You don't have to hang out with Mary-Kate/Ashley to feel exposed by an Olson connection!

by Michael S. Kaplan, published on 2011/10/10 07:01 -04:00, original URI:

Insert gratuitous shot of the Olson twins, who this blog is not about, here:

Several people in the industry tend to bemoan a common pattern whereby we at Microsoft always have to do our own thing.

We do it in collation. We do it in locales. We do it in time zones.

For the most part, the reason we do or own thing is that there is nothing there we can use.So we build our own.

At that point, we usually don't tend to turn around and share it, which is why so often other things are created.

And no one wants to throw out what we did before since it built up on what people are using and depending on.

We just can't see the upside to just throwing it all away to pick up the UCA. Or CLDR. Or the Olson data.

And then we are left with people throughout the word sighing at having to deal with the "Microsoft" case and the "everyone else" case....

Well, except not this week.

There was a panic on the Internet late last week.

It came from the following mail:

 From: "Olson, Arthur David (NIH/NCI) [E]" <>
 Subject: Civil suit; ftp shutdown; mailing list shutdown
 Date: October 6, 2011 8:16:02 AM PDT
 To: "''" <>
A civil suit was filed on September 30 in federal court in Boston; I'm a
defendant; the case involves the time zone database.
The ftp server at has been shut down.
The mailing list will be shut down after this message.
Electronic mail can be sent to me at
I hope there will be better news shortly.

This news, that the Olson database was being taken offline due to a lawsuit, caused something of a panic in the i18n space, everywhere except for one place.

That on place?


Now I don't know how everyone in Microsoft who had a stake in time zones reacted, but I know exactly what I felt.


Relief that this lawsuit didn't relate to us.

Perhaps a mild dash of vindication was kind of flowing through there as well -- relief that our "less open" thing/process had at least one thing going for it...

Well, at least insofar as "not a target in a lawsuit" can be considered a thing, that is.

So now the story unfolds and blog posts like this one talk about the suit.

And of course there is the expected discussion on Slashdot.

I expect it will all resolve itself, eventually.

But until then, the Unicode Standard folks in the CLDR may be kicking themselves for embracing Olson data, rather than following standards like SQL (where folks like Jim Melton have been long against referencing Olson data, and they have a huge "I told you so" feeling). Kind of like the implied one I have for people inside MS who thought a move to Olson was inevitable.

All I know is that one doesn't have to hang out with Mary-Kate and Ashley to feel exposed by an Olson connection, these days....

John Cowan on 10 Oct 2011 11:45 AM:

I think you're missing the real injustice of this lawsuit.  There probably isn't a single day in which Microsoft isn't being sued for something or other, but if someone came after you for patent violations in MSKLC, I'm fairly confident that Microsoft would defend the lawsuit for you.  Such is not the case for Olson's and Eggert's employers: the Federal Government has sovereign immunity, and if the University of California is going to defend Eggert, they certainly haven't said so.  So these two are licked before they start: they need to hire expensive copyright lawyers they are not likely to be able to afford, even though the case is obviously meritless.

Michael S. Kaplan on 10 Oct 2011 12:19 PM:

I haven't seen the case so I can't tell if it is meritless or not (copyright troll doesn't *always* mean meritless) -- I know nothing about their review process at all. Since so many organizations make sure to guard against this sort of thing -- including open source -- it is weird that this one was overlooked....

cheong00 on 10 Oct 2011 6:38 PM:

I don't know, but if you're going to use source from a book for public work, it helps if you gather written permission to use in the beginning. Lots of publishing companies are generous on "public good" things and this would have high possibiliy to be granted if asked properly.

If such permission exists, he can probably present it to the judge and ask him drop the case to avoid the expensive lawyer fees. (Btw, I don't know if there's such procedure to block lawsuit with clearly written proof in US)

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