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CMIS – Be Careful What You Ask For

I just read Chuck Hollis’ appraisal of the impact of the Content Management Interoperability Services. I followed a couple of links and there is so much commentary you would think Ron Paul just selected CMIS as his running mate.

Despite Chuck’s nifty acronym (that I will now use often) It strikes me that I’ve heard this before. Every few months or so Marko hits me in the back of the head with the ODMA spec and opines about the missed opportunities.  Chuck says this is different because the right vendor’s are backing it. Well, if memory serves – the same players were involved then as now (at least the ones that existed way back in ’94) 

It is not necessarily vendor involvement that drives the adoption of standards. Often it is the success of products that use them that causes standards to take off.  ODBC and SQL as standards owe their success, in no small part, to the success of Oracle itself.  Back in the day – SQL wasn’t the only game around nor was it necessarily the best. Read it from one of the guys that lived it (Dave Kellogg) in this old but interesting post on Ingres.

It’s good for developers but make no mistake that making use of standards will benefit the vendors. It is simply easier to code to a good set of universally accepted requirements. Unfortunately they could actually hobble the efforts of the also-rans that support the spec but can’t keep up with the pace of innovation.  Standards at some level work against competitive advantage and force a vendor to differentiate their product lines on capabilities that are not necessarily relevant to the core function the standard was intended to support.

I’m not saying I’m against standards – I am glad our industry is now mature enough to settle down around them. They are inevitable, necessary and a critical part of the maturation of our industry.  But I wonder, did JSR 168 really break any silos for portals?  It is arguable that the spec didn’t improve throughput of development either yet we all checked that box when we picked portal related products – except when it came to Microsoft.  Clearly MS saw no need to consider JSR anything with MOSS still they are cleaning everyone’s clock (yes – it is too a portal and I know it’s not Java but that’s not the point)

What this really means (maybe) is that so long as the spec is popular, your vendor selection will focus more on the add-ons than how well they do the basics. Clearly this favors the larger players on enterprise deals who have phone book sized product lists and relegates the newer entrants to competing on price.  This is certainly how the database market played out – at least until the open source community delivered MySQL with the best price of all and became the most used RDBMS in the world.  So CMIS may indeed be the best thing for standardization since the Code of Hammurabi, but be careful what you ask for.

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