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PC Week Online April 5, 1996

Berst Alert
Why and how
to be a whine enthusiast

By Jesse Berst

Sometimes it pays to whine and kvetch. Last summer, I complained in PC Week about the lack of a standard for electronic business cards. I asked the IETF (Internet Engineering Task Force) to cooperate with vendors to develop a specification.

Lo and behold, the spec is almost done. To be more accurate, two specs are almost done because Microsoft, as usual, has refused to go along with the rest of the industry.

The first spec comes from the Versit consortium, comprising IBM, Apple, AT&T;, and Siemens/Rolm. Called "vCard," it is an open, cross-platform standard for digitally exchanging name and address information. Microsoft is doing the same thing, minus the open and cross-platform part.

I call the Microsoft approach "proprietary/open." First, Microsoft invites a few vendors to an "Open Design Process," which is the Redmond name for secret closed-door meetings. Microsoft collects ideas from the vendors and implements the ones it chooses in the way it chooses. (It always chooses methods that make life difficult for other platforms.) Next, it gives the results to its own programmers first before publishing the "open" standard for the rest of the world. It repeats the process periodically whenever it looks like the playing field might be getting level.

Of course, the new specs didn't happen just because of my whining. Esther Dyson and Jerry Michalski of the Release 1.0 newsletter have been promoting the idea for a long time. Netscape and other companies were instrumental in getting the IETF to consider vCard as part of larger specifications.

Still, it never hurts to whine to the right people about the right topics. And I have two suggestions for your future griping. First, whine to Microsoft to make its version Versit-compliant, so it can exchange vCards with the rest of the world. Second, whine to E-mail and PIM vendors to allow vCards as standard E-mail attachments. I want my PIM to look at each vCard, compare it to the data already in my database, then modify my database automatically if it detects any differences. I'll never have to worry about address changes again. I'll always have the most up-to-date information for all my E-mail correspondents. And they'll always have the latest information about me.

What will I whine about then? Trust me, I've got plenty of topics in reserve.

In next week's Berst Mode print column (which also gets posted here on the Web), I'll tell you about proposed extensions to Versit, extensions that solve another big problem--exchanging calendar and event information.

Jesse Berst is editorial director of Windows Watcher Newsletter, in Redmond, Wash., and a columnist for Windows Sources magazine. Berst Alertis published every Friday.

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