Interview: Tim Bray opens up about open source

Co-inventor of XML also talks about the future of XML, blogs, and document formats

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Bray: Oh, I think that clearly, both will be around forever. Microsoft is so big and has such a huge incumbent presence. And the interesting question is if they lose their file format [lock-in], to what extent can they then defend their monopoly? And we don’t know the answer to that question yet. I am quite convinced that what happened in Massachusetts and [what] happened in the European Union [represents] a harbinger, and that probably with leadership in the public sector, people who are information-centric as opposed to technology-centric, that ODF is going to be a very strong value proposition that will get a whole lot of adoption.[In Massachusetts], what they did was they wanted to establish a policy on standards for public data. And they considered a huge variety of options. The European Union did a similar thing, but theirs isn’t over yet.

InfoWorld: I know you follow the blogs. What do you see in store for RSS and Web-based communication?

Bray: Oh, I think that this is perhaps the No. 1 big story right now on the Internet. The notion of a Net that’s writable by anybody is a game changer. If you look at the numbers coming out of Dave Sifry’s State of the Blogosphere, he has been tracking the number of blogs that in the world doubles every five-and-one-half monthsand has been. Now that can’t go on because if you extrapolate, in 2009, everybody will have one in the world. But the numbers have been growing ferociously fast. We’re in a state now where there are 12 million blogs that are being posted to multiple times per week.

InfoWorld: But isn’t it kind of overload? Who can read even 10, 20 blogs [a day]?

Bray: Well, nobody can read them if you go into the Web page. I use an RSS speed-reader to read them, and as a result I can stay on top of 200 or 300 in a very small fraction of my day. Having said that, 200 or 300 is still a lot less than 12 million. But the nice thing about the blog ecosystem so far is that the mechanisms for finding out new and interesting things and bringing them to people’s attention are remarkably efficient. And so new voices that have interesting things to say in subjects that they care about are regularly brought to my attention, and what’s even better is that sometimes new voices have interesting things to say and subjects that I didn’t know I cared about come to my attention… I stop reading people when I get overloaded. But so far, the vast number of voices out there are not producing a cacophony, they’re producing a whole bunch of threads and it’s not that hard to find interesting ones and follow them.

InfoWorld: Of course there’s blogs where you can't really trust he accuracy of everything that’s out there.

Bray: You know, I hate to say it, but I have read gross inaccuracies in your publication.

InfoWorld: If it happens with us, you can come to us and get it addressed.

Bray: Actually, one of the great advantages of the blog is that when something really wrong gets published, you have a good hope of getting through to the author, and I will change it right then in place. Okay? So for example, two or three weeks ago the Washington Post published a piece on the subject of a two-tier Internet, where they quoted the backbone vendor executive as saying, "Well, Yahoo can introduce a new service and people consume vast amounts of bandwidth and they’ll get it for free." Which is, of course, simply not the case. Yahoo doesn’t get bandwidth for free, nobody gets bandwidth for free. So I wrote a very polite letter to the editor and to the author and it was not noticed or anything or corrected. So I would say that one of the virtues of the blogosphere is that, yes, it makes errors, all writers make errors. And the blogosphere is more responsive to corrections. Having said that, there are tons of things that the conventional traditional press can do that the blogosphere can’t do at all. So I mean clearly the world needs both.

InfoWorld: How much involvement do you have in the development of Java at Sun?

Bray: Well I don’t work for the Java organization, I work for the software CTO, but I certainly make my opinions known to the Java organization, repeatedly and loudly, and I’ve worked with them on a few things. We had a summit about a year ago now, where we brought leaders of the Perl, Python, and Groovy communities in to talk to the Java leaders to try and achieve a [rapprochement] on the subject of dynamic languages [on] the Java platform. And it was an excellent summit and everybody saw eye-to-eye at the end of the day, and you’ll notice that it’s now starting to wind its way through the Java process, the addition of some new stuff to the JVM (Java Virtual Machine) to better support non-Java languages. So my chief interests with the Java platform are opening it up to be more multi-language. Also I’m very interested in NetBeans and some of the directions they’re going.

InfoWorld: You say more multilanguage. Are you talking about the scripting languages?

Bray: Right.

InfoWorld: Do you see scripting languages kind of superseding Java?

Bray: No, I see them having a very substantial chunk of the software ecosystem forever, and I see Java having a very substantial chunk of the software ecosystem forever, and they’re good for different things. And Java was so much better than what came before it, when it came along, that it basically occupied sort of the whole sky from horizon to horizon. And now realizing that there are some tasks for which something like Ruby or Python is a more appropriate tool, and those just should unambiguously be available on the Java ecosystem.

Copyright © 2006 IDG Communications, Inc.

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