GoogleIt Mail IT Print IT PermaLinkThe Need For NSFXML
03:59:50 PM
Written By : Richard SchwartzCategory : IBM And Open Data Formats
Location : Nashua, NH

I wrote about the end of proprietary file formats back in June after Microsoft announced XML file formats for Office. A conversation about NSF and XML ensued. In yesterday's post, I wrote that WinFS plus XML is where Microsoft is going. In today's news, I see that the state of Massachusetts wants all their data in open source document formats.

The proposal, drafted by the Information Technology Division of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, would have all documents in offices run by the state moved off of Microsoft Office, IBM Lotus Notes, WordPerfect and other proprietary formats by 2007.


State officials say part of the idea is to preserve state documents in a format that can be read in the future, even if the proprietary applications that created the documents no longer exist, or are not available. Another goal is to make state documents more available to a wider range of users.

(Emphasis mine.)

This is this is the beginning of an inevitable long-term trend. Open data formats, top to bottom, is going to become a common desire, and eventually a requirement for many organizations. Lotus Domino has lots of great support for XML, but only as a secondary data format that must be exported (or imported). Although it is absolutely true that WinFS is as proprietary -- or more so -- than NSF, there is little chance that the market in general is going to see it that way, at least not for a while. If the market demands open formats in file systems at all, it will happen well after the market demands open formats in collaboration systems. WinFS is a file system, and NSF is a file. That's what Microsoft will say, and I don't think that any amount of defensive marketing by IBM will be able to counter that. People with real understanding of storage, file systems, database systesm, data formats, will know it, but there are too many pointy-haired types out there who will get in the way.

And the pointy-hairs will have a point, too, because the unit of storage in WinFS will still be a file. The file can be an open format, and WinFS will not be the only way to store a file. The mechanism for moving open format files from WinFS to backup, to alternative containers will be readily available and "part of the system". In a lot of cases, it will even be transparent as far as users are concerend. The unit of storage in NSF is the document, not a file. A Notes document is not an open format, and even if it were it is still locked up inside the proprietary format of NSF. Although document-level backup is possible, and documents can also easily be moved from one NSF to another, in both these cases it is a matter of moving data from one proprietary container to another proprietary container, and it's far from transparent. There needs to be a container that can transparently hold and organize Notes documents along with other files from other programs, and the obvious answer is that the container needs to be a file system.

There is going to be a need for an NSFXML optional storage system for Notes and Domino, just as there is now an optional NSFBD2 storage system. I doubt that the 2007 time-frame in the StateCommonwealth of Massachusetts proposal is all that much to worry about, but if I had to guess I'd say that if it's not there by 2010 it's going to be a problem for IBM.

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Comments :v

1. Stephan H. Wissel09/03/2005 12:30:14 AM

Hi Richard,

DominoDAV could be a first step towards this. It would not change the storage but the visibility of the data. All databases use an internal highly propriarty format (the binary store of DB/2 is incompatible to Oracle to MySQL to MS-SQL etc...) but share (at least in the basics) the same query output mechanism (SQL/ODBC/JDBC).
I would need a pilot customer/sponsor to speed the project....

2. Jeff Crossett09/03/2005 06:52:01 PM

Interesting. First thought would be the nightmare of security. Would one rely on the security mechanisms of the OS? The idea that documents which are public to begin should be open format is fine, but are they going to open up every single database in the state/commonwealth to open standards? Still, an intriguing idea for many reasons.

3. Josef09/05/2005 09:34:27 AM


Yes, DominoDAV, with document (not just design elements) access. I think that the thing would be solved if someone wrote a VFS (virtual file system) plugin for Linux (not quite sure it this is possible under Windows but the DAV should be enough there).

4. Richard Schwartz09/05/2005 10:18:22 AM

Are you referring to this project on SourceForge?

5. Bill09/06/2005 12:27:26 PM

Ummm.... Didn't Lotus offer a Domino addin a few years back that published a Notes database as a Windows SMB share? I suppose you could have even accessed it from a Linux box running the Samba cllient.

6. Richard Schwartz09/06/2005 01:16:17 PM

@Bill: Yes, they did, but it only offered access to attachments not to documents rendered as DXL, and it was withdrawn for 6.5. Maybe even for 6. I don't recall.

7. Stephan H. Wissel09/07/2005 11:47:11 AM

@Richard: Yes thats the project. I created it. Pretty much brainware rather than code as of now. My current idea is to write the documentation how it works before implementing it. Of course a project sponsor could accellerate that (would also make a great Lotusphere session )
And yes: I want documents and attachments. For documents I plan a filter architecture, so you actually can read/write XML in your own schema that gets (XSLT) mapped from/to DXL. Of course raw DXL would be the first step.

8. Richard Schwartz09/07/2005 11:58:18 AM

Neat idea, Stephan. We should chat sometime to compare ideas and goals. (Technical and otherwise.)

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