Giant Robots And Killer Licenses

Maybe I should have titled this Why you should fear proprietary software. I generally leave pointing people to other stories to . . . er, um, well, other people. These stories, however, highlight so beautifully why open source software, open protocols, and open data formats are so important. In fact, it should make everyone wonder why anyone, or any company, would want to lock themselves in to any vendor, especially when it comes to their data . . . or their cars.

The first story comes from Wired Magazine and it’s titled “Giant Robot Imprisons Parked Cars“. Seriously, people kill for headlines like that. The short of the story is that an automated garage in Hoboken, New Jersey, has a robotic system that parks cars, shuffles them into location, then retrieves them when the driver comes to fetch their vehicle. It’s all very cool. The problem came when the city and the company that operates the garage, Robotic Parking of Clearwater, Florida, got into an argument over licensing. The city sent the company packing and the company shut down the system trapping hundreds of cars.

The second story isn’t quite as funny — okay, so the first story is only funny because of the title. It seems that doctors in the United States enjoy a popular practice management package by a company called Intracare. When doctors balked at a price increase of $5,000 per year from $1,200, the company cut doctors off from their patient records. Needless to say, blocking doctors from accessing patient data could have tragic consequences. This alone should be a major wake up call on the dangers of putting medical information in the hands of someone who might stop you from accessing it. Another take on this story is here.

Read both these articles and tell me what you think. I think these two stories should qualify as cautionary tales. Open standards, open source, and open data formats should not be options.

— Marcel

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