From the Editor:
The current state of the open standards movement is perhaps best described as "compelling." A monopoly reigns on the desktop and is attempting to capture the net, while open source activists are clearly showing us the way to a liberated future. The freely available FreeBSD and Linux operating systems finding their way into every IT nook and cranny represent a dramatic victory for open technologies, yet this very success presents sharp challenges to traditional Unix vendors that pioneered open standards. And with The Open Group's release of the Unix 98 spec, the splintering of Unix may finally be undone....as Linux developers grapple with the splintering of their own distributions and ponder the road to Unix 98 compliance.
In the midst of all of this, I keep asking: "What of the users? Are we meeting their needs? Can they get the job done yet?" My impression is that they're more besieged than ever. Everyday in my own consulting practice, I see people that have been lured into one option that ends up locking them out of other options. Time and money get invested in training that becomes obsolete in a couple of years, or even less. Ever-more-frequent hardware and software ugrades that hopefully fix one problem while creating another. Intense computer users are suffering through several reboots a day, each consuming at least a few minutes of productivity. Add it up over a year and I sometimes wonder if we're actually making progress.
But of course, we are. We lurch and stumble, wander off the trail and bicker over the map, clash with friends and foes alike, but we're definitely getting closer to where we want to be. It's just such a flawed process.
On average, users are much more savvy these days, and are adapting quickly; however, there are so many more novices than there used to be, it's hard to tell. If vendors will just keep meeting them halfway and not take their adaptability for granted, things will eventually stabilize. I think.
Sometimes, if I squint my eyes and tip my head just right, I can actually see the promised land. I can see myself with a choice between many different horizontal apps: a module giving me basic functionality is free off the net, and custom features are available as plug-in modules for a reasonable price, from a variety of vendors. They run on my Wintel box, my Mac clone, my Sparc, my NetPhone, or my WebStereo. I never have to think about which operating system I'm running, unless I want to. I can email a file to someone without either of us knowing or caring about who's running what software. The Internet is my LAN (or maybe even my hard drive, though that still makes me a bit nervous).
And my horizontal apps share data gracefully with my vertical apps. And I can move my vertical apps to a faster machine without much hassle, although I don't really have to, since it runs fast enough already. And I can run it on a completely different kind of platform without having to call in negotiators from the UN.
This journal is inventing itself, as UniForum is re-inventing itself. Times have changed, and we are too. In the future we may have a print publication again, but our priority now is to make the most of the Web. In the near future, look for more forums, classfied ads, and all the other resources you'd expect. We've looked to the grassroots for guidance, and we're getting it. Training, education, mutual aid, identifying issues, organizing input to developers and vendors, exploring new business models....users clearly need allies like UniForum more than ever. We're here.