The Fight for Truly Open Web Applications

Michael Vizard

When it comes to applications on the Web these days, much of the conversation is vaguely reminiscent of the 1980s when personal productivity suites such as Microsoft Office were all the rage.

But instead of PC applications, the conversation today is about the value of unified collaboration applications on the Web. Various vendors of all sizes are touting the integration benefits of their suites of collaboration applications. While there is no doubt that application integration is a good thing, there are those that would argue that Web application vendors are deliberately limiting their application integration strategies as part of an effort to lock customers into their platforms.

For example, Juergen Geck, CTO of Open-Xchange, a provider of open source messaging and collaboration software, argues that collaboration is the whole point of having the Web in the first place. That means that what customers really need, says Geck, is an open approach to data formats and schemas that makes it easy to share data across applications from any number of vendors.

Geck says good examples of these formats can be found at, a site dedicated to rallying developers around truly open Web standards. For example, Social OX is a microformat developed by Open-Exchange that makes it easy to share data and information across multiple calendar applications.

The microformat concept is not new. Various developers have been nursing the development of these formats along for over five years. But as collaboration applications gain momentum on the Web, more end users are running into issues trying to find ways to easily share data across disparate applications.

That means that 2011 could prove to be a proverbial tipping point for microformats as customers begin to demand ways to easily share data. Unfortunately, the major vendors don't seem to have a financial incentive to play ball with each other by embracing much more in the way of integration than a few RESTful APIs coupled with proprietary extensions to the XML format.

But over the long haul, open formats usually win the day. It just takes a whole lot longer than anybody would like. In the meantime, there are thousands of independent developers battling to keep the Web open in the hopes that customers one day soon will lend their voices to the good fight once they finally realize what's really at stake.

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