Point/Counterpoint

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First, I need to explain the graphic in this post. Forgive me…we’ll get to the content in a moment.

In the Boston area, where I live, every sports fan is anxiously awaiting the upcoming football match between the Patriots and the Colts for the AFC championship. As I searched the ‘Net for a graphic to illustrate the point/counterpoint content of this post, I was astonished to find this graphic. And now you know why I had to use it.

Now…back to the real point (or counter point).

Earlier this week, I posted about the JT file format and its lack of openness. Chris Kelley has responded on his blog, and I wanted to respond to his thoughtful comments in this post.

In response to my assertion that the file format isn’t open, Chris writes:

…I know how you can open source an application, but I’m not sure what it means to open source a file format. I’m not sure its possible to do much more than we did to make what is at its core a binary format as open as accessible. Its all there in the doc.

Well, I think the answer is obvious. You license it under the GNU public license. What UGS has done is clearly the complete opposite of that. Just consider this quote, from the official JT File Format Reference 8.1 document:

The general idea of using an interchange format for electronic documents is in the public domain. Anyone is free to devise a set of unique data structures and operators that define an interchange format for electronic documents. However, UGS Corp. owns the copyright for the particular data structures and operators, the JTâ„¢ Data Format Reference and the written specification constituting the interchange format called the JT Data Format. Thus, these elements of the JT Data Format may not be copied without UGS’s permission….UGS will enforce its copyright.

The emphasis on the last sentence is mine. I don’t care how much you claim you’re open, when you insist you intend to enforce your copyright — even if your intentions are noble — you’re not “open” in the common sense of the term. The question isn’t how friendly UGS is being (“just give us your email address”), it’s is this extensible by anyone. Clearly, if UGS doesn’t want to allow extension, it doesn’t have to.

So, if it quacks like proprietary software it is proprietary software.

Chris continues:

If you don’t want to go to the trouble of understanding all the details of the format (or reading a 250+ page doc) then you can join JT Open and get an API that will let you access JT files programatically.

A fee-based API is open? Seriously, c’mon. The very fact that there is an API — rather than the original source code for the interface — makes this a closed, proprietary system.

And in answer to Chris’s assertion that UGS wants to make the format archival (“B52’s are around a long time”), I believe the only real way to ensure that is to make it completely open. Which do you think would be easier to reconstruct in 75 years? A system capable of emulating the JT API or the ability to get a computer to emulate the Linux kernel source code, which is readily available?

Will all due respect to Chris and UGS, one would have to drink a lot of Kool-Aid to think this is an open file format in the commonly understood definition of the term.

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