a RAND-based policy would be alleviated if:
1. "RAND" was either
(i) Changed to include an exemption for open source projects, either under an LGPL-style or Apache-style license [6]
or (ii) renamed to something that is not misleading as to the fact that what is called RAND is discriminatory to open source. I suggest "RAWLD" (Reasonable And With Limited Discrimination).

2. There was a preference for RF-only proposals over RAND/RAWLD proposals. In particular, the W3C should recognise a distinction between core and niche technologies, and insist upon RF-based patents only in core projects.
3. There is a process introduced whereby an especially formed open source interest group is able to include an appendix to any RAND/RAWLD W3C standards, commenting on:
(i) monopoly risks of patents, especially in light of possible cartels by groups of relevant patent holders.
(ii) possible unencumbered alternative technologies.
Tis commentary should not require the consent of the W3C standards holders.

I think it would be a mistake with serious adverse consequences for the ongoing contribution of open source projects to W3C standards for no attempts to be made to alleviate the discriminatory effects of RAND.
I thank the W3C for extending the consultation period, and I look forward with great interest to the results of this process.
Dr. Charles Stewart
Technische Universitaet, Berlin

[1] Academic home page:
[2] Such as:
(a) The AGG project:
(b) XML based representtions for graph trasnfromation:
(c) The GenGEd project:
(d) The NLGR system:
[3] W3C Proposal:
[4] Argued in the second objection to the original draft:
[5] Peren's argument:
[6] (a) LGPL license: ?
(b) Apache license: ?
It may be the case that a RAND exemption restricted only to GPL licensed projects would discriminate against such crucial open source projects as the Apache web server, and its core modules.

Re: Draft of letter, posted 9 Oct 2001 at 22:04 UTC by csm » (Journeyer)

Nice letter. Go for it!

open source OSI approved, posted 10 Oct 2001 at 19:41 UTC by lkcl » (Master)

i recommend that you specify in your letter that the discriminatory thing say "OSI approved open source license" not just "GPL or BSD license".

that way, any approved, well-established and acceptable category of open source license, past present or future, can implement.

Letter to W3C sent., posted 11 Oct 2001 at 18:12 UTC by chalst » (Master)

OK letter, sent, with modification to license exemption text as per lkcl's comment. Thanks to csm for the kind comment.

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