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Microsoft, 'open' data, and the curse of open source

Thanks a lot, HTML5

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Oh my, OData

Microsoft went further this week. It announced OData, a set of plumbing APIs to help applications consume such information. It's the company's extension of Atom and an alternative to Google's Rest-based GData. Also announced were 25 data sets and SDKs as part of Microsoft's Project Dallas that it's willing to let developers use in their applications.

Is coding as we know it reaching some kind of commoditization end point, where the rush to connect to exactly the same Facebook or Google data means looking for new to ways to make money?

Yes, according to one Adobe executive speaking at an OSBC panel on the web platform. Adobe director of open-source standards Dave McAllister, said: "How the hell do we make money on open data - that's the thing, that's really the question that comes in to play. We can link all these things together ... [but] you have to start moving from the model of money is made in the program or in the presentation to the money is made in the data."

According to McAllister, the money comes in finding ways to build services that capitalize on all the raw data that's rapidly accumulating inside the massive server farms of Facebook, Google or Microsoft and has been enriched by people helpfully and unselfconsciously adding tags, geolocation information or simply emailing friends or colleagues.

"There's money to me made out of the billions of data points, there's also money to be made out of the personal service points," McAllister said. He confessed he had no answers as to how to do this.

Palm director of developer relations Dion Almaer told OSBC he believes open-standards like HTML 5 provide a "unifying platform" capable of delivering the same experience based on all this information across a range of different devices, regardless of their underling architectures.

Let's not get carried away here. There will always be a need for coding and this world of open information will not become the default programming paradigm.

In classic Silicon Valley fashion, the OSBC debate focused on web- and cloud-based services, a world defined by massive volumes of data, storage and processing in huge data centers from tier-one providers. This is not surprising given that Google's on the doorstep and venture capitalists down the road at Sand Hill set the pace by telling start-ups to get in the cloud if they want funding. A few years back the VCs also told Valley hopefuls to get with Software as a Service (SaaS), open source and the dot-com wave.

For most ordinary developers or users in the real world, reality is not cloud computing - it's their desktop or server. In this world, companies will choose on-premises software instead of cloud computing for a variety of reasons ranging from corporate inertia, lack of budgets, and internal politics to paranoia over security.

Brian Goldfarb, Microsoft's lead product manager for web platform tools believes - correctly - that this means there will continue to be a role for both Java and Microsoft's .Net, along with the current crop of highly agile frameworks, because they both serve different customers. Microsoft's challenge is releasing code fast enough to satisfy agilistas [wha? -Ed] while being slow enough for the out-of-shape enterprise using .NET to keep up.

There's also plenty of scope for the industry to screw things up as it nearly did in the early 2000s. We have nimble, modular, and light-weight frameworks like PHP and Rest in spite of - not because of - companies like Microsoft and IBM who cooked up a heavy set of WS-web services specs with the goal of outflanking the competition at the time (mostly Sun Microsystems).

The standards bodies themselves responsible for generating things like HTML 5, meanwhile, are notorious for bulking out specs as members shoehorn what they want into the main specification.

Almaer said he hoped industry giants have learned their lesson from adding more and more features to technologies that had created what he called the "WS-Death Star oriented crap" of the early 2000s. McAllister was less optimistic: "It will get big. Hopefully we leaned our lesson, but it will get big," he said of cloud technologies behind open information.

There's also a threat from Apple. Almaer said while HTML 5 provides a unifying force, the iPad - if it takes off like the iPhone - could throw up another proprietary hardware and software island that means a return to the past of lock-in on the web.

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