OpenReader or NoringOSoftReader?

Despite Jon Noring and David Rothman of Teleread incessently banging the “open” drum, and dissing PDF and other formats as proprietary, the so-called OpenReader effort at this point seems to be somewhat mis-named. Its definition of “open” appears to amount to “whatever Jon Noring and vendor OSoft think”. I support the principles that OpenReader espouses, so I challenge Jon, David and their colleagues to either lay off on the openness window dressing, or better yet become worthy of the “open” moniker they are so fond of using by pursuing their principles openly within the IDPF organization whose format they want to “embrace and extend”, instead of as a separate splinter activity behind closed doors.
First, a bit more on “open”. To me “open” means that design is not controlled by a single entity or closed set of entities: that proposals are worked out in an open, transparent process rather than via fait accompli. “open” also implies that no patent licenses are required to practice the technology. “open” formats should ideally be de jure standards, under the auspices of a recognized standards body and evolving via well-defined processes. Finally, and most important for adopters, there should be multiple compatible implementations, lest there be lock-in to a single vendor.
For example PDF/A, aka ISO 19005, is about as open as it gets. PDF/A is defined by an AIIM committee in an open process with multiple commerical and non-commercial participants. Adobe asserts no patent or other IP rights against PDF implementors, An approved ISO standardis about as “de jure” as it gets on this planet. Finally, there are literally dozens of interoperable implementations of PDF creation and viewing software, including many open source packages.
OpenReader, by contrast, at this point is being defined by a closed set of self-selected contributors in an unclear manner, in conjunction with a single commercial implementor that asserts patent rights on its DRM implementation, and their standardization roadmap seems to amount to an intended Microsoft-esque “we’ll submit it when it’s already completed” fait accompli. While its admirable that they plan to build on XHTML+CSS foundation leveraging prior OEPBS efforts, that is no different than many a Microsoft “embrace and extend” move. Open source is also admirable, but again a single vendor-controlled open source implementation does not openness make. And just because you’re a non-profit doesn’t make you neutral: there are plenty of nonprofits out there with personal axes to grind, or who are effectively controlled by corporate interests.
Again, I respect and support the vision and principles underlying the OpenReader effort. And, I don’t truly think that the overall group involved in OpenReader wants to simply end up with a yet another eBook format and associated reader, in effect just a NoringOSoftReader. But if they are going to be relevant to the future of ePublishing, and a positive force for that future, I solicit the OpenReader crowd to realize that there’s a bigger picture, with no room for yet another one-off eBook format, and that you don’t have a corner on the market for good ideas on how to achieve the unified format the industry needs. Standards groups and industry consortia have their flaws, no doubt about it. And they afford less room for ego fulfillment than self-selected Executive Directorships and being able to unilaterally make decisions. But at the end of the day open forums beat the heck out of smoke-filled rooms, hands down.

2 Responses to OpenReader or NoringOSoftReader?

  1. Jon Noring says:

    Bill, thank you for raising these important issues, and making your opinions public. (You have to love blogs!) In the interest of space, I have replied to your comments here. You may not be aware of this, but you and Jon Ferraiolo have already been helpful in clarifying a few issues with the current OpenReader Framework specification.
    Jon Noring
    OpenReader Consortium

  2. Mark Carey says:

    Per our phone conversation today, I wanted to note that OSoft’s upcoming release
    of Thout 2.0 is and will continue to be open source, just like the current ThoutReader
    1.x. Our goal is to provide the e-book community with a universal cross-platform
    reading solution that supports multiple formats.
    Since the foundation of Thout 2.0 is based on rendering content in XHTML, it
    does not matter to OSoft which or how many standards are supported. We are not
    specifically "wed" to OpenReader,
    however, we will support the OpenReader format and any other "standard"
    (OEBPS 2.0 ??) that comes along. The modular structure of Thout 2.0 will make
    it seamless to the end user. Our work with OpenReader is promulgated by its
    advanced architecture and its release in months, not years. We will support
    OEBPS 2.x if/when it is released and hope that OpenReader and IDPF
    can settle on a common standard for the benefit of consumer end users and the
    e-publishing community.
    As far as supporting multiple formats are concerned, it would be our goal
    to support all common e-book formats as plug-ins within one reader. Imagine
    being able to read Adobe, LIT, MobiPocket, eReader, OpenReader/OEBPS and other
    formats in one reader on any device! This would eliminate the #1 complaint by
    e-book readers – cross-platform functionality. Technically, this is possible.
    Now, if we can only deal with the DRM…
    Mark Carey