Technological Damnation 91: Proprietary Madness

It’s bad enough that we have to deal with IP & Patent Madness, as chronicled in our post on the 89th (Technology) Damnation, but proprietary madness is likely to drive us all mad (and may someday push the doctor over the edge, into the land of the crackpot, where at least one blogger in the space is already dwelling).

Just what is proprietary madness? It’s mega-corporations, especially in software and electronics, taking the rights of ownership to extreme. Started, and continued, by the current and former Technology heavyweights, including the likes of IBM, Microsoft, and SAP, it’s not only the creation of company specific standards for software and hardware interfaces, its the restriction of the specification of those interfaces to approved partners and suppliers, limiting the supply of support services and related products to a handful of vendors. This not only drives up the price of those products and services to well above the market average price for support services for software and products with open and published specifications, but can make it difficult, if not impossible, to get support when demand is high or related products if one of the few vendors who can produce products shuts down.

Those of you with SAP know exactly what we’re talking about. Unlike Oracle, which publishes its core schema, and does not change it between minor versions, SAP does not publish its score schema, does not guarantee any stability between bug updates between minor versions, such as between 4.7.1 and 4.7.2, instead requiring you to go through its proprietary NetWeaver interface, which you will, of course, have to acquire to actually support any customizations (and likely build applications in the Portal). And learning the portal is no easy task. One of the most complete books on it is 700 pages alone! Then you need to find the documentation on the data stored in each R3 module you are interested in and how to get it out. There’s a reason that not every shop does SAP support — and that’s because, even though SAP now has a lot of documentation on their website, you need weeks of expensive training just to learn the basics of Portal Development, R3 interface, and the core data types and record types used to pull the data you need out of R3 and push modified data back in. Getting to the point where you are effective at developing and integrating custom supply chain applications requires months of training and mentoring and years of experience. As a result, it’s typically only SAP partners who can provide this support. In contrast, with an open Schema, as found in Oracle and MySQL, all you need is SQL experience and the interface library for whatever language you are using (whereas NetWeaver limits you to Java) — which makes it much easier (and cheaper) to not only find support resources, but vendors with best of breed software modules and platforms that can plug and play with Oracle right out of the box!

But it’s not just software vendors that create proprietary technologies, it’s hardware vendors too. Dell, IBM, HP, etc. all have custom control and administrative solutions for their server platforms. Want a third party virtualization platform to work out of the box on a new server configuration and take full advantage of the capabilities? forget it! You’ll probably have to wait six months to a year or more before third parties, like VMWare, are optimized and configured for those platforms (assuming that the full specifications are published upon technology release and licenses for custom drivers aren’t required), making their administrative software a must if you want to upgrade to the latest technology, and not upgrade to technology that was outdated a year ago.

But it’s not just IT companies that have proprietary technologies and interfaces. Big electronics companies do this too for most of their consumer (and even enterprise) electronics, including companies like Samsung (and its new Mobile AP core) and Sony (and its new ultra high definition TV technology).

And while there is nothing wrong with proprietary technology, as a company needs some assets in order to survive, the lengths at which some companies go to keep it secret and protect it, in a world where data needs to be shared and products need to be utilized with other products makes development (and the supply chains that rely on that development), a nightmare.

We need open standards and open interfaces. The sheer existence of IE alone should make that clear. (There’s a reason that many new IT start ups simply won’t support it anymore, and that’s because they can write stuff that runs almost flawlessly in Chrome, Firefox, and a dozen of other browsers or that runs almost flawlessly in a single version of IE on Windows platforms only, but not both. Since Chrome and Firefox and similar clone browsers run on all major platforms, and IE doesn’t, and since Chrome and Firefox almost fully support the open standards, whereas IE supports the Microsoft standards and those portions of the open standards it feels like, and, to top it off, [older versions of] IE allows case insensitive JavaScript!) Restrictive proprietary standards and interfaces just make life unnecessarily difficult.

But too many companies are too big and powerful, so it’s not going to happen and we’ll be forever wasting countless hours checking interface requirements, versions, and support availability instead of focusing on whether or not the technology meets our needs and will help us get our work done. It’s more daily damnation for all of us.